Male teacher chosen for job over female rival because he had 'strong handshake', tribunal hears

Phoebe Southworth
·3-min read
Pinewood School in Bourton, near Oxford
Pinewood School in Bourton, near Oxford

A female teacher was passed over for a job at a prestigious boarding school in favour of a male rival because he had a "strong handshake", a tribunal has heard.

Vanaja Greenwood lost out to fellow candidate Neil Crossley for the role of full-time maths teacher at the £21,000-a-year private Pinewood School in Bourton, near Oxford.

Assessing their interviews for the position, headteacher Philip Hoyland noted that Mrs Greenwood was "gentle", whereas Mr Crossley had a "firm and strong handshake" which "inspired confidence".

Mrs Greenwood has now won a sex discrimination claim against the school following an employment tribunal held in Bristol.

She claimed she was overlooked for the job because she was a woman, given that she has a degree in mathematics while Mr Crossley was a sports science tutor who had never taught maths.

She said she felt "belittled" when she was told the role had been given to a more "complete schoolmaster".

The employment tribunal concluded that the headteacher's "repeated use of the word 'schoolmaster'" in assessing the candidates indicated that he was only considering a male teacher for the role.

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The panel also noted the terms "dynamism", "charisma" and "presence" he used to describe Mr Crossley, adding: "We accept that women may also possess these characteristics, and that Mr Hoyland has hired female teachers. However, we find that these are stereotypically male characteristics - particularly the term 'presence'."

Mrs Greenwood had taught nursery, year one and year two pupils at the school for a number of years and applied for the full-time maths teacher role in 2019 in order to put her degree to better use.

Mr Crossely was a director of sport and head of house at a school in Nairobi, Kenya. He specialised in teaching sport and had extensive coaching experience, the tribunal heard.

The previous maths teacher at Pinewood was head of boarding and had also coached the rugby, cricket and hockey teams.

Mrs Greenwood told the headteacher that she would not be able to supervise boarders in the evenings as she had her own childcare commitments.

The interview panel, consisting of Mr Hoyland and two others, spent 20 minutes deliberating before unanimously appointing Mr Crossley.

Mr Hoyland said it was a "bold" appointment and came "with an element of risk", but he was looking for charisma and dynamism, and Mr Crossley's "presence" really impressed him.

During the interview, Mr Hoyland said to Mrs Greenwood: "We know you would be an excellent Maths teacher...so there's no need for us to discuss that."

After the interview, Mr Hoyland told her that the role was more about being a "big character", the tribunal also heard.

The employment tribunal decided that Mrs Greenwood's claims of direct and indirect sex discrimination were well founded.

It also decided her claim for harassment related to sex was well founded. This relates to comments made by Mr Hoyland to Mrs Greenwood in his office during drinks before an end of term lunch, in which he compared her to male teachers at the school.

Finally, it decided that her claim for victimisation, related to her request to increase her working hours, was well-founded.

A remedy hearing will be held at a later date, at which any compensation owed to Mrs Greenwood will be decided.

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