Headteacher's death inquiry finds contradictory reports

18th December 2009 at 00:00
Witnesses' evidence gives different verdicts on Borders school

Original paper headline: Inquiry into headteacher's death hears of contradictory school reports

There were significant "discrepancies" between Scottish Borders Council's pre-inspection report into Glendinning Terrace Primary and HMIE's findings, it emerged this week at the inquiry into the death of Borders head Irene Hogg.

The authority's report, carried out just before inspectors arrived at Glendinning Terrace Primary in Galashiels, was "generally favourable, with challenges", said Yvonne McCracken, Scottish Borders' head of schools.

HMIE's evaluation of the school, on the other hand, was "not strong", Jacqueline Horsburgh, who led the inspection of Glendinning, told the fatal accident inquiry at Jedburgh Sheriff Court, which has heard claims that Miss Hogg killed herself after a poor inspection report.

Ms McCracken said she was "taken aback" by the weak grading for care, welfare and development in HMIE's draft report; she saw care and welfare as one of the school's strengths.

She was also surprised that inspectors had rated the school's leadership as "weak". That had not been her experience.

In HMIE's final report, the rating for care and welfare was upgraded to "adequate". But Miss Hogg, a teaching head, did not live to see the final report and was found dead in a stream in a remote area of the Borders, days after the inspection last year. The cause of death was given as "immersion in water and paracetemol toxicity".

Irene Hogg was an able and competent head, Ms McCracken told the inquiry. In 2006, she offered her the chance to lead Langlee Primary, a large, challenging school near Glendinning. It was a "complex" job that would have required Miss Hogg to dedicate herself to headship, but she had the "grit" to do it, Ms McCracken said. Miss Hogg turned down the post.

In September, 2007, Ms McCracken received an email from Miss Hogg, saying she was "deeply" concerned about "lots" of issues in education and was particularly concerned about the sustainability of her job.

At a face-to-face meeting soon afterwards, Miss Hogg voiced concern about the implications of the Parental Involvement Act and the Additional Support for Learning Act for heads of small schools. She was "very angry", "robust" and "called a spade a spade", Ms McCracken recalled.

"She probably called some of it nonsense," she told the inquiry.

Miss Hogg had told her that she was finding it harder to make decisions, added Ms McCracken. She had also confessed that she was not where she thought she would be at this time in her life.

Ms McCracken offered Miss Hogg additional support in the form of a supply teacher. She had hoped this would allow her to concentrate on leading the school and give up her responsibility for a P67 composite class of more than 25 pupils. However, teaching was the part of the job she enjoyed most and she did not want to give it up, Ms McCracken said.

She also offered Miss Hogg counselling, which she turned down. But she managed to persuade her to consider a tailored mentoring and coaching programme.

Ms McCracken was meeting the NHS professional who had been lined up to give this support when she heard Miss Hogg was missing. She was found dead the next day.

Miss Hogg's role as carer for her elderly parents was also weighing on her, the inquiry heard. When she turned down the job at Langlee, she said it was not the right time in her life - a family member had been very ill - Ms McCracken said.

Four days into the inspection, Miss Hogg also told Ms Horsburgh that she was under more stress than usual because of her caring role.

This meant that Miss Hogg "had not had the same focus on the work of the school", Ms Horsburgh told the inquiry. When Miss Hogg was given verbal feedback about the inspection, she was "quietly upset" and wiped a tear from her eye, Ms Horsburgh said. "She said something to the effect: `I wish it had been better,'" Ms Horsburgh added.

When Miss Hogg entered the staffroom following the feedback meeting with the inspectors, she said: "Sorry ladies, I've let you down," said Joan Mann, an office assistant at Glendinning.

Miss Hogg had been going "downhill" since a child had made a complaint to inspectors about a previous incident, Ms Mann said. One of the criticisms of the school in the HMIE report was that the original incident had not been recorded.

The child was known to "fabricate", Ms Mann said. When Miss Hogg heard about the child's meeting with the inspectors, she threw down her pen and said, "That's it," she told the inquiry.

She spent every free moment "trawling" the computer, searching for evidence to show the incident had been dealt with correctly, but to no avail, Ms Mann added.

HMIE chief inspector Chris McIlroy, who was responsible for primary inspections at the time of Miss Hogg's death, told the inquiry that her death had reinforced the direction the inspectorate was travelling in, moving to so-called "light-touch" inspections.

However, there was "no causal link" between Miss Hogg's death and the changes, he stressed in his evidence. A "searching look" at the inspection of Glendinning had left HMIE "fully satisfied" it was appropriate, he said.

Ms McCracken said there was nothing more the authority could have done to prevent Miss Hogg's death. The inquiry was adjourned until today to allow written submissions to be made.

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