A disabled teacher claims she was left with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) by a three-year campaign of discrimination and harassment at the school where she worked.
After the teacher first informed the school about her impairment, she was told that if she was a horse she would be “taken out and shot”.
She also says she was told that if she could not do everything her teaching colleagues could, she was not fit to work at all.
The teacher, Laura*, who has asked not to be named because she is taking legal action against the school, spent more than three years battling for the reasonable adjustments she needed to continue working.
Disability News Service has been unable to check her claims with the school and local authority because of the legal action, but has seen documents that suggest they are credible.
Her claims came days after the NASUWT teaching union revealed new figures showing that more than four-fifths of disabled teachers have faced discrimination at work.
Laura said: “I feel that I’ve been treated appallingly. It has just been a campaign of bullying and harassment, and destroyed my reputation as a teacher.
“I would have expected some support going through investigation for serious illnesses, rather than more and more pressure.
“As the likelihood of the severity became worse, so did their bullying.”
When the government’s Access to Work scheme promised to fund equipment and a full-time support worker – and recommended changes to her duties – the school failed to return the call for several weeks.
The school repeatedly demanded that she secure a diagnosis at her next hospital appointment, while senior staff asked her questions about her impairment in busy corridors, she claims.
She was eventually sent home after a “risk assessment” and was not allowed to return to her job for several months.
When she eventually returned to work, she was criticised for being too slow around the classroom, and it took more than a term to install automatic doors to the main entrance and grab-rails in a toilet cubicle after she began using a wheelchair.
Another enforced break followed – caused by the school refusing to allow her to work part-time after she was told by specialists that her condition was progressive – and she was only allowed back into the classroom after threatening legal action.
Even then, she was transferred to a new classroom that was so small that she could not move around in her wheelchair.
When she complained, she was told: “Soldiers coming back from Afghanistan have adapted, so why shouldn’t you?”
Eventually, following three years of what she says was discrimination and harassment, she was signed off sick with PTSD.
Her psychologist wrote to the school to warn them not to cause her any extra anxiety, but three days before she was due to have a week of hospital tests for motor neurone disease early last month (June) – which she had told the school about – she received a letter telling her that she had been sacked.
Laura said she was surprised by the “really high figure” from the NASUWT disabled teachers’ conference, but said she had heard “many similar stories to my own that have come from education”.
Delegates at the NASUWT conference last week raised “serious concerns” about lack of support in the workplace for disabled teachers, such as the failure to provide reasonable adjustments, and “discriminatory attitudes” from employers and colleagues.
An electronic poll of delegates found 81 per cent had been discriminated against while working as a teacher; and 61 per cent had experienced bullying, harassment or victimisation from senior school leaders.
More than half (55 per cent) said they had experienced problems when requesting reasonable adjustments, while only one in five (21 per cent) said their school or college had taken “active steps to ensure equality” for disabled staff.
*Not her real name