Staff feel betrayed by jailed head cheat

14th March 2003 at 00:00
As Alan Mercer denied his deception his school fell to the bottom of the league tables. Teachers cannot forgive him, reports Michael Shaw

STAFF at South Borough primary have little sympathy for their former headteacher, who was jailed for three months for forging pupils' test answers.

The Kent teachers feel betrayed, and resent being left to pick up the pieces.

Alan Mercer, aged 46, admitted using different handwriting styles and various coloured pens to alter and add answers in his 11-year-old pupils'

mathematics, English and science tests.

He pleaded guilty in January to 14 charges of forgery at South Borough in Maidstone and his previous school Eythorne Elvington in Dover. He asked for a further 140 instances to be considered and was sentenced at Maidstone crown court last week.

The alarm was raised by an external marker, but his confession followed months of denials, during which innocent teachers at the school fell under suspicion.

As distrust spread, the school learned that its key stage 2 results would be annulled, placing it at the bottom of national league tables. Parents took around 30 pupils out of the school and both its Year 6 teachers resigned.

Caroline Thomas, South Borough's new head, said: "There were suspicions in the school and people were afraid to talk to each other. The teachers felt they had been tarred, and that all their hard work had gone down the drain."

In court, Mercer claimed he had faced increasing difficulties with finances, and was under pressure due to the league tables and the quality of his staff.

But Mrs Thomas said that the school's finances had been in a healthy condition when Mercer arrived. Inspectors had rated the quality of teaching as very good to satisfactory.

The teachers, she added, were furious that in court he had made them the scapegoats.

Mercer started at South Borough in September 2001 shortly after the school received its lowest-ever KS2 results, with only 39 per cent of pupils reaching the expected level in English.

Philip Sayer, chairman of governors, said: "The irony is, if he had done nothing at all the results would still have improved.

"He denied everything so we were led to believe it had to be someone else - I remember saying that if he wasn't innocent he was the world's best actor.

He betrayed me, the staff, the parents, and the whole community. Three months in prison is not long enough."

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