Dame named in fraud probe

Above: Dame Mo Brennan

Above: Dame Mo Brennan

First published in News

A HEADTEACHER honoured by the Queen for improving a failing Dudley school is at the centre of fraud allegations.

Mo Brennan was made a Dame in 2005 for her work in taking Hillcrest School, Netherton from special measures to "outstanding".

But now the school is at the centre of claims that registers were manipulated to make it appear more successful than it really was.

The allegations appear in a report from Dudley's Education Welfare Service, which examined records at the Simms Lane school after Dame Brennan left in March to take up another headship at a school in Great Barr, Birmingham.

The investigation is not yet complete, but the interim report says the trail leads back to Dame Brennan and the senior management team under her at Hillcrest.

Investigators uncovered cases of parents being prosecuted for failing to ensure their children received schooling, while Hillcrest registers showed the same youngsters were getting off-site education during the same period.

The report, which covered records from 2004 to 2007, also says registers were marked up to six months late, even though no other records had been kept.

It is further alleged that registers altered after challenges from inspectors were then altered again, to show children were in school when they were not.

Investigating officers say that fraud created a false impression of improved attendance levels, which promoted the school's image and resulted in higher pupil numbers.

Higher pupil numbers mean more cash as schools are funded per pupil.

The report says there should be a police enquiry.

In a bitter twist for Dame Mo, principal educational welfare officer Keith Bates, goes on to say her control of information released to inspectors hampered their investigation. He says all issues relating to the registers could be traced back to Mo Brennan and the Hillcrest senior management team at that time.

The interim report stresses the current head at Hillcrest, April Garratt, has been supportive of the investigation and she inherited problems not of her making.

Mr Bates also points out there is no clear link to the school's governors although further investigations may be necessary to establish what, if any, their contribution was to the way staff managed attendance at the school.

As the enquiry continues, Dudley education chiefs are staying tight-lipped about the possibility the matter may end up before a judge.

John Freeman, director for children's services, said: "The allegations are serious and complex and no comment will be made until the investigation is complete."

Dame Mo's work at Hillcrest was not only recognised by the state but also praised in 2002 by government minister Charles Clarke, the then education and skills secretary.

Speaking in 2002, Mr Clarke said: "Hillcrest school came out of special measures six months after Mo Brennan's appointment as head teacher.

"The school's unauthorised absence rate has dropped by nearly two thirds in two years and as important the proportion of pupils getting five good GCSE's has more than doubled.

"What some schools have achieved is a model for other to follow."

Mo Brennan was unavailable to comment on the allegations.

April Garratt, said: "I am unable to comment on ongoing investigations, to my knowledge the people involved are no longer at the school.

"During this term the ethos has changed and we are seeing the best attendance figures we have seen in years, the EWO are congratulating us on improvements made in real terms."

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