'Cheat cases need external investigators'

Head who resigned following test allegations believes the accused are not given a fair hearing. Julie Henry reports

A headteacher accused of cheating in national tests has defended her record and called for an independent body to be established to investigate allegations of fraud.

Cynthia Thumwood retired last year from Hanover primary in Islington, north London, after accusations of malpractice led the Government's exam watchdog to annul pupils' test results.

Staff at the school were understood to have raised suspicions with Cambridge Education Associates which took over the borough's education services in 2000.

Ms Thumwood, who still works as an Office for Standards of Education inspector, said her world collapsed around her.

"I felt suicidal. I do not think I would have survived if it were not for the Samaritans and Teacherline (the telephone helpline for teachers). The school was my life."

During the same term, accusations of financial irregularity were also levelled against her, again made by members of staff.

However, no action was taken by school governors or CEA against Ms Thumwood.

The 60-year-old said: "I felt there must have been a plot to discredit me because I know I did not do anything wrong.

"I was never given the benefit of a disciplinary hearing so I could state my case. Instead everyone just clammed up. I was guilty until proven innocent but had no opportunity to prove my innocence.

"I went from being presented as the face of education in Islington to being suddenly put out like the rubbish."

Ms Thumwood said that in retrospect she should have remained at school, despite the allegations and being near to retirement.

"I should have stuck it out like Marjorie Evans (the Welsh head accused of slapping a pupil who was eventually cleared). But I took the advice given to me at the time."

The school's last OFSTED report in 2000 described Hanover as an effective school with very good teaching. It said the primary was "strongly led" and provided good value for money.

Ms Thumwood said: "I had no need to alter scripts: we got good results year on year and were held up as a shining example. There is no way you can fool OFSTED."

She said those accused often felt they had no option but to resign: "There should be an independent, external body to investigate allegations of cheating thoroughly and the reports made public so no head is left with these unfounded allegations hanging over them for ever."

Last year, 270 reports of cheating were brought to the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority. Results were quashed in 11 cases.

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