Sunday 25 February 2018

Headteacher asked underachieving pupil 'to stay home' during school inspection

Benjamin Wright

A bullying headteacher waged a nine-year campaign of "fear and anxiety" against pupils, parents and staff, a panel has heard.

Jane Morag Vaterlaws was in charge of St Alban's Roman Catholic Primary School in Cardiff before leaving under a cloud in 2012.


A General Teaching Council for Wales (GTCW) hearing sitting in the Welsh capital was told among the catalogue of errors caused by Mrs Vaterlaws included falsely accusing a six-year-old pupil of drawing a sexually explicit picture before threatening to involve social services.


Case presenter Rosa Fernandez also said the former teacher placed two young pupils "at risk" by contacting their imprisoned father - who had been barred from contacting his children.


She also gave details of how Mrs Vaterlaws asked a parent of an underachieving pupil to stay at home ahead of an inspection and was accused of trying to "cover up" a vicious attack on a child - saying they had only jammed their finger in a gate.


And the GTCW also heard how parents even launched a petition for Mrs Vaterlaws to be given the boot for her alleged misconduct - which also included claims of "incompetently" managing the school's finances.


Ms Fernandez, who spent more than an hour briefly outlining 24 allegations, said: "Management of staff is a key responsibility of a headteacher. Bullying and threatening does not promote a harmonious relationship or well-being of staff.


"It is quite clear Jane Vaterlaws caused numerous people to complain about her conduct.


"Her manner was abrupt and smirking over her desk while the parents of children were close to tears.


"As you can see we are not dealing with one isolated incident.


"There are lots of different incidents comprising of serious financial mismanagement, bullying or intimidation and breaches of confidentiality."


The GTCW's Professional Conduct Committee Hearing learned that Mrs Vaterlaws was promoted from deputy to head teacher in September 2003.


And within her first year in charge, she was the subject of controversy following a run-in with a parent over their child - known as Pupil E.


Ms Fernandez said Mrs Vaterlaws regarded the child as "not the best behaved" and how she thought it "would help the school" if the youngster stayed at home when the inspectors arrived.


And on one occasion when she tried to send the pupil home 15 minutes early, a panel was told how the school chief breached confidentiality rules by ringing up a neighbour and asking could they pick the child up up.


Ms Fernandez spoke of the how the alleged incident was just the beginning of parents' complaints.


In 2009, the mother of a child referred to as Pupil A was summoned to the school after claims her daughter had drawn an inappropriate picture.


Ms Fernandez said despite Mrs Vaterlaws not investigating the matter properly, she told the mother how the image would be photocopied and stay on the child's file.


"She also said she would be referring her to social services," added the case presenter.


It later turned out the drawing had been done by another child.


Ms Fernandez said: "Mrs Vaterlaws refused to apologise and all attempts by the the child's mother to meet up with her denied.


"Her approach was heavy handed and the threat of involving social services caused a great deal of anxiety to the child's parent."


The GTCW heard further evidence of when another mother had been left fuming when Mrs Vaterlaws breached her children's confidentiality.


A panel was told the biological father of Pupils B and C was serving an eight-year jail sentence for "a serious" offence and had a claim of parental responsibility thrown out by the courts.


Ms Fernandez added: "All contact had been denied by the court.


"Mrs Vaterlaws had been told that by the children's mother and details were on their files."


However, the former head was said to have given out information about how the children were progressing in school when the dad telephoned from prison - resulting in a "serious breach of confidentiality".


The aghast parent said she considered legal action but was "too embarrassed" to do so in case details about her family's private life came out and being bandied around school.


She said: "Mrs Vaterlaws was not exactly the most discreet of people."


And it was also alleged the registrant failed to properly deal with an incident when Pupil D was "throttled" by another child in the playground.


Ms Fernandez said the alleged attack, which had left visible marks on the child's neck, had caused the four-year-old so much distress the pupil wet herself.


She added: "The mother's concerns were dismissed and she was ushered out of the headteachers' room when she tried to speak about the matter.


"She had been told her child had lied about the incident and jammed her finger in a gate."


However, the incident was later confirmed by the other child's horrified parent - who apologised wholeheartedly for what happened.


Mrs Vaterlaws also stands accused of inappropriately controlling the school's Parents and Friends Association fund.


"Large sums of money were being held prior to them being banked," added Ms Fernandez.


"Mrs Vaterlaws displayed a total lack of concern to the accuracy and accountability of the financial controls in place... thereby exposing the school to an increased risk of loss or misappropriation."


A panel heard how the registrant had left her job "by mutual agreement" due to depression.


However, chairwoman Sheila Drayton confirmed that no evidence had been submitted about Mrs Vaterlaws' ill-health.


The case, which is expected to last three days, is proceeding in Mrs Vaterlaws' absence.

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