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Ex-superhead suing for £200,000 after ‘excessive workload’ left him damaged

Tristan Kirk
"Plagued by nightmares": Sir Craig Tunstall ran eight primary schools in south London and was in charge of a secondary Free School project

A former “superhead” who turned around a string of failing primary schools is suing for more than £200,000 after claiming his excessive workload left him damaged and depressed.

Sir Craig Tunstall was Britain’s highest paid headteacher, earning £374,000 a year as he ran eight primary schools in south London and was made the “public face” of plans for a new secondary Free School in September 2016.

However, he was suspended in 2017 amid a Lambeth council fraud investigation and dismissed from his role in February 2018 for “gross misconduct”.

Sir Craig, 49, who was knighted for services to education in 2014, is suing the council and his former employers, the Gipsy Hill Federation (GHF), which governed the schools.

He claims he faced an “excessive workload”, overseeing around 600 staff and 4,200 pupils, managing simultaneous Ofsted inspections, building projects and “actual or threatened violence” towards teachers.

He says he was “unlawfully dismissed” following a flawed disciplinary process and is now unable to work and plagued by nightmares and depression.

His representative Asela Wijeyaratne said in a written claim at the High Court that he faced a “work pressure which was too great... which was injurious to the claimant’s health”.

“[He] was given less than a week’s notice before being installed as executive headteacher of a failing school,” the lawyer argued.

“He had sole responsibility for making wide-ranging structural changes to the management, teaching staff, values and teaching methods.”

Sir Craig was hired by the council in May 2002 as headteacher of Kingswood Primary School, helping to lift it out of special measures to a rating of outstanding by 2009. GHF was formed in 2008 by a partnership with Elm Wood Primary School in West Norwood and between 2010 and 2015 Sir Craig took charge of a further six failing schools.

Mr Wijeyaratne accused the council and Sir Craig’s employers of “negligence”, “breach of contract” and “breach of statutory duty” and said he should not have been put in charge of the Free School project unless someone took on his existing headteacher duties.

He said Sir Craig had to work long hours, weekends and holidays while helming the project and also handle “hostile” public reaction to the plans.

When a fraud investigation was launched, Sir Craig was hauled in for questioning in March 2017 without warning, he claims, and sacked the following year after a disciplinary hearing he refused to attend on health grounds. He says he has not yet been told if the council plans to refer the fraud investigation to the police.

Mr Wijeyaratne said “the prognosis for his ability to undertake any other type of employment in the future is currently poor”. Sir Craig lodged the damages claim at the High Court in November last year, with papers made public this week, and has brought separate employment tribunal proceedings alleging unfair dismissal.

In a statement, Lambeth council said: “The council and GHF confirm that proceedings have been served by Sir Craig. These will be vigorously defended.” GHF was contacted separately for comment.

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