Former primary school head teacher “mismanaged” thousands of pounds of school funds

Cromwell Academy in Huntingdon.

Cromwell Academy in Huntingdon. - Credit: Archant

The former head teacher of a primary school in Huntingdon “mismanaged” thousands of pounds worth of funds, a disciplinary panel has concluded.

The Teaching Regulation Agency (TRA) panel found that Stephanie Baldwin had paid £12,000 to a handyman over a four-year period for jobs that should have been carried out by a firm that had already been contracted by Cromwell Academy.

The panel also heard that Mrs Baldwin had employed a firm to provide HR services to the school at a cost of £250 a month, despite already having a HR provider on a £255 monthly retainer.

The panel found that Mrs Baldwin, who resigned from her post in September 2017, had “abused her position” in relation to some aspects of the school’s financial management and some of her actions “lacked integrity”.

Mrs Baldwin, who had been the head teacher at the primary school for 14 years, appeared before the TRA on January 11, where evidence from witnesses regarding a series of allegations were heard.

The TRA panel was also told that Mrs Baldwin had employed two people who were “known to her” to complete work around the school but had not declared those relationships to the governing body, though she argued that her relationship to the two people concerned was “generally known”.

It was also heard by the panel that Mrs Baldwin had made two ‘salary payments’ of £223.68 and £149.12 to an individual for carrying out work to a decking area and some flooring.

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However, the panel said the evidence provided by Mrs Baldwin was “inconsistent such that the panel could not be satisfied that the payments were for a proper purpose”.

The panel said there was also “no reasonable explanation” for these payments being recorded as ‘salary’ rather than being processed by receipt of invoice.

A further allegation that the purchase of an Xbox and a set of games for £120 by Mrs Baldwin amounted to misuse of school funds was found not proven by the panel.

Likewise, an allegation that Mrs Baldwin has allowed a visitor to attend a meeting of a school club without a DBS check was found not proven. A further claim that she had failed to obtain two quotes for IT support services for the school – amounting to a failure to manage funds appropriately – was also found not proven.

The panel also heard how Mrs Baldwin had failed to pay money that was raised by the school for charity to the chosen organisation.

Mrs Baldwin explained to the panel that she had understood the money – about £80 - that had been raised had been paid to the charity but the panel was satisfied that this had not occurred.

The TRA report said: “Given the monies had been raised for charity, the panel concluded that it was incumbent upon Mrs Baldwin as head teacher to ensure that payment was made in furtherance of that purpose at the earliest available opportunity. She had failed to do so.”

In her submission to the panel, Mrs Baldwin denied that she had been dishonest and said she had never sought to abuse her position.

She said: “I did not act in a dishonest manner to abuse my position of trust at any time whilst working as head teacher at Cromwell Park or show lack of integrity (or at any time in my career).”

In its conclusion, the TRA panel said that, in relation to the £12,000 payments to handymen, payments to extra HR suppliers, and salary payments for work to a decking area, Mrs Baldwin “lacked integrity and abused her position”.

The panel stopped short of issuing Mrs Baldwin with a prohibition order, however, stating that, in her capacity as a teacher, she had a “long and unblemished career”.

The panel report noted: “The findings made by the panel very much focused on failings in leadership as a head teacher at the school. Mrs Baldwin otherwise had a long and unblemished career and whilst the panel was not provided with any references or testimonials relating to her practice, it considered that she may be able to make a valuable contribution to the profession in the future.

“In mitigation, Mrs Baldwin spoke passionately about her love of teaching and her desire to continue to work with children.”

The panel concluded: “The panel had determined that Mrs Baldwin was not dishonest and, whilst it took account of the fact that its findings were wide-ranging and spanned a considerable time period, taking into account all the circumstances of the case it concluded that the nature and severity of the behaviour was at the less serious end of the spectrum.

“The panel also took into account the fact that, given her experience and prior good service, there was every prospect that Mrs Baldwin would be an asset to the profession going forward, particularly as a classroom teacher.

“The panel considered that the risk of repetition was extremely low given the insight, regret and remorse shown.”

The panel concluded that the publication of its findings was sufficient to send an appropriate message to the teacher, ruling that a prohibition order would “deprive the public of Mrs Baldwin’s contribution to the profession”.