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Head banned from teaching for falsifying pupils' marks.

Byline: Abbie Wightwick Education editor abbie.wightwick@mediawales.co.uk

ARESPECTED head teacher who falsified pupils' national test scores and allowed teachers to see papers before they were sat has been banned from teaching and working as a learning support worker for three years.

Helen Lester, whose 40-year career included 20 as head at Saundersfoot Community Primary until she retired in 2015, is also a registered Estyn school inspector and advised other schools for Pembrokeshire Local Education Authority.

An Education Workforce Council fitness to practice hearing considered seven allegations against her of which all or part of six were found proved and one was found not proved.

Miss Lester, who did not appear at the two-day hearing in Cardiff, denied all seven allegations.

The second day of the hearing today was halted as current head Nick Allen, who replaced Miss Lester in September 2015, broke down in tears giving evidence.

He said when he took teachers' concerns about falsified marking to Pembrokeshire Local Education Authority 10 days after arriving at the school he was told there was no need for an inquiry as Miss Lester had left.

At the time she was still employed and paid by the LEA as a schools adviser as well as being a registered Estyn inspector, he told the hearing.

When he took over at the doubleexcellent rated 390-pupil school in September 2015 deputy head Sharon Gillespie asked him to look at national test papers. Results of these tests are among measures used to rank schools.

When he viewed year four numeracy test results he was shocked that every child got to the last and hardest question: "In my view this is very unusual. It appeared a large number had been altered when marked. I noticed teachers' marks in the margins changed and some amendments to answers."

When Tenby's Greenhill High retested pupils who transferred there it found some went from full marks to seven out of 20 and half got lower scores in the same test.

The hearing was previously told by teachers how their marks for years three and four pupils were altered by Miss Lester. Year three teacher Adele Evans said the retired head confronted her saying her pupils' marks were "crap" and asked if more marks could be found. Miss Lester warned her not to report the conversation as she could "be sacked or go to prison".

Carys Rees told the hearing that as a newly qualified teacher in 2014 she was shocked Miss Lester told her she was unhappy with her year three pupils' results. She took some pupils out of class to go through questions again and said they made "silly mistakes that had been rectified". Miss Lester then changed the scores for those and other pupils. These results were far higher than expected and not a true reflection of pupils' ability, Mrs Rees said.

Assistant head Jan Lloyd also told the hearing marks for her year four class were changed by Miss Lester on paper and the school's electronic system.

Mr Allen said on September 11, 2015, he emailed Pembrokeshire County Council but was told by email "little was to be gained from an investigation with regard to Helen Lester's practices".

On September 17, 2015, Sharon Gillespie re-tested pupils and found only 56% answered the last and hardest question correctly compared to 87% under Miss Lester.

Mr Allen said he reported this to the council too and next day he spoke to Pip Parker "the whistle blowing governor" to ensure he followed protocol.

"I felt the matter should be investigated but at that stage their view was that no further investigation was needed as Helen Lester was no longer at the school.

"But I was informed she continued to work with the LEA from September 2015 to train governing bodies' staff on data collection and as an Estyn inspector. It made me feel uncomfortable as it was the same department I had informed and she continued to be paid by the LEA.

"I was placed in a very difficult situation; however, the LEA did not wish to investigate these concerns.

"In addition the performance of school would be seen to be very different and it would appear the school suddenly ceased to perform."

The LEA finally launched an investigation in July 2016 after an employment tribunal involving a member of staff was held.

Mr Allen said: "I felt under Helen Lester's headship it was incredibly difficult for staff to uphold professional standards. In relation to children's performance it had a detrimental effect as they as would be put in wrong sets at high school."

In written evidence Miss Lester said the allegations were "offensive" and she had voluntarily removed her name from the EWC teaching register and resigned as a school inspector and adviser.

"That is not an admission of guilt but my role in education is over. My reputation has been severely damaged and it is inconceivable to continue to be part of the education workforce."

The committee found it proved that Miss Lester had: | 1. Amended results of procedural national tests in 2014 by increasing pupil scores; | 2. Amended results of 2015 tests by correcting answers on test papers and/or increasing scores of pupils; | 3. IN 2014 - but not in 2015 as also alleged - allowed teachers to view test papers ahead of tests; | 4. In 2014 and/or 2015 marked pupils' test papers - but not as also alleged allowed them to sit tests in her office; | 5. Acted dishonestly in relation to the first three allegations but not for marking papers which was not per se dishonest ; | 6. Acted with "unacceptable professional misconduct"; | 7. It was found not proved that she had allowed extra time to certain pupils to complete the tests in 2014 and/or 2015.

Miss Lester will be able to make an application to become a registered teacher after three years.

Estyn confirmed she was still a registered inspector but was "not active".
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Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Nov 29, 2017
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