A PRIVATE school has won a court battle against a guardian of Chinese students after a judge backed its decision to remove him for letting his pupils live unsupervised in rented apartments during the holidays.
Dr Chuanjie Zhou failed in an attempt to sue Queen Ethelburga’s College, Thorpe Underwood, for loss of earnings after the independent school stopped him from acting as a guardian to 30 of its students.
Judge Foster told a county court hearing yesterday that the school was “fully justified” in removing Dr Zhou and ordered him to pay Queen Ethelburga’s legal costs.
Dr Zhou had alleged that the issue of pupils’ accommodation had been a smokescreen to hide the real reason the school wanted to remove him - his interference in his students’ course choices.
In written evidence, the 57-year-old claimed that he could have been seen as a whistleblower over the way Queen Ethelburga’s runs two senior schools with separate results - a practice which he claimed allowed it to “inaccurately” claim to be the UK’s top performing school in the north.
Queen Ethelburga’s College “vehemently denied” this in court and on Wednesday Judge Foster rejected the idea that the issue of letting students stay unsupervised had been a smokescreen.
He said: “The arrangements for students over half-term were important matters for the school. The failure of Dr Zhou’s to make appropriate arrangements for his students justified the refusal to accept Dr Zhou as a guardian for pupils at Queen Ethelburga’s College.
“That was in fact the reason why Queen Ethelburga’s refused to accept him as a governor.”
Speaking after the case, Queen Ethelburga’s principal Steven Jandrell said the school had acted on “serious and genuine concerns” about the welfare and care of a group of international students during the half-term holidays and said he was delighted those concerns had been upheld in a court of law.
He added: “We are pleased that his honour Judge Foster has recognised that Queen Ethelburga’s was justified in dispensing with the services of a guardian who did not act in the proper interests of our pupils. We are a school and as such are responsible for the care and education of our young people, particularly those so far from home. We are delighted to see that the court has endorsed those principles.”
Dr Zhou, who lives in Timperley, Cheshire, said he was very disappointed with the judge’s findings and would take legal advice over whether he could seek to appeal.
He had been seeking damages from the school after its governors acted to remove him in October 2010. At the time, he was acting as a guardian to 30 Chinese pupils at the school and eight international students elsewhere.
In court, Dr Zhou admitted that seven of his students had refused home stays that he had arranged for them and had stayed in serviced accommodation instead during a half-term break.
Dr Zhou and Mr Jandrell gave different accounts of a 10 minute meeting between the pair which led to the guardian’s removal.
Mr Jandrell said a decision was taken after Dr Zhou failed to give an undertaking that he would provide suitable accommodation for his students. He said Dr Zhou had told him he was unable to stop the students living unsupervised as this was what they wanted.
Queen Ethelburga’s evidence also said that Dr Zhou’s attitude had been that it was nothing to do with the school - a claim backed by the judge yesterday.
Dr Zhou was seeking damages for “unlawful and deliberate interference” with his business and economic interest and procuring a breach of contract. Both claims were rejected by the judge on Wednesday after the three-day hearing at Manchester County Court.
He said he did not find that the school intended to create a breach of contract or had acted without lawful justification. He added: “The action by the school was fully justified - indeed they would have been in breach of their obligations to parents and pupils had they not taken that action.”