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Leader kept it in the family

Head praised by Tony Blair for boosting achievement faces charges of bullying and nepotism. Oliver Luft reports

A headteacher praised by the Prime Minister for presiding over one of England's most improved schools has been accused of promoting his mistress, nepotism and bullying his staff.

Richard Wealthall, former head of St Clement's high school, in Terrington St Clement, Norfolk, appeared before England's General Teaching Council last week charged with unacceptable professional conduct.

He is alleged to have appointed Tessa Mountain, his mistress, as head of English without advertising the post, or advising the governors, even though she had no teaching management experience.

Bradley Albuery, opening the hearing in Birmingham, accused Mr Wealthall of allowing his personal life to determine the decisions he had made at the 580-pupil secondary school.

Yvonne Srodzinski, former deputy head, said: "I was concerned that (Ms Mountain) was exploiting her position with Mr Wealthall. I got the impression he was getting carried away with the affair."

She said that at the time of Ms Mountain's appointment Mr Wealthall had told her that his mistress and her husband Carl, with whom he was on friendly terms, were in financial difficulty.

It is alleged that in September 2002, he appointed Mr Mountain, a former HGV driver, to a junior technology role on an abnormally large salary, although he was not qualified for the position.

Emma, the Mountains' daughter, was given a favourable extension to her contract with the school, despite concerns about her attendance, punctuality and time-keeping, it was claimed.

Mr Wealthall is also alleged to have extended the contract of his daughter, Katherine Leat, and then appointed her as head of drama without proper consultation, and to have recruited her husband, Stephen Leat, as a PE instructor without assessing his ability to do the job.

The hearing was told that his ex-wife Susan, who worked at the school, was able to cherry-pick the lessons she wanted to teach and had her timetable amended by Mr Wealthall.

Mrs Srodzinski said: "Senior staff began to feel that they were surrounded by a camp of either Mountains or Wealthalls.He protected his family and friends by financial means. The situation was untenable.

"As the nepotism increased he wouldn't accept my advice. Four members of the senior management were reduced to tears."

Mr Wealthall was suspended in July 2002 after school governors at the foundation school asked Norfolk council to conduct an investigation into his activities on their behalf.

Jeff Gough, the council officer who led the investigation, said in evidence: "Mr Wealthall's approach was bullish. His style was management by attrition." Mrs Srodzinski told the hearing that one member of staff told her that she was sick every morning at the thought of going to the school.

She said: "His was a very macho, intimidating manner. In certain contexts this is acceptable, but when you are the head the staff have to be able to feel you have integrity.

"The feeling the staff had was that they were bullied. What he did not understand was that younger members of staff could not handle their relationship with him because they did not know what he meant. They went along because he was the boss. Several younger staff left the school because they could not cope."

Mr Wealthall was presented with an award by the Prime Minister, in 2000, after the proportion of GCSE grades A*-C at St Clement's high jumped from 27 per cent in 1996 to 58 per cent in 1999.

In all, seven allegations were levelled at Mr Wealthall, including a charge of donating pound;500 of school funds to a charity event organised by his daughter and son-in-law.

The hearing was adjourned until a later date.


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