A headteacher who put children at risk by using solitary confinement and failing to vet new staff has been found guilty of unacceptable professional conduct.
Alison Earl, acting headteacher of Tollgate Primary School, in Bury St Edmunds, from July 2014 and headteacher from January to December 2015, was facing a possible teaching ban following the findings of a professional conduct panel into her failings at the school.
In a report released on Wednesday, however, the Secretary of State announced her decision to publish the panel’s findings rather than impose a so-called ‘prohibition order’.
It states: “A published finding of unacceptable professional conduct and conduct that may bring the profession into disrepute is a serious matter, and in my view meets the public interest in this case.”
The panel, which met on three days during July and August to consider the case against Mrs Earl, found she failed to maintain appropriate professional standards while employed at the Bury St Edmunds All-Through Trust school and failed to ensure appropriate safeguarding procedures were followed.
It was alleged, and proven, that under her leadership, misbehaving pupils were put into solitary confinement in an empty room and left unsupervised for periods of time that put them at risk.
The room’s door handle was raised out of reach of children and, when partitioned in 2015 to create a smaller room of about two metres by 1.5 metres, its handle was also raised, and later removed altogether.
The panel also found Mrs Earl put the safety of children at risk by hiring people she knew without advertising posts, conducting formal interviews, receiving job applications, obtaining references or seeing original copies of professional qualifications.
Mrs Earl attributed this to a ‘low staff retention rate’ and a ‘desperate need’ to fill numerous vacancies.
Recommending against a prohibition order, the panel noted that school attainment was ‘rising quickly’ under Mrs Earl’s leadership and said she ‘readily accepted where she had made mistakes and was remorseful’.
It found that she presented a ‘low’ risk of repeating such conduct in the future.
Chris Pamplin, current chair of governors at Tollgate and vice-chairman of the Bury All-Through Trust, said the matter was ‘dealt with’ by the then governing body as soon as it came to light and Tollgate ‘is now a very different school’.
He added: “We are pleased that this isolated incident is fully behind us and look forward to an exciting start to an excellent year.”
To read the panel’s findings in full click here.