A primary school headteacher has been awarded a huge payout after a long-running dispute over her treatment and "unfair dismissal".

Joining Tyldesley Primary School in 2002, Deborah Lingard was a respected teacher who was part of the team that achieved an "outstanding" Ofsted rating in 2010, and worked her way up to assistant headteacher.

Following the school's conversion under the Leading Learners Multi-Academy Trust (MAT), Mrs Lingard was appointed headteacher in September 2016.

However, already feeling held back by her boss Yvonne Brown, things began to unravel further once Mrs Brown became CEO of the school's multi-academy trust.

After a series of incidents, Mrs Lingard resigned from the school following a period of sick leave and an employment tribunal later ruled that the headteacher had been "humiliated and undermined" in her role.

It was concluded that Mrs Lingard was unfairly dismissed for an accumulation of "fundamental breaches" and she was awarded a six-figure payout late last year.

The Bolton News: Mrs Lingard has worked at the school since 2002Mrs Lingard has worked at the school since 2002 (Image: Google Maps)
Dating back to 2016, the Manchester Employment Tribunal found that one of the most serious employment breaches related to a meeting about high achievers between Mrs Lingard, Mrs Brown, and an Ofsted inspector, Leszek Iwaskow.

The report states: "The challenging high achievers issue was discussed in this meeting and Yvonne Brown went to get some books from the nearest classroom to assist the discussion.

"This included her son’s books as he was a high achiever and Yvonne Brown noticed a marking error by the Year 5 teacher and began to criticise the teacher.

"YB said she had never referred to her son’s books specifically it was about high achievers in general as this was one of the issues.

"The claimant said that YB went on to say that unless matters improved she would be taking her son out of the school and putting him in Bolton School, the local private fee-paying school.

"YB denied she said this on this occasion but that she had said that on a separate occasion in July 2016 in parents evening when she was attending as a parent, not at the meeting with Mr Iwaskow."

The Bolton News: CEO of Leading Learners MAT, Yvonne BrownCEO of Leading Learners MAT, Yvonne Brown (Image: Newsquest)
On the balance of probabilities, the tribunal stated that Mrs Brown did say this in front of the Ofsted inspector, behaviour which Mrs Lingard described as "humiliating". The headteacher also claimed she was undermined in her role in numerous other episodes.

This included Mrs Brown's statement of "non-negotiable" policies in front of the Ofsted inspector, statements that she was to "increase her involvement in the running" of the school, as well as "mixed messages about the performance of the school".

Mrs Lingard, who was diagnosed as suffering from hypertension in 2014, began to suffer more strongly from stress, anxiety, fatigue and high blood pressure as a result of these incidents.

She was signed off on sick leave by her GP and resigned in March 2017 after feeling unsupported by the school.

Further meetings at the time, which included "unfair and intensive questions" and "aggressive, hostile and unsupportive" behaviour, exposed that Mrs Brown wanted the headteacher to leave the school.

The report also notes how Mrs Lingard was given an "ultimatum" that her grievances would only be dealt with if she saw a clinical psychologist, which left her feeling pressure to accept a settlement and leave the school.

Assessing the incidents, the tribunal report concluded: "We consider these individually and collectively to be fundamental breaches, in that there was no attempt to support the claimant in her illness, but rather to put unreasonable pressure on her."

A further claim regarding disability discrimination failed.

As Mrs Lingard was found to have been constructively dismissed on unfair grounds, a remedy hearing took place in November 2023, which was published the following month.

This highlighted that Mrs Lingard was awarded a basic award of £13,172.50, a compensatory award of £156,830.43, and damages for wrongful dismissal of £20,801.43.

This accumulates to a total of more than £190,000, but with salary capping and other factors taken into account, it is understood that Mrs Lingard will only receive around half that amount.

The Bolton News: The hearing and remedy was heard at Manchester Employment TribunalThe hearing and remedy was heard at Manchester Employment Tribunal (Image: Google Maps)
A spokesperson for Leading Learners Multi-Academy Trust said: "This tribunal outcome was the final step of a very prolonged process that has lasted the best part of a decade.

"Over the course of the whole case, tribunal judges have agreed with Leading Learners on a number of important points. Following an appeals process, however, judges concurred with the former staff member on one point - and that was she had grounds for constructive dismissal.

"While we do not agree with the final outcome, we have to respect the decision that has been made. That being said, we also feel it is important that some misunderstandings are clarified around the final judgement. 

“We would like to stress that the final figure awarded was capped. Ultimately the individual received less than 50 per cent of the total possible award. In addition, the vast majority of that remaining amount is covered by our insurers.

“As a trust we always strive to ensure that every child and colleague can flourish by being part of our community. We are sorry if anyone feels that we have not acted with the best of intentions to get the right outcome for all of our brilliant children.

“It is also important to reflect that Leading Learners has made huge strides and we have grown and matured as a trust. Our three schools in Bradford, for example, have all moved to good ratings, one for the first time in its history.

"We are now a proud family of nearly 10 schools and our pupils are accessing more opportunities in better learning spaces. Our systems and infrastructure have been enhanced and strengthened.

“While we will always listen, and we will always learn, we must also continue on the very positive trajectory that we are on.”