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Cheating headteacher is struck off for telling staff to fiddle school’s attendance figures

A cheating headteacher has been struck off for telling staff to fiddle his school’s attendance figures and hide more than 25,000 absences by pupils.

Peter Spencer, 52, ordered staff to log missing pupils as present when they were not in classes after an inspection had called for improved attendance.

A hearing was told his deception went on for five years at Queen Elizabeth High School in Carmarthen, South Wales, before it was reported by a whistle-blower.

More than 28,000 pupil absences at the school were changed to showing as present between 2014 and 2019, an Education Workforce Council panel heard.

Peter Spencer, 52, ordered staff to log missing pupils as present when they were not in classes after an inspection had called for improved attendance

Mr Spencer, who left the 1,500-pupil school with a pay-off two years ago after nine years in post, told members of staff to falsify attendance data.

The hearing was told schools get more funding and rank better on national performance measures based on higher attendance.

Luke Lambourne, presenting officer, said one member of staff was drawn into the head’s ‘web of deceit’ out of misguided loyalty while others felt ‘under pressure’ to join in the deception.

One senior member of staff told the committee he was among those asked by the headteacher to alter codes ‘n’ for not present and ‘i’ for ill to a symbol showing those pupils as present.

The unnamed staff member gave evidence to say he ‘had felt anxious the whole time’.

He told the panel he was asked by Mr Spencer to make ‘illegitimate amendments’ to attendance data to ‘show the school in a good light’ and that this ‘dishonest practice’ continued with other staff.

‘It was difficult to say no to the headteacher’s decision,’ he told the panel sitting in Cardiff.

Mr Spencer, who now works as head of an international school in Qatar, was not at the hearing.

In a written statement, Mr Spencer denied ever instructing any staff to alter the absence data.

He blamed the member of staff for changing the attendance figures – but admitted he failed to report it.

The headteacher said he kept quiet about the deception because he understood the pressure staff were under.

‘I have never instructed any employee to falsely inflate attendance data,’ Mr Spencer’s written statement said.

A hearing was told his deception went on for five years at Queen Elizabeth High School in Carmarthen, South Wales, before it was reported by a whistle-blower

A hearing was told his deception went on for five years at Queen Elizabeth High School in Carmarthen, South Wales, before it was reported by a whistle-blower

‘I accept fully that being aware of malpractice and in not acting I condoned the malpractice.

‘I did not instigate the programme of attendance inflation. The action was started by my colleague [Person D] unbeknown [sic] to me.’

Mr Spencer added that schools were under so much pressure at the time that ‘anecdotally it was believed data manipulation was widespread’.

The deception was reported to school governors by another member of staff in autumn 2018. The committee was told the ‘whistle blower’ reported being told by someone involved that data was being ‘fiddled’.

Mr Spencer was found to have committed unacceptable professional conduct.

‘I fully accept my actions fall below the standards expected of a headteacher,’ Mr Spencer said in his written statement.

Striking him off the teaching register in Wales, committee chair Peter Owen said: ‘In the committee’s view this was a protracted, serious instance of misconduct over many years.’

Mr Owen said Mr Spencer’s ‘extent of regret and remorse is limited and not where it should be’.

He added that when the deception came to light, the headteacher had tried to influence, rather than accept, the investigation.

He said the committee took into account Mr Spencer’s former unblemished record and the good testimony from his current school employer overseas, but the matters were so serious, protracted and dishonest that there was no option but to strike him off.

Mr Spencer may not apply to rejoin the register in less than five years.

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