A former London “superhead” has had his ban from teaching overturned in the high court after a judge praised his “inspirational example” as an school leader and rebuked the Department for Education (DfE) for imposing an “intrusive” sanction.
Greg Wallace, the former executive headteacher of the Best Start Federation of schools in Hackney, was banned last June for a minimum of two years by the DfE over allegations of financial misconduct.
But Mr Justice Holgate found the public interest in Wallace remaining in work as a teacher outweighed the DfE’s argument that his behaviour amounted to unacceptable professional conduct likely to damage the reputation of teaching.
Holgate said there was a “clear conclusion” that the department should have been satisfied with an earlier misconduct finding against Wallace by an employment tribunal, “because the public interest in maintaining the appellant’s exceptional contribution to education would be satisfied without ‘unacceptably compromising’ the maintenance of public confidence in the teaching profession”.
A less severe measure “could and should have been adopted” by the DfE, Holgate said.
The judge noted that the National College for Teaching and Leadership (NCTL) panel that heard Wallace’s case originally acknowledged an “exceptionally strong public interest in his continuing to serve in the teaching profession”, but the DfE overruled it to impose a ban.
Wallace’s solicitor, Colin Henderson of the Reflective Practice in Birmingham, said: “Hopefully this case means that in the future, the education secretary will make better decisions.
“It is important the judge clarified that a finding of unacceptable professional conduct will sometimes be enough to hold a teacher to account for their actions without going on to prohibit them from teaching.”
Last June, the NCTL heard that Wallace conspired to award contracts worth more than £1m, without seeking approval from school governors, to a company owned by a friend and partner, and attempted to cover up evidence. The panel was also told Wallace received payments from the company, including one of £4,000.
The panel said Wallace was a victim of “an element of duress brought about by a combination of his own natural enthusiasm and others outside the federation encouraging him to take on responsibility for more schools, in order to address poor achievement levels in the local area”.
The DfE’s decision-maker said: “I believe that the panel has not taken sufficient account of the public concern that would arise, and that public confidence in the profession could be seriously weakened, if the conduct found proved in this case was not treated with the utmost seriousness.”
In 2012, Wallace was praised as a “magnificent” academy head in a speech by the then education secretary Michael Gove, for running outstanding schools in deprived areas. But two years later, he was dismissed by Hackney council after an investigation into the awarding of computer contracts.