There was a “culture of fear” at ArtsEd, Matthew Bulmer employment tribunal hears

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There was a "culture of fear" at ArtsEd, Matthew Bulmer employment tribunal hears

Unique: 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 allegations about principal Julie Spencer’s conduct, including claims that she bullied staff and students.

Spencer is currently on medical leave pending the outcome of an independent review of his conduct, which was launched after Deadline’s reporting. He has denied the allegations against him through an ArtsEd spokesperson.

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

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

The Bond legal review examined Bulmer’s claims that there was a “culture of fear” at the drama school and that teachers would come to him in tears or in distress after encounters with Spencer and his deputy Yewande Akindele.

The details of Bulmer’s claim are not yet in the public domain and it is unclear whether he will rely on the bond legal review as part of his evidence at the full tribunal, which is due to take place in early 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 employees and students.

Bulmer’s claim is against both ArtsAid and Bond Legal, arguing that it was acting as an agency of ArtsAid when it conducted the review, potentially raising questions about its independence.

Bond Legal attempted to have the claim dismissed during a tribunal hearing last week, but employment judge Richard Nicol ruled it would be “inappropriate” to do so.

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

This also included the Bond legal review itself, which was disclosed to Bulmer by a third-party law firm just days before last week’s hearing.

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

ArtsAid declined to comment on the legal dispute.

Deadline has published a series of stories about the drama school, including audio evidence of Spencer calling students “snakes” and threatening legal action after being accused of bias. He has denied any wrongdoing.

Employment barrister Ghazaleh Rezaei is investigating the matter and is expected to report to the ArtsEd board with her findings in March.

Drama school chair Brian Brodie and trustees Simon Dowson-Collins and Jennifer Wilkinson have resigned since Deadline first reported last November.

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

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