Stress help for 'bullied' staff

22nd May 2009 at 01:00
Counselling offered following head's suspension

Teachers at an academy that has suspended its head over allegations of bullying and harassment are being offered counselling to help cope with stress.

Barrie Cooper, the principal of West Lakes Academy in Egremont, Cumbria, and Denise Williams, the school's director of business and enterprise, were suspended earlier this month after teachers passed a vote of no confidence in the pair.

An investigation is being carried out into their behaviour, with results expected to be submitted to governors soon after next week's half-term break.

All staff at the school will now be offered counselling to help them cope with the stress they have experienced at work.

Norma Bates, the Cumbria branch secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, welcomed the move after 40 teachers stepped forward to give evidence against the suspended senior staff.

"The teachers are a very good and committed group," she said. "They are a very united staff, but they have found the situation stressful."

Teachers who have lodged complaints of being bullied, harassed and intimidated have been interviewed by a team of educational consultants drafted in by governors to investigate the allegations.

Their evidence is being checked and is expected to be completed soon. The statements, plus other findings, will be submitted to governors, who will decide what action needs to be taken.

Mick Farley, the chair of governors, said that suspending Mr Cooper and Ms Williams was a "neutral act" that does not imply that the allegations are accepted at this stage. He denied that the offer of counselling was a response to the difficulties that the school is facing. "The staff are being offered a confidential counselling service if they would like to use it," he said. "It is not related to the investigation."

He said that Northern Education, the Newcastle consultancy conducting the investigation, had been told to report their findings as quickly as possible.

Janet Simpson, the executive head of the academy's two predecessor schools, Ehenside in Cleator Moor and Wyndham in Egremont, is acting head while the investigation is carried out.

The situation at West Lakes, which opened last September, follows problems at another Cumbria academy which opened at the same time. The chief executive and head of Richard Rose Central Academy in Carlisle were forced from their jobs in January after complaints and a critical Ofsted report that put the school into special measures.

Fiona Cordeaux, the former head of Walthamstow Academy in east London, left her job last month after staff made a series of complaints about her performance.

John Dunford, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, has raised concerns about the pressures being put on academy principals to deliver results unrealistically quickly.

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