A Catholic school in Birmingham is at the centre of an investigation amid claims it duped inspectors into giving it a better mark by drafting in teachers from other schools and removing disruptive pupils.
St Edmund Campion secondary school in Erdington is being probed by Birmingham City Council and Ofsted after concerns raised about a spot check last year.
It can also be revealed that the school’s head teacher, Philomena Steele, faces a challenge by teachers’ union members, who are pursuing a collective grievance over claims of age discrimination and bullying against staff.
Up to 60 teaching staff have left the school in the last two years and debt has soared to pay for teachers to cover the lessons of employees who are on long-term stress-related absences.
The Birmingham Post understands that the head teacher is the subject of claims she rewrote English coursework for pupils.
But Mrs Steele said: “I refute the allegations and I believe them to be the actions of someone with a grudge against myself and the school.”Related content
Unions are understood to be furious that city leaders have ignored concerns since they were raised last June and has called for Birmingham’s head of schools Tony Howell to act.
One senior official said the council had not carried out interviews with potential witnesses.
The Department for Children, School and Families has ordered a review of last May’s inspection by Ofsted.
Teachers reported concerns to Schools Secretary Ed Balls, after they claimed the council and the school’s governing body had failed to properly investigate.
Signed accounts given to the Post say that a group of “disruptive” youngsters were taken out of classes and sent on a bus to nearby Catholic school where they played games and sport before being taken back at the end of the day.
The inspection on May 7 and 8 also saw a number of teachers from other Catholic schools in the Birmingham area brought in to give lessons, patrol corridors and support permanent staff, it is claimed.
All of the teachers drafted in were allegedly signed in as staff and not visitors.
Mrs Steele was under pressure for the school to perform well during the inspection after being served with a “notice to improve” by Ofsted after a 2008 visit.
In June 2009, after the follow-up visit, the head teacher boasted that the 960-pupil school no longer needed significant improvement and had achieved an 81 per cent rating of lessons that were good or outstanding.
The school saw 43 per cent of pupils achieve at least five good GCSEs including English and maths last year and hoped to top 50 per cent this year.
She said the improvements had been down to “younger and more vibrant staff”.
A number of National Union of Teachers and the NASUWT members are pursuing a collective grievance.
They have set out eight allegations against Mrs Steele.
A disciplinary panel of the schools governing body will be asked to consider whether she has given false information to governors, ignored legitimate complaints and been involved in inappropriate employment practices.
Birmingham NUT deputy general secretary Nigel Baker said: “I know issues have been raised with the school and the local authority have been incredibly dilatory and have allowed rumours to circulate.
“If they had acted promptly it would have been sorted out.
“Instead of exploring the case against them, not one person has been interviewed and they have had that information for months.
“There is a collective grievance process but so far we have failed to agree terms of reference.”
A Birmingham City Council spokesman said: “We are aware of the allegations and they are being investigated.”
A spokesman for Ofsted said: “Ofsted does not comment on whether a complaint has been received about a school.”
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Ofsted pressure is too much for schools – expert
An expert of educational research at the University of Birmingham said Ofsted inspections place a huge burden of pressure on schools and present a bureaucratic nightmare.
Professor Stephen Gorard said senior teachers often responded with endless preparation which could put a strain on classes.
Poor marks can ruin a school’s reputation for years to come and make or break careers.
“Because of the consequences of Ofsted marks, there is pressure on schools and you would expect that they would want to present their best face,” said Prof Gorard.
“It’s no difference from a factory unlocking its fire doors for a health and safety inspection and one can’t blame schools for doing that.”
Prof Gorard said he wasn’t able to comment on the allegations made about St Edmund Campion but said serious malpractice was not commonplace.
“Something of that nature sounds out of the ordinary but schools do work hard to give the best impression,” he said.
Changes made to the way Ofsted evaluates schools meant inspectors relied heavily on existing measurements, said the former teacher.
Inspections have been shortened to two days from a full week and Prof Gorard said it meant that inspectors could miss areas of excellence.
“Most teachers see Ofsted inspections as a disruption to their normal teaching,” he added.
“There’s an element of wanting to put on a good show and if you are confident about your teaching it’s not a bad experience. But it’s an extra challenge and it can cause some schools to get exasperated. There is a lot of extra preparation to do and it can become a bureaucratic nightmare.”