Headteacher struck off for telling staff to falsify pupil attendance figures

A headteacher who told staff to fiddle his school’s attendance figures to log pupils as present when they were not in classes and then tried to influence an official investigation has been banned from the classroom in Wales.

Peter Andrew Spencer began the five year long disappointment at Queen Elizabeth High in Carmarthen after an Estyn inspection recommended attendance was improved, a professional standards hearing was told. Schools get more funding and rank better on national performance measures the higher attendance is.

More than 28,000 pupil absences at the bilingual school were changed to showing as present between 2014 and 2019 before a member of staff reported it, an Education Workforce Council Wales panel heard. Mr Spencer, who left the 1,500-pupil school with a financial settlement from Camarthenshire Council in 2020 after nine years in post, told members of staff to falsify attendance data on the School Information Management System, witnesses told the hearing.

Luke Lambourne, presenting officer for the EWC said one member of staff identified only as “Person A” 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 man, who gave evidence to the remote hearing held on May 11 and 12, but was identified only as “Person D” said he had felt anxious the whole time he was involved.

He admitted he had been “weak” in doing so, but denied, when questioned, that he had instigated the deception which he said was masterminded by the head. “Person D” 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.

Mr Spencer, who now works as head of an international school abroad, was not at the hearing or represented. He did not formally respond to the four allegations against him in person but did so in a written statement of mitigation to the hearing.

In his statement Mr Spencer denied ever instructing any staff to alter the absence data. Blaming “Person D” for the changing the attendance figures he admitted that he, as head, then failed to report it.

The headteacher said he kept quiet about the disappointment because he understood the pressure staff were under from agencies outside the school including Estyn, the local education authority and school consortia.

“I have never instructed any employee to falsely inflate attendance data,” Mr Spencer’s written statement said, “I fully accept that being aware of malpractice and in not acting I condoned the malpractice.”

And he went on: “I did not instigate the program of attendance inflation. The action was started by my colleague (Person D) unknown (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 finally reported to school governors by another member of staff in autumn 2018. The committee was told that the “whistle blower” reported being told by someone involved that data was being “fiddled” .

The allegations against Mr Spencer

  • That he was guilty of unacceptable professional conduct in that between, or around January 2014 and February 2019, he instructed employee(s) at Queen Elizabeth High School to amend pupil attendance data on the School’s School Management Information System (SIMS) in a way that falsely inflated the data.
  • That the conduct was dishonest and/or lacked integrity.
  • That he discussed details of the disciplinary investigation in respect of allegation 1 above with staff identified as Person A and/or Person D, when he knew that he should not discuss the investigation with school employees; and/or they were, or were likely to be witnesses to the investigation.
  • The conduct as outlined in allegation 3 was inappropriate in that it: a) breached confidentiality; and/or b) had the potential to influence the progress/outcome of the investigation; and/or c) was intended to influence the progress and/or outcome of the investigation.

In relation to allegation 1 Mr Spencer denied ever instructing any employee to falsify data, but admitted when he became aware did not report it, which he said was tantamount to condoning it. Mr Spencer accepted in writing allegations 2, 3a and 3b, 4a and 4b but not 4c.

Finding all allegations proved the committee found that taken together they amounted to unacceptable professional conduct.

“I fully accept my actions fall below the standards expected of a headteacher,” Mr Spencer admitted 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.” I have 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 re-join the register in less than five years. He has 28 days to appeal to the High Court.

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