Allegations of unfair dismissal have been levelled at New City College's Havering Sixth Form College, with supply teacher Stephen Hedley claiming he was sacked for wearing a Palestine badge. The college, however, claims the sacking was ‘nothing to do with Palestine’.
Their claim, although this is completely refuted by Mr Hedley, is either ‘they have not sacked him because he wasn’t an employee’ or ‘they have, but it was because of concerns about behaviour and curriculum adherence’.
Or possibly both. Or neither. Or some other reason entirely.
Stephen Hedley, a politics, history, and philosophy teacher, alleges that he was terminated from his position at New City College Havering on January 31 after refusing to remove a Palestinian badge. The badge was in the shape of Ireland, in the colours of the Palestinian flag
Hedley asserts that wearing the badge – around 2cm in size and worn below a much larger black ribbon indicating grief or mourning, was a form of expressing solidarity and demanding a ceasefire, not a political statement.
He has called for reinstatement and urges students and staff to support his cause; there will be a picket at the school, on Wingletye Lane, until the matter is resolved. The college is no stranger to picket lines - in 2021 students picketed Havering in protest at low grades which they blamed on the parent company, New City College.
Contrarily, the college denies sacking Hedley over the badge, asserting that his dismissal was due to behavioural issues and failure to adhere to the curriculum. According to the college's spokesperson, Hedley displayed behaviours inconsistent with the institution's values, prompting his departure after an "informal conversation" regarding political badges.
Why this is even mentioned is unclear, since according to the college, the badge had nothing to do with the sacking...
Havering College even held a fundraising week for Ukraine, where they collected donations, decked the school out in blue and yellow and sold, yes you guessed it - badges. Staff were encouraged to join in which presumably would include the buying and wearing of badges, taking part in events, and certainly talking with students about the conflict in Ukraine, which are not part of the National Curriculum. The Deputy Head even made a speech.
The college further alleges that Hedley deviated from the prescribed syllabus and failed to offer a balanced overview of political issues, as mandated by Department for Education guidance. This is firmly denied by Mr Hedley – claims backed up by students’ personal experience.
Havering was even happy to include the Palestinian flag in the college's 'Day of Culture' in May last year - although at the time Palestine was not being invaded by Israel - which would seem to indicate a willingness for staff and students to discuss other countries and cultures, presumably as part of their curriculum. Just not Gaza, perhaps?
Hedley, a former RMT trade union boss, rejects the explanation offered by the college, dismissing it as "nonsense" and reiterating that his termination was indeed linked to the Palestine badge. He maintains that his teaching was in line with the curriculum, mentioning Palestine only within the context of relevant topics.
The college further claims Hedley was never a permanent employee and was covering for another teacher who has since returned to work, and has therefore 'not' been sacked at all...
The conflicting narratives surrounding Stephen Hedley's dismissal highlight a contentious issue, the case of Hornchurch college being just one example of what has been, and is being, experienced by supporters of Palestine worldwide.
While Hedley insists his sacking was unjustified and politically motivated, the college maintains that behavioural concerns and curriculum adherence were the primary factors. They have offered no evidence of any deviation from said curriculum, or of any incidents of behaviour raising concern; the only incident that has been mentioned is 'an informal discussion regarding political badges'. Presumably ones relating to Palestine or Ireland, not Ukraine; these are clearly acceptable or the college would not sell them.
Doubtless this week’s ruling in the case of David Miller v Bristol University, mandating that anti-Zionism is a protected characteristic under the Equalities Act, will have immense bearing both on this and on other cases to come.
As the dispute unfolds, questions arise about the treatment of political expression within educational institutions and the broader issue of academic freedom.