Three academy leaders guilty of misconduct over off-rolling scandal

Two of the ex-staff at Samuel Ward Academy in Suffolk were also rebuked over exam "malpractice"

Two of the ex-staff at Samuel Ward Academy in Suffolk were also rebuked over exam "malpractice"

15 Oct 2021, 17:37

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The case

Three former academy leaders embroiled in an off-rolling scandal have been found guilty of serious misconduct which could “bring the profession into disrepute”.

A Teaching Regulation Agency panel also ruled two staff at Samuel Ward Academy in Suffolk “breached ethical standards” through failures linked to coursework “malpractice”. 

Former executive head Howard Lay, ex-principal Andy Prestoe and ex-assistant head Pat Stalker are now waiting to hear if they will face teaching bans after the independent standards panel’s decision today.

Prestoe was found to have been “dishonest” after admitting instructing others to off-roll low-achieving pupils in the 2015 and 2016 censuses to help keep the school’s “outstanding” rating. He admitted participating in half-termly meetings to identify students who were then removed.

Stalker’s conduct was similarly branded “dishonest” after she admitted active involvement in choosing pupils to off-roll between 2013 and 2016.

The panel found Lay, who was also CEO of the trust of the same name, knew off-rolling had taken place by 2014 but in his own words “turned a blind eye” rather than investigate further.

This amounted to “tacitly condoning the unethical and pernicious practice”, enabling it to continue, according to the panel’s verdict read out by chair Maurice McBride.

But the panel did not rule he had been dishonest, and was “unable to conclude” if he had been off-rolling’s “architect”. It “could not be satisfied” Lay had told Stalker to ask the head of another trust school, Newmarket Academy, to off-roll pupils too, as claimed by Stalker.

It also noted “tensions” between Lay and Prestoe, who had claimed the CEO was “fully aware” of the practice.

Former Samuel Ward Academy staff Andrew Prestoe and Howard Lay faced a professional conduct panel.
Andy Prestoe and Howard Lay Credit Mecha Morton

The panel cleared Lay too of three claims of malpractice relating to English, French and science coursework between 2012 and 2016, despite the TRA’s lawyer alleging a “culture of cheating”.

It found Stalker, also a science teacher, knowingly breached exam rules and teaching standards during an incident in May 2016, but there was no evidence Lay was involved.

Stalker had realised there were too many pupils in a classroom and too little time for them all to complete the practical work before a coursework deadline. She therefore gave pupils data on an experiment they had not done, according to her lawyer.

She gave evidence her “heart took over her head” as she did not want pupils to receive no marks. Stalker has already served a three-year AQA coursework ban.

Meanwhile the panel found grades in a French controlled assessment in 2015-16 had been “over-inflated” and recorded on the school system. It found Prestoe should have investigated further and failed to report it to the exam board, which he admitted, but did not rule he caused or allowed malpractice himself.

McBride said it was “not clear” Lay had been informed about the incident. The panel dismissed another TRA claim too that Lay and Prestoe were involved in over-assisting GCSE English pupils with coursework in 2011-12.

Issues at Samuel Ward Academy, the trust’s flagship school, emerged in 2018 when staff raised concerns about coursework. A school investigation then exposed not only off-rolling, but also further safeguarding problems.

Multiple complaints had been made and police were eventually informed over alleged “creepy”, sexualised and inappropriate behaviour towards pupils by one staff member, identified only as “Individual C”.

Prestoe’s self-confessed failure to take adequate action over the employee left pupils “at risk of harm”, the panel ruled.

Lay told Schools Week he was sorry for unprofessional practices that occurred, saying he took his “eye off the ball” when he expanded the trust.

But he said he was pleased the panel had recognised the school’s achievements, and saw through some “unfounded accusations” against him. “It’s been a long and painful process, but I’ve been overwhelmed by all the messages of support.”

Prestoe and a solicitor representing Stalker, who did not attend today’s hearing at the TRA’s Coventry office, were approached for comment.

A spokesperson for the 30-school trust, which subsequently renamed itself the Unity Schools Partnership, said it treated misconduct claims with “utmost seriousness”, and launched external investigations when these allegations emerged.

He said the trust was “confident there had been no malpractice since 2016”, and that new trust and school leaders had “unwavering commitment” to government guidance.

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One comment

  1. Victoria Jaquiss

    This should headlines on every paper and lead in on every television and radio news! It is a disgrace! A scandal! The suits compete with each for the top prizes (being called “outstanding”, maybe getting an honour), and the most disadvantaged are, under cover of darkness, thrown out of the train of life.

    And this scandal is driven by Ofsted and its stupid, stupid labels. Publicly humiliating schools does NOTHING at all to improve children’s life chances and nothing to let parents make informed choices about their offsprings’ education. It has children criss-crossing their town in a desperate search for the mythical best school. Children should go to their local school, for their safety, protection and meant all health.and all local schools will adjust according to the needs of their community.