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Acting head accused of bullying school

An acting headteacher bullied staff and students, even shouting at a special needs pupil, a conduct hearing for the General Teaching Council for England heard this week. Elisabeth Cooper faced six charges of inappropriate professional behaviour during the hearing which was held in Birmingham on Monday.

The GTCE panel heard that Ms Cooper subjected a special needs pupil to a prolonged verbal attack when she was in charge of Sudell primary in Darwen, Lancashire.

Ivy Pollard, a secretary at the school, told the panel: "She was shouting at him for five to 10 minutes with the volume and pitch steadily increasing. I was concerned when it got to screaming pitch that something could happen to the child or to her."

Ms Cooper joined the school as deputy head in 1997. Geoff Tennant, the former head of a neighbouring school who acted as her mentor, said the boy seemed extremely frightened when he spoke to him later.

"He cowered and seemed to be surprised when I spoke to him calmly," said Mr Tennant. "He told me he expected to be really shouted at and when I asked why, he said 'Ms Cooper did a lot of shouting'."

The hearing heard that Ms Cooper made pupils who arrived late for school stand in her office for up to 45 minutes.

Mrs Pollard said: "No one was given responsibility to look after them.

There could be up to six children of all ages there at a time, and the reception children seemed scared. They did not seem to understand what was going on."

Ms Cooper, who was not at the hearing and was not represented, said in a statement that the late arrivals policy was agreed during a staff meeting and that children stood because there were not enough chairs. She said the scheme lasted for only one week.

"No children were left unattended in the office. They were brought in and looked after by the person on playground duty," said Ms Cooper, who resigned in November 2001.

Mrs Pollard, Kath Staffa, a caretaker at the school, and Linda Wallis, a learning support assistant, all accused Ms Cooper of bullying them.

Mrs Staffa said: "She seemed to work her way through the staff. She agitated them and then they would leave. I made a complaint in the end so she would not go on to the next person." She said Ms Cooper accused her of defrauding the school by working fewer hours than she should.

In her statement, Ms Cooper denied bullying Mrs Staffa, saying: "I was not abusive to Kath and I was absolutely not threatening."

Mrs Wallis broke down in tears during the hearing, saying the acting head was particularly threatening on one occasion.

She said: "Ms Cooper would not let me finish my sentences. She kept telling me to shut up and said 'I don't want to see your face around school, you better keep out of my way'."

The hearing has been adjourned to a later date.

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