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Colleagues rally around Howard Lay, accused of exam malpractice and 'off-rolling' while headteacher at Samuel Ward Academy, in Haverhill

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Colleagues have rallied around the former headteacher of a secondary school after he was accused of exam malpractice and taking pupils off school books to artificially inflate grades.

Howard Lay is accused of encouraging or knowing about the practice of ‘off-rolling’ or coursework malpractice in both his role as headteacher of Samuel Ward School, in Haverhill, and then CEO of the Samuel Ward Trust.

Off-rolling involves removing a pupil from the school roll when the removal is primarily in the interests of the school, often to make school grades appear higher than they are.

Howard Lay, ex-headteacher of Samuel Ward Academy.
Howard Lay, ex-headteacher of Samuel Ward Academy.

At a panel hearing, being held in Coventry, Mr Lay has been questioned alongside former colleagues Pat Stalker and Andrew Prestoe, who worked as headteacher and deputy headteacher respectively at Samuel Ward.

The panel heard last week how Mr Lay denies encouraging or knowing about the off-rolling or coursework malpractice in either his role as headteacher or chief executive of the trust.

However, Mr Lay, Mr Prestoe, also former headteacher of Sybil Andrews Academy, in Bury St Edmunds, and Mrs Stalker all admit off-rolling and exam malpractice did take place in 2015 and 2016.

Adnrew Prestoe and Howard Lay. Picture: Mecha Morton.
Adnrew Prestoe and Howard Lay. Picture: Mecha Morton.

All three could face a ban from teaching if the allegations are proven true by the Teaching Regulation Agency.

At a hearing yesterday, evidence was heard from ex-colleagues of Mr Lay who said he was a man of integrity.

One witness, when asked by Lucy Coulson, a lawyer for the Teaching Regulation Agency, whether it was results at all costs when Mr Lay was head and then chief executive, said: “At no time did I feel results were at the top of a priority list,” adding: “I always felt that with the good pastoral system we always looked after children.”

The witness said: “I do believe that I worked with outstanding members of staff who always wanted the best for children and worked extremely hard to achieve the best they could and get the best from the children.

Pat Stalker, former deputy headteacher of Samuel Ward Academy.
Pat Stalker, former deputy headteacher of Samuel Ward Academy.

"I felt as though it wasn’t corrupt in any way.”

Addressing a meeting in 2012 when Mr Lay is alleged to have asked teachers to ‘do whatever it takes’ to get good grades, the witness added they had ‘no recollection’ of Mr Lay saying such a thing.

Another witness, a former teacher at Samuel Ward, gave their backing to Mr Lay.

"His integrity was absolute," they said.

"If he said he would do a particular thing on behalf of somebody, he would.”

Mr Lay was head of Samuel Ward Academy from 2000-2013, after which he became CEO of the Samuel Ward Trust, now called the Unity Schools Partnership.

The panel has heard evidence suggesting Mr Lay 'was not a data person'.

A witness said yesterday after he became CEO of the Trust, he 'wasn't in school a great deal'.

However, offering her closing argument yesterday, Miss Coulson cited evidence heard from Mr Prestoe from the 2010/11 academic year when he queried discrepancies over data with Mr Lay, who responded 'I'll sort it'.

The hearing was told by a former teacher at Samuel Ward last week pressure was put on teachers in one department to help pupils achieve grades out of their reach.

However, a separate witness yesterday said there was a 'defensive' culture in that same department.

"Some staff felt threatened by the high targets,” the witness said.

“Why they felt threatened I don't know, I never understood.”

The witness added their experience of the department was not that of a 'reflective approach' of 'why are we not doing as well as we can be doing'.

"It was a very strange approach, and dysfunctional in the team," they said.

The hearing is due to conclude on Friday.

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