Sacked boarding school head ‘came to work in Hawaiian shirt’


Helen Davies and Tom Morton

A BOARDING school principal claiming unfair dismissal turned up to work in a Hawaiian shirt and pink socks, a tribunal heard.

And while he was employed at Howell’s School in Denbigh, Bernie Routledge, who lives in Gwernaffield, near Mold, was said to have taken part in “inappropriate” conversations with pupils on Facebook.

John Benson, representing Mr Routledge on day two of the tribunal at Wrexham, suggested the headteacher was dismissed in part because he had the “temerity” to try to suspend Sarah Hickman, who assisted at the school’s equestrian centre and is the daughter of trustee Robert Locke’s co-director, Derek Leadbetter.

Mr Benson said she she was suspected of putting other staff members under pressure to fill in inspection questionnaires with misleading information, so Mr Routledge was right to want to suspend her while claims were investigated.

Mr Locke said she was not suspended as one phone call was enough to establish the claims were unfounded.

But, said Mr Benson, no report was produced and there was no independent investigation. In response Mr Locke said Mr Routledge wanted to get rid of Mrs Hickman as she joined the ‘Bernie Routledge Appreciation Society’ Facebook site in 2011 to investigate allegations he used the site to communicate with pupils, breaching social networking rules. Mr Locke said he had growing concerns over Mr Routledge’s conduct from when he took over as principal from his previous role as deputy head.

He had been shocked to find Mr Routledge turn up to work in a Hawaiian shirt and pink socks.

Then, in August 2010, he saw Mr Routledge close to a girl with his left hand on her right shoulder which he deemed inappropriate physical contact, but again did not act.

He then found out neither Mr Routledge nor the glowing reference from The King’s School, Chester, where he taught previously, had revealed the full facts behind his departure from that school.

But Mr Benson said such assertions were “mischievous and erroneous” and a matter of mud-slinging. There was nothing sinister about his departure from King’s.
Robert Locke denied there was an “agenda” to get Mr Routledge and Helen Price, the former head of pastoral care at the school, who is also claiming unfair dismissal, out of Howell’s.

Robert Locke also defended his decision to appoint his brother Alan, instead of a non-family member, as the chairman of the panel considering the disciplinary action.

The tribunal then moved to consider specific comments made by Mr Routledge on Facebook.

In response to one comment posted by a student, which said: “Can I pull your toggle?”, he replied “No you can’t, my life jacket would go off.”

Mr Benson said the comment was made in reference to a geography trip when a
pupil had pulled a toggle on Mr Routledge’s jacket as he was getting on the bus.

Alan Locke said he was aware of the context but still thought “any reasonable person would think it was inappropriate and a sexual reference”.

The tribunal continues.

See full story in the Free Press

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