Samuel Ward Academy staff member blows lid off a 'culture of cheating' at Haverhill school, involving Pat Stalker, Andrew Prestoe and Howard Lay
A staff member has blown the lid off a ‘culture of cheating’ at a Haverhill secondary school which for seven years maintained an ‘outstanding’ Ofsted status.
Ex-headteacher Andrew Prestoe, ex-deputy head Pat Stalker, and ex-headteacher and then CEO of the Samuel Ward Trust Howard Lay are all alleged to have engaged in exam malpractice, ‘off-rolling’ and other ‘dishonest’ behaviour while working at the Samuel Ward Academy between 2010 and 2016.
Off-rolling is the practice of removing a pupil from the school roll without a formal, permanent exclusion or by encouraging a parent to remove their child from the school roll, when the removal is primarily in the interests of the school rather than in the best interests of the pupil.
At a professional conduct hearing, which started on Monday and is due to finish next Friday, the three former staff members are being questioned by a panel over their actions during the six-year period.
The panel has heard 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 and Mrs Stalker all admit off-rolling and exam malpractice did take place in 2015 and 2016. If allegations are proven true, all three could face a ban from teaching.
It comes after the Teaching Regulation Agency launched an investigation after the practice was exposed by whistleblowers.
Yesterday, one of the whistleblowers gave an account of working at the school over a period which saw, they said, a ‘culture of cheating’.
“The results and how the school looked seemed to come first rather than what was best for the students,” they said. “It was results at all costs.”
The panel heard how severe pressure was put on teachers to ensure students achieved the necessary grades to improve Samuel Ward’s standing in the area and prevent a brain drain to other schools.
The staff member said Mr Lay allegedly said results at the school had to stay high otherwise prospective students would choose Stour Valley School instead, and staff could lose their jobs.
The culture of cheating, the witness added, was ‘embedded’ when they first joined the school in 2009, when Mr Lay was headteacher.
Earlier, on Monday, the hearing, which is being held in Coventry, heard from another witness who detailed their time as a senior teacher at the school and broke down in tears when talking about the period immediately after leaving.
The witness joined the school as a teacher in 2008 but left seven years later to continue their career elsewhere.
“I had got to the point where I couldn’t work there any more,” said the former senior staff member. “The easiest route for me was to resign.
“I left Samuel Ward Academy Trust and was working at another school and about six months after I left the school I was told I would have to join back into the trust and I broke down in the toilets.”
“I said that I didn’t want to work with that trust again, but I didn’t really have a choice.”
The hearing heard from the witness how coursework grades awarded to students were, in their opinion, sometimes grossly mismatched with written exam results, an indicator there was coursework malpractice going on.
Relating to accusations made towards Mr Prestoe about coursework malpractice, the witness said Mr Prestoe had directed their team to ‘assist children to complete their coursework to a standard which was above their ability’.
That accusation came alongside Mr Prestoe failing to act on complaints against an ‘individual C’, who was employed at the Samuel Ward Academy and engaged in ‘unacceptable behaviour’ which saw pupils describe them as ‘creepy’ and ‘scary’.
The hearing is due to hear from a number of witnesses, including a former staff member, who has offered a statement saying they were involved in the practical side of off-rolling.
A spokesman for the Unity Schools Partnership, which evolved out of the Samuel Ward trust, said the trust was unable to comment on the hearing until it had concluded.
The hearing continues.