Headteacher admits breaching race guidelines

By Leon Symons, February 12, 2010

The head teacher of a school accused of racial and religious discrimination admitted at an employment tribunal that she had not followed local authority guidelines.

Jill Hankey, former head of Bigland Green Primary School in Tower Hamlets, east London, said she had been aware of guidelines that advised teachers on how to deal with racist incidents involving pupils and teachers and their aftermath.

Supply teacher Nicholas Kafouris had told her of an incident where a nine-year-old Muslim boy whose arm he brushed said to him: “Don’t touch me, you’re a Christian.”

The guidelines stated that in such a case, the school head – in this case Ms Hankey - should have brought the pupil and teacher together in their office and the pupil should have apologised to the teacher. The tribunal had been told earlier that the child apologised a week after the incident but only after being asked by Mr Kafouris.

Ms Hankey told the tribunal in central London: “With hindsight, I should have done [brought them together]. A learning mentor was working with the child and his mother and I left it in her extremely capable hands.”

Mr Kafouris has claimed that he was forced out of his job at the school, where he had taught for 12 years, for reporting antisemitic and anti-Christian remarks made by pupils, some as young as eight.

They had said in lessons that they “hated Jews and Christians”, had praised the Twin Towers perpetrators as heroes and martyrs and said they wanted to be “Islamic bombers” when they grew up.

He had reported the comments repeatedly to Ms Hankey and assistant head Margaret Coleman but he alleged they ignored his complaints. He claimed that he became clinically depressed and unable to work because of the school’s lack of support for him. He was sacked in April last year.

Andrew Yiannides, representing Mr Kafouris, asked Ms Hankey about a discrepancy between her and the nine-year-old boy’s learning mentor.

“You said the boy struggled to understand other religions but the learning mentor said the boy was ‘well-educated’. Why is there this discrepancy?” said Mr Yiannides.

Ms Hankey replied: “He was struggling to understand the real concepts of the differences of religions. There’s a difference between repeating factually and understanding the real meaning.”

Mr Yiannides asked if she supported pupils who made racist comments as according to Mr Kafouris she had not taken notice of his complaints.

Ms Hankey said: “I am not condoning it. But I stand by what I said. It is the understanding. They have to be treated differently as a nine-year-old than if a 15-year-old had said it.”

The hearing continues.

Last updated: 2:34pm, February 12 2010