Teacher’s tipsy trip up

  • 26th June 2024

Law firm BDB Pitmans partners Tim Hayes and Jonathan Brinsden consider a scenario about a complaint against a teacher’s behaviour on a school trip


School trips are often the highlight of the year for pupils. However, a lot of preparation and hard work is required to ensure that trips are a success and the welfare of pupils is secured.

Governors are not directly involved in the organisation of school trips, but the governing body has ultimate responsibility for safeguarding and health and safety matters, both of which are central to trips and visits.


A school trip has just returned to school and a parent has made a complaint about the behaviour of one of the teachers towards their child.

The teacher was responsible for taking a group of Year 10 students to the South of France. The week after the pupils returned, one of the parents phoned her son’s form teacher and complained that, according to her son, the teacher had spent three of the evenings at the local wine bar and returned drunk to the hostel where the pupils were staying. He did not come into contact with the pupils when drunk but they heard him swearing and making inappropriate and racist comments.

What should the governors do?

Option 1

Summarily dismiss the teacher without notice so that the parent can be reassured that this problem cannot happen again and make it clear to the school’s staff that the teacher’s actions breached school policy.

Option 2

Have a meeting with the complaining parent and defend the teacher’s actions (he’s a bit eccentric and enjoys his wine but he has been at the school for years, his pupils always get really good exam results, and he’s really popular with parents and teachers alike).

Option 3

Investigate the matter. The teacher can continue to teach during the investigation.

Option 4

Suspend the teacher on full pay, pending investigation of the matter. Investigate the matter and then report the findings to the teacher, parent and pupil(s) concerned and determine whether to invoke a disciplinary procedure.

Which was the best option?

Option 1

Unless the facts of the matter are completely beyond dispute and are sufficiently serious to constitute a material breach by the teacher of his contract of employment (thereby enabling the school to refuse to pay notice) summary dismissal without investigating the allegations would be an inappropriate knee-jerk reaction. It could open up the school to the risk of a claim of unfair dismissal by the teacher, which may have serious reputational and financial implications. If the school is seen to ignore its own disciplinary policy, however, it may cause upset among other staff.

Option 2

There’s a clear distinction between introducing pupils to and enjoying French culture and indulging to excess during a school trip and engaging in wholly inappropriate behaviour. The governors should be guided in this scenario by their desire to ensure pupils’ welfare. The school cannot simply defend the teacher against the allegations, unless it’s patently clear that the conduct didn’t occur. The school should meet the parent and ascertain exactly what occurred as part of its investigation into the incident. If, having investigated the matter, the school later decides that the teacher’s conduct justifies invoking a disciplinary procedure, it will be essential to provide as much information as possible to the teacher about the allegations. A written statement or letter from the parent, rather than relying on a reported phone call, would lay out the allegations clearly. In the meantime, the parent should be reassured that the complaint is being taken seriously and that the matter is being dealt with as a matter of urgency.

Option 3

Depending on the nature and severity of the allegations, it can be appropriate to suspend a teacher pending the outcome of the investigation. Suspension is generally only appropriate where the alleged conduct is sufficiently serious, or if there is a threat to the school (such as reputational damage) if the teacher remains on campus during the investigation, or if it is not possible to conduct a proper investigation of the matter without the teacher being away.

Suspension is a serious step and there must be reasonable grounds to justify suspension, and so thought will need to be given to the circumstances in each case. In this scenario, given the severity of the allegations, suspension on full pay pending the outcome of the investigation would be appropriate. Keeping the teacher at school might be inappropriate for a number of reasons, such as the teacher’s dealings with the pupil whose parent has complained, the knowledge held by pupils and staff that the incident has occurred, and the reputational damage were the school to be seen not to be taking the matter sufficiently seriously.

Option 4

This is the most appropriate response. The first course of action should be for the form teacher to consult the head and make a written record of the complaint. As highlighted above, suspension is appropriate here and the matter should be investigated thoroughly and objectively and with reference to relevant school policies and procedures, including those governing complaints, school trips and staff conduct. Potential witnesses, such as other members of staff on the trip, should be interviewed as well as the teacher himself. The investigation should be treated as a fact-finding mission; it is important not to jump to any conclusions or make snap judgements about the teacher’s conduct. The conclusion of the investigation should be communicated to the teacher and the teacher’s conduct dealt with as appropriate according to the disciplinary procedure. If the allegations turn out to be well-founded, dismissal could be a justifiable course of action.


A full investigation is the best course of action. Had the teacher not made racist remarks, and the investigation had found that the teacher had simply had a couple of glasses of wine and had been a little louder than usual, the most appropriate course of action might be to issue an informal verbal warning. If, however, this was not the first incident of such conduct by the teacher, the school might consider issuing a formal written warning as part of a formal disciplinary procedure.

If the school considers that dismissal is the most appropriate course of action, given the potential for reputational damage and a potential claim by the teacher before an employment tribunal, it may also wish to consider offering a settlement package to the teacher in return for his waiving his employment rights and agreeing to certain confidentiality obligations. Any settlement offered would need to take into account the school’s obligations as a charity (if it is one).

In addition, the governors should ensure that relevant school policies, for example those relating to staff conduct, school trips, health and safety and safeguarding are reviewed and that they have been effectively communicated to all staff.

Top five tips

  • Avoid jumping to conclusions – investigation and objectivity are key elements to a fair procedure.
  • Monitor social media to ensure that parents and/or pupils are not making negative comments online about the incident. Press stories about inappropriate behaviour by teachers are not uncommon and the local or national press can easily pick up on social media comments and use them as a basis for a damaging story.
  • Make sure you follow your school’s internal policies and procedures (particularly those relating to school trips and employees) and ensure that there is a system for the governing body to review those policies on a regular basis (the trips and visits governor – is there one? – will have particular responsibility for this area).
  • Make sure that the staff and governing body have appropriate safeguarding training and that records are kept of that training. Also ensure that all staff know about any relevant policies.
  • If in doubt, seek legal advice to avoid any pitfalls along the way.

Tim Hayes


Jonathan Brinsden

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