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HomeDecember 2023Issue 487The company you keep

The company you keep

Disabled teacher wins case against school, but who owes him the money? Melanie Butler reports…

A Bournemouth language school, United World School of English, was found responsible for
disability-related harassment, constructive dismissal, and wrongful dismissal on 2 October 2023. The company, United World School of English Limited (UWS), was ordered to pay £22,000 to Mike Long who had taught at the school for 20 years.

According to the Union, ‘When the school underwent a change of ownership, Mr Long became concerned that the new owners brought a culture of pressure and intimidation. As Mr Long has suffered from depression and lives with anxiety, he raised his concerns that the actions of the new owners were impacting his condition.’

The Gazette can bear witness to Mr Long’s state of mind. He reached out to us in 2021 on a number of issues including the new contract he had felt pressured to sign.

We checked on the government register of businesses, Companies House, and found that the original company, United World School of English 2 Limited (company number: 04649886) had ceased trading in 2019.

A new company, United World School of English (12278482), had been incorporated that October. Then, on 16 December 2020, the 100% shareholding previously held by Maria Isabella Morgan had been transferred to The Language Training Co Dorset Limited (07540981) of which she was majority shareholder. UWS had become a wholly-owned subsidiary of Language Training.

The matter of company ownership again raised its head earlier this year when, after a two-year campaign, involving public action from both the TEFL Union and Disability campaigners, the case of M Long v United World School of English Ltd came to court.

The first judgement in the case, sent to both parties on 25 April, dealt with Mr Long’s disability. It reads: ‘The Claimant was a disabled person as defined by section 6 of the Equality Act 2010 at all material times […] The impairment is Anxiety.’

Shortly afterwards, on 15 May, a Confirmation Statement was posed at Companies House, recording the transfer of 100% of the shares from Language Training to Maria Isabel Morgan agreed in December 2022. UWS was listed as ‘non-trading’.

In September, when the final hearing took place, UWS had a new legal owner. The Tribunal found in favour of Mr Long and ordered UWS to pay him £22,000. According to the Union, ‘United World claimed insolvency immediately prior to the judgement.’

At the time of writing UWS have not filed for insolvency, though its insolvency practitioner assured us that the matter was in hand.

On 22 October, we raised the ownership issue with Maria Isabel Morgan. She replied, ‘I have two businesses registered on Companies House in my name […] Please do not tenuously link my other company The Language Training co. into this situation. It is completely irrelevant.’

Under English law, however, the question as to whether a respondent is a wholly-owned subsidiary of a parent company may be relevant to the question of who is liable to pay. In 2021, the UK Supreme Court ruled that a parent company can be held liable for any failings in a subsidiary’s Duty of Care, where the parent company played a role in managing the operations. The parent’s liability depends on ‘what its directors knew or ought to have known; and what action was taken or not taken.’

While not yet insolvent, United World School of English is in no financial position to meet the court order to pay. Its latest accounts uploaded on 30 October show cash in hand or at bank of £2153 and debts totalling over £144,000.

Had Language Training still been the parent company at the time of the judgement, Mike Long could have taken them to court. Its last company accounts shows £264,585 cash, and assets, net of current liabilities, of £838,752. Note that, according to the records at Companies House, the decision to switch ownership was made well before the tribunal began and this legal path now seems closed.

The Union’s lawyers remain confident they will succeed in obtaining the payment.

Mike Long himself has a different priority: “The money doesn’t matter to me. I just wanted the management of the school to realise how important the understanding of mental health issues is.

‘Hopefully, others that suffer in similar ways, can take some solace in the fact that it’s worth the fight. I’ve come out of it with my head held high and a reaffirmed belief in my future.’


Stop Press!

On 30November, a Voluntary Liquidator was appointed for United World School of English Ltd, according to Companies House. According to the Statement of Affairs, also lodged at Companies House, the company had zero assets and owed £166,000 to four creditors as follows:

Lloyd’s Bank£36,926.21
Michael Long£22,282.93
Maria Isabel Morgan£3607.68
The Language Training Co Dorset Ltd£103,359.92

On Google Maps, a private language school known as The Language Training Co. is shown as currently trading at Brandon & Clifton House, 44-46 St Peter’s Road, Bournemouth, previously the location of United World School of English. A photograph on the listing of a barbecue dated September 2023 with a sign reading ‘United World School of English’ clearly shown on the building confirms this.

The TEFL Union has confirmed to the Gazette that its lawyers still expect to obtain at least part of the money owed to Mike Long.

Image courtesy of Mike Long
Melanie Butler
Melanie Butler
Melanie started teaching EFL in Iran in 1975. She worked for the BBC World Service, Pearson/Longman and MET magazine before taking over at the Gazette in 1987 and also launching Study Travel magazine. Educated in ten schools in seven countries, she speaks fluent French and Spanish and rather rusty Italian.
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