February 28, 2024

EXCLUSIVE: ArtsEd has been taken to an employment tribunal by a former teacher who was fired after raising concerns about a “culture of fear” at the Andrew Lloyd Webber-backed drama school.

The legal battle emerged at a London Central Employment Tribunal hearing last week, in which arguments relating to Matthew Bulmer‘s claim were heard by an employment judge.

ArtsEd’s culture has been called into question in recent months after Deadline reported on allegations about the conduct of principal Julie Spencer, including claims she bullied staff and students.

Spencer is currently on medical leave pending the outcome of an independent review into her conduct, which was commissioned following Deadline’s reporting. She has denied the allegations against her through an ArtsEd spokesperson.

Bulmer was appointed as the head of ArtsEd’s Day School and Sixth Form in February 2022 but was fired in August last year, resulting in his unfair dismissal claim.

During the hearing last week, Bulmer’s barrister Matthew Curtis showed the tribunal an extract from a review carried out by law firm Bond Legal relating to Bulmer’s exit.

The Bond Legal review examined claims from Bulmer that the drama school had a “culture of fear” and that teachers would come to him in tears or distress after encounters with Spencer and her deputy Yewande Akindele.

Bulmer’s particulars of claim are not yet in the public domain and it is not clear if he will rely on the Bond Legal review as part of his evidence at a full tribunal, which will take place as early as November.

Deadline understands that Bond Legal ultimately found no evidence of a toxic or unsafe culture at ArtsEd, but it was revealed during last week’s hearing that it reached this conclusion without interviewing former staff and students.

Bulmer’s claim is against both ArtsEd and Bond Legal, which he argues was acting as an agency of ArtsEd when it carried out the review, potentially raising questions about its independence.

Bond Legal attempted to strike out this claim during the tribunal hearing last week, but employment judge Richard Nicolle ruled that it would be “inappropriate” to do so.

Also during proceedings last week, Bulmer’s barrister Curtis criticized ArtsEd’s “staggering” lack of disclosure, arguing that the school had declined to hand over several relevant documents.

This included the Bond Legal review itself, which was only disclosed to Bulmer days before last week’s hearing by the third-party legal company.

ArtsEd’s barrister Jennifer Linford said the drama school was “mindful of fishing expeditions.” Full disclosure is not expected until the main tribunal.

ArtsEd declined to comment on the legal dispute.

Deadline has published a series of stories about the drama school, including audio evidence of Spencer branding students “snakes” and appearing to threaten them with legal action after being accused of favoritism. She has denied wrongdoing.

Employment barrister Ghazaleh Rezaie is conducting an inquiry into the matter and is expected to report back to ArtsEd’s board with her findings in March.

The drama school’s chairman Brian Brodie and trustees Simon Dowson-Collins and Jennifer Wilkinson have resigned since Deadline’s first report last November.

ArtsEd’s president is musical impresario Lloyd Webber. He has also donated millions to the school through his philanthropic foundation. There is no suggestion he was aware of the allegations before Deadline’s exposé.

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