Academy leaders suspended over allegations of harassment

8th May 2009 at 01:00
Staff pass unanimous vote of no confidence in principal and business boss amid concerns about the impact of fast tracking

An academy head and another senior school manager have been suspended following allegations of bullying and a vote of no confidence from staff.

The behaviour of Barrie Cooper, principal of West Lakes Academy in Egremont, Cumbria, and Denise Williams, the school's director of business and enterprise, is being investigated by governors.

The action was triggered when the three main teachers' unions submitted a formal grievance letter after staff alleged they had been bullied and harassed. Teachers who attended a meeting last week passed a unanimous vote of no confidence.

Mick Farley, the chair of governors, said that the suspensions were a "neutral act" while the investigation was being completed.

But they follow a series of other problems with senior academy leaders in Cumbria.

The chief executive and head of the Richard Rose Central Academy in Carlisle were both forced from their jobs in January after the school was put in special measures.

Peter Noble, the former chief executive of Richard Rose, was the first person to be put in control of a state school despite having no teaching experience.

Concerns have also been raised about the impact of "fast tracking" academies. Both Richard Rose and West Lakes, which opened last September, had their opening dates brought forward by one year.

Janet Simpson, the executive head of West Lake's two predecessor schools, Ehenside in Cleator Moor and Wyndham in Egremont, has taken over the headship while the investigation is carried out.

Mr Farley, chair of governors, said: "Suspension is a neutral act. It does not constitute disciplinary action and must not be taken as implying any assumption or acceptance that the allegations are well-founded.

"This has got nothing to do with the fact that the school is an academy or that it was fast tracked. It's about the operational leadership and management of the school. Staff will keep the best interests of students at the forefront of their efforts."

John Dunford, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: "I can't comment on individual cases, but the pressure on senior staff in academies to deliver quick success means they will inevitably ruffle some feathers."

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