"Bullying" academy head given pound;45k to go

17th July 2009 at 01:00
Governors defend quick-exit deal as it emerges he was also suspended from a previous job

An academy principal who was suspended from his job over allegations of bullying teachers has walked away with a payout of pound;45,000, The TES can reveal.

Barrie Cooper has left West Lakes Academy in Egremont, Cumbria, after an investigation into his behaviour found evidence of "gross misconduct" and concluded that it was impossible for him to continue in his role.

It also emerged this week that Mr Cooper was suspended from a previous job as headteacher of Chulmleigh Community College in north Devon, although the reason was never made public.

Mick Farley, chair of governors at West Lakes, said that the previous suspension had not come up in the background checks they carried out on Mr Cooper before employing him.

West Lakes' governing body said that Mr Cooper, who only started full-time at the academy last September, had breached his contract and given them "grounds for dismissal".

But instead of firing Mr Cooper, it is understood that governors struck a deal to pay him half of his pound; 90,000 a year annual salary not to return to work.

"There were grounds for dismissal, but in the best interests of the academy and the individual we reached a compromise agreement. Managing change is a difficult process. To have a significant number of staff alienated is not the way to bring about the change we wanted."

Concerns have been expressed that academy heads are coming under pressure to deliver results unrealistically quickly. Mr Farley denied this has been the case at West Lakes.

However, the case raises further questions about headteachers being paid significant sums of money even when governors believe their performance is substandard.

Mr Cooper was suspended from his job in May after teachers accused him of bullying, harassment and intimidation and passed a vote of no confidence in him.

His behaviour and that of Denise Williams, the school's director of business and enterprise, who was also suspended, were investigated by consultants brought in by governors.

Last week, the governing body issued a statement that said "the weight of evidence of gross misconduct" against Mr Cooper had caused "such a fundamental breakdown of trust between the principal and governors that he cannot continue in his role".

No case was found against Ms Williams, who has been invited to return to her post at the beginning of next term.

Norma Bates, Cumbria branch secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, said: "The whole situation has been extremely stressful for our members.

Following the thorough investigation, we are pleased that the governing body took the concerns of the staff seriously and welcome the outcome."

Mr Farley refused to comment on the compensation package given to the principal.

But John Dunford, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said it was "completely appropriate" that heads were compensated in such circumstances.

"Governors usually prefer to bring these situations to a rapid conclusion without going through the usual procedures that apply to other staff," he said. "Headteachers are entitled to compensation."

Dr Dunford said the high turnover of academy principals was putting good- quality heads off taking on similar roles.

"This further example of an academy head losing their job in a very short period of time shows that the football manager syndrome is alive and well in academies," he said.

"The proportion of heads losing their jobs before they have had time to improve their schools is extremely worrying."

Figures released by ASCL earlier this year showed a five-fold increase in the number of headteachers being forced out of their jobs in the past four years, with around 150 heads and deputies made to leave their positions in 200708.

Janet Simpson, executive head of West Lake Academy's two predecessor schools, Ehenside in Cleator Moor and Wyndham in Egremont, has agreed to become the academy's principal for the next academic year while governors consider their options.

Mr Cooper's departure is the latest in a series of problems with the academies programme in Cumbria. Richard Rose Central Academy in Carlisle became only the second academy to be put in special measures after being criticised by inspectors earlier this year.

Both the school's chief executive and principal were forced out of their jobs in January - less than five months after the school opened.

A monitoring report by Ofsted, which visited Richard Rose last month, found that inadequate progress is being made in improving teaching and learning. Inspectors also criticised punctuality to lessons, with attendance rates remaining "stubbornly low".

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