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The suspension of a teacher alleged to have used unreasonable force with pupils was not a repudiatory breach of contract.

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In the recent case of Mayor and Burgesses of the London Borough of Lambeth v. Agoreyo [2019] EWCA Civ 322, the Court of Appeal was asked to consider whether the suspension of a primary school teacher pending an investigation into alleged misconduct amounted to a repudiatory breach of the implied term of trust and confidence.

Ms Agoreyo was employed at Glenbrook Primary School in South London as a Year 2 teacher. In her early weeks of teaching, three incidents took place involving two children with particular behavioural issues. The incidents all involved the alleged use of force by Ms Agoreyo to remove one of the two children from the classroom. Ms Agoreyo expressed her need to receive additional support in the teaching of the two children but, after five weeks of being employed, she was suspended pending investigation into the incidents. She resigned on the same day and claimed that she was entitled to resign in response to what she said was a repudiatory breach of contract by her employer. The County Court rejected Ms Agoreyo’s claim, holding that the local authority had an overriding duty to protect the children in its care, and that the decision to suspend Ms Agoreyo pending the outcome of the investigation into her conduct was therefore reasonable.

Ms Agoreyo appealed to the High Court, which overturned the decision of the County Court, holding that the decision to suspend had been a “knee-jerk reaction” and did breach the implied term of trust and confidence. The High Court also took issue with the wording of the suspension letter, which made reference to the suspension being a “neutral act”. The local authority appealed and the Court of Appeal reinstated the County Court judgment.

The Court of Appeal held that the question of whether or not a suspension was reasonable is a question of fact and not law and it found that the High Court had erred in interfering with the trial judge’s findings in fact and in substituting its view for that of the County Court.

The Court of Appeal also observed that whether or not a suspension could be deemed to be properly described as a “neutral act” was not a relevant factor to take into consideration in cases such as this; rather the focus should be upon whether there was reasonable and proper cause for the suspension.