*Names and genders have been changed to protect the identity of the teachers who spoke to us
By Tom Hopkins Burke and Tom Rogers, Teachers Talk Radio
Science NQT Yasmin Omar was sat at home watching television. All of a sudden, her phone started buzzing. It was a colleague.
"Yasmin - I need your help".
Her colleague was really upset. She told Yasmin that a member of the schools SLT had called the hospital whilst impersonating her husband, supposedly with his NHS number, to ask about a surgery she had said he was going to have.
Yasmin wished she was surprised at the lengths to which they would go, but this was not the first time that a colleague had confided in her. Another colleague had previously told her that he was too scared to ask for time off for his grandmother's funeral. Another one broke her foot, spent the entire night in A&E, came to school the very next day on crutches and was held up as an example of "excellent commitment to Brampton".
On Yasmin's first day at the school, her Head of Department told her to "buy a box of chocolates any time you have an absence". Subsequently, any time she was off - each time related to her Multiple Sclerosis - she would buy chocolate on her way home from the hospital and bring it to the faculty the very next morning.
This is Brampton Manor.
Every year, in the middle of the summer holidays, a school in the London Borough of Newham hits the headlines for all the right reasons: “More Oxbridge offers than Eton”; “90% of students with straight A*/A”; “Record A Level results”. Stormzy once said that he will send his future children there. The name of the school? Brampton Manor Academy.
Brampton Manor is an 11-19 secondary school with sixth form in East Ham, London. There can be no doubt that its students achieve extraordinary results that set them up for the future. Its Progress 8 score in 2022 was +1.01, compared to a Newham average of +0.38. That same year, 85 students secured Oxbridge places, with 185 achieving three or more A* grades. It is so popular among students and their families that, despite an official capacity of around 2,000, according to government figures it currently has 2,795 students on roll. Of those, over a quarter are eligible for free school meals.
Yet bubbling below the surface lies another side to the Brampton Manor story. In 2021, an employment tribunal ruled against the school in favour of Yasmin Omar, an NQT who joined the school in 2018, on grounds of disability discrimination. The tribunal found that:
Brampton Manor failed to comply with their duty to make reasonable adjustments;
Brampton Manor treated Miss Omar unfavourably “because of something arising in consequence of [her] disability”;
Brampton Manor harassed Miss Omar;
Brampton Manor created “a hostile and intimidating environment” for Miss Omar.
Over the course of the last few months, current and former employees at two schools in the Brampton Manor Trust - Brampton Manor Academy and Langdon Academy - have spoken to Teachers Talk Radio to share their stories. Both schools are run by the same Executive Principal, Dr Dayo Olukoshi. Their accounts reveal an uncomfortable truth for Brampton Manor: that Yasmin Omar was far from alone in her treatment at the hands of the school. We found that:
Sick pay, including statutory sick pay, was withheld from members of staff at the Brampton Manor Trust even for one day’s absence;
Senior leaders in the Brampton Manor Trust asked teachers to provide a sick note from a GP for one day’s absence;
Teachers were threatened and intimidated by senior leaders at the Brampton Manor Trust in back to work and absence management meetings;
Teachers at Brampton Manor were not paid to attend interviews or INSET days at other schools, even though they expected other schools to do the same in return;
Pregnant teachers at the Brampton Manor Trust were reduced to tears in meetings with senior leaders for taking time off work to attend hospital for check-ups - in one case, a senior leader called a woman’s husband to find out about the nature of her absence.
This is Part One of the truth about Brampton Manor - from the teachers who worked there.
Lucy* joined the school in 2022. Her first day was an INSET day, starting with a whole staff meeting in the school’s theatre. As one would expect on the first day of a new academic year, the school’s Executive Principal, Dayo Olukoshi, introduced himself to the staff. But Lucy did not expect what happened next.
For the next fifteen minutes, Dr Olukoshi lectured the school’s staff about sick pay. He told staff that rumours of staff not being paid sick pay were untrue: “if you are sick and you are not able to work, you will not lose out on pay.” As a new member of staff, Lucy found this rather odd: why did this need to be said? Nonetheless, she considered Dr Olukoshi’s words to be reassuring.
However, when Lucy left the all-staff meeting and spoke with her department, she was far less reassured. She told us of a really nervous, unsettling energy, as members of staff who had been teaching at the school for longer than her spoke about their experiences of not receiving sick pay. For example, staff had doctor's appointments and were in A&E with injuries so bad they were bed-bound. Yet this, in some cases, did not make them "sick enough" according to Brampton Manor. These staff also told stories of sending in cover work in their absence, yet were still not paid.
Lucy's first term at Brampton Manor saw nothing especially out of the ordinary happen. But one day in the spring term, Lucy was so unwell at work that she nearly passed out in front of her students. That night she had hot and cold sweats and could not sleep, and so Lucy called in sick the next day. Once she returned to work the day after that, she had what she considered to be a very supportive conversation with the then-head of HR.
But when Lucy checked her payslip for that month, she noticed that she had been docked a day’s pay. The money deducted from that payslip was marked as “unpaid leave”. For that one sick day Lucy received no sick pay at all: not even statutory sick pay. The school’s line, according to Lucy, is that sick pay is discretionary. If the Executive Principal Dayo Olukoshi believes you to be so ill that you can’t come in, you will be paid.
Segment of the Brampton Manor Absence Policy (2019)
Even though the sickness policy pictured above has since changed, the practices of suspending sick pay and replacing it with ‘unpaid leave’ has appeared to continue.
Lucy was far from alone. Another member of staff was up all night, sick with complicated stomach issues that we were told could flare up unexpectedly. They were unable to function and could not attend work the next day. When they attended their back-to-work interview, the person conducting the interview told them, “So were you just tired, then?”.
“What do you want me to do - put my vomit in a bag and hand it to you?”
Evan* was interviewed at Brampton Manor and accepted a post as an NQT. In his first year at the school, he tested positive for Covid-19 and was forced to self-isolate in line with government guidance. He received sick pay for this absence.
The next academic year, something had changed: if you took one day off, money was deducted from that month’s payslip. Evan had tonsillitis which caused him to be unable to speak and barely be able to swallow. When he attended his return to work meeting with a senior leader, he was asked: “What brought it on?” “When did you notice?” “What did you do as soon as you became aware?” “What did you do when you woke up?” Like Lucy, Evan’s one-day absence was marked as “unpaid leave”.
Every member of staff to whom we spoke raised the issue of sick pay, most unprompted. For many, their experience at Brampton Manor was that to raise the issue of sick pay with bosses was considered unprofessional.
But it appears that none of this is new. Simone* joined Brampton Manor in 2016 and spent less than six months there. In our conversation she brought up, unprompted, the treatment of staff absence as the worst part of being part of the school. Simone was vomiting all morning on the first day back after the holidays - she could not have gone into work even if she tried to force himself. She was off for one day.
On return to work, Simone was summoned to a meeting with two members of the senior leadership team. Even though she was still noticeably ill, Simone was told that the school had a real issue with her illness as it was so close to the holidays. The senior leaders told her that she had to provide a doctor’s note for her one day of illness: something that her GP was unsurprisingly unable to do.
Simone had another return-to-work interview with the same senior leader as Evan did years later. The leader continued to press Simone to get her GP to provide him with a sick note. Simone thought to herself, “what do you want me to do - put my vomit in a bag and hand it to you?”
Once she was back teaching, Simone bumped into the leader in a corridor. There and then, they screamed at Simone for failing to email about her inability to get a note, even though she had a very busy teaching day: “You thought it would be professional and acceptable to not tell me?” Later, in the staffroom, Simone was threatened by the same leader in front of other members of staff, and she was told, “We’ll look to see if you can get paid for this.”
Simone was threatened with the loss of a month’s pay. In the end, Simone contacted her head of department who spoke with a senior leader - and although she received no pay for the day’s sickness, she did at least get paid for the month.
Simone told us that, in her brief time at Brampton Manor, she was frightened to lose her job every single day. On the contract she was given, the school could be rid of her within a week if they chose. One non-teaching member of staff with a degree in English was encouraged to apply for a teaching post at the school. Yet, within six weeks, she was fired with one week’s notice - and she was unable to get her non-teaching job back. Another member of staff had moved to London to take a job at Brampton Manor, yet she was gone within two months.
"The only way to get paid for being off sick was to get pregnant"
One of Simone's colleagues at Brampton Manor had a similar grilling from the same leader. She had taken a couple of hours off work to go to the hospital for a check-up on her unborn baby, as she was frightened about pains that she was experiencing. On her return to work, she was summoned to a meeting where she was reduced to tears.
A teacher at Langdon Academy, Ava*, told us that the Trust was noticeably more careful about allowing sickness during pregnancy – in her words, “the only way to get paid for being off sick was to get pregnant”. Her experience of back-to-work meetings was of pressure to note down her absences as non-pregnancy related. For her pregnancy-induced sickness, her senior leader would ask, “Did you ever experience these symptoms before?” “Did you try taking medicine?” Ava would say yes, to which the senior leader would reply, “Well, we probably can’t say they’re just down to pregnancy if you’ve always had them, so I’ll put that as sickness absence.”
Ava told us that senior leaders would use her words against her to find any way possible to dock her pay or raise triggers for her absence: something which could not be done for pregnancy-related sickness. She would be pulled from her door at the start of the day for these meetings and told that she could not teach until they were done, so she felt under intense pressure to get the meetings over with.
"You have school holidays to get ill, attend funerals and go to weddings”
Victor* was at Brampton Manor for longer than Simone, and never took a day off sick except for Covid-induced self-isolation, for which he was paid - yet once the government's self-isolation requirements were dropped, his colleagues who were ill enough with Covid to have to stay away from work were not paid.
However, Victor was docked pay for attending interviews and an INSET day at his new school. He told us about what he considered to be Brampton Manor’s hypocrisy on the matter: Brampton expected its new teachers to attend an INSET with them before starting in September, yet refused to pay teachers going to other schools to do the same. In the end, Victor did not push the matter - after all, he was leaving.
Lucy told us the same: under no circumstances does Brampton Manor pay staff attending a job interview or an INSET day at other schools. She told us about colleagues whose new schools paid them for attending their INSET days when Brampton Manor refused.
According to Lucy, Brampton Manor’s justification for not paying staff going on interview elsewhere is that the school was not given enough notice. This, in her view, was a double standard. She told us of some candidates for a job at Brampton Manor who were told on a Wednesday to attend an interview on that Friday. Lucy herself was given four days’ notice for her own interview.
Isla* attended an interview at Brampton Manor, where she told us that Dr Olukoshi asked her how many days and hours a teacher is contracted to be at work. Dr Olukoshi told her in no uncertain terms (in a tone she found to be intimidating) that she had school holidays to get ill, attend funerals and go to weddings. Isla told us that Dr Olukoshi spoke derogatively about members of staff who took time off for being sick, stating specifically that “unless you’re in hospital, you take a paracetamol and come into school.” He then mocked his own staff, doing an impression of someone calling in sick with a headache. Isla told us, “I felt he was warning me and also trying to gauge my reaction to see if I’d be likely to do the same.” Isla felt pressured into accepting the job in person, but later withdrew via email.
Brampton Manor is a school with a stellar reputation, with students who achieve top grades that give them an incredible shot at the rest of their lives. None of that is in doubt. One teacher told us that a lot of the students are aware of just how their teachers are treated, and they are no longer surprised when a teacher who might have taught their class one week is gone the next.
The next part of this series will be published in the coming days.
We’d like to thank every teacher who has approached TTR to share their stories so far. If you have a story to share about your experiences at Brampton Manor or Langdon Academy, whether you're a current or former member of staff, student, or member of the community, you can contact us in confidence at firstname.lastname@example.org.
A Department for Education spokesperson said: "The department has no jurisdiction over sick pay as this sits with the Department for Work and Pensions. The arrangements in schools are covered by an agreement between the school employers and their unions. Teachers would therefore need to take this up direct with the school and perhaps seek advice from their union."
The Brampton Manor Trust was approached for comment