headteacher cover up school children absence peter spencer tribunal

Peter Spencer struck off teaching register as tribunal hears he reported absent children as present in ‘web of deceit’

A cheating headteacher covered up 28,000 pupil absences in a five-year “web of deceit”, a tribunal has heard.

Peter Spencer, 52, ordered staff to log pupils at Queen Elizabeth High School in Carmarthen, South Wales, as present when they were missing from classes.

The distortion of data came after an inspection called for improved attendance at the 1,500-pupil school. More than 28,000 absences were altered between 2014 and 2019 before a whistleblower raised the alarm, an Education Workforce Council tribunal heard.

Mr Spencer, who had been headteacher for nine years, left the school two years ago and has now been struck off from the profession.

Luke Lambourne, presenting the case at the tribunal, described the cover-up as a “web of deceit” which finally unravelled when a staff member informed school governors of the practice in autumn 2018.

‘Staff under pressure to maintain deception’

He said that staff members were drawn into falsifying the records because of misguided loyalty and feeling “under pressure” to maintain the deception.

One senior staff member said he was among those Mr Spencer asked to replace codes “n” (“not present”) and “i” (”ill”) with a symbol showing that the pupils were present in class. He said he felt “anxious the whole time” while making the amendments.

Mr Spencer, who now works as the head of an international school in Qatar, did not attend the hearing.

In a written statement, he denied ever instructing staff to alter attendance data. He claimed that a member of staff had changed the figures and that he had failed to report it because he knew the pressure the school was under to perform well.

“I have never instructed any employee to falsely inflate attendance data,” his statement read. “I accept fully that being aware of malpractice and, in not acting, I condoned the malpractice.”

‘Data manipulation was a widespread practice’

Mr Spencer added that schools were under so much pressure to achieve good attendance figures that he heard data manipulation was a widespread practice.

However, the tribunal found that he committed unacceptable professional conduct and he was struck off the teaching register in Wales.

The panel said it was a “protracted, serious instance of misconduct over many years” and Mr Spencer’s “extent of regret and remorse is limited”.

Mr Spencer can apply to rejoin the teaching register in five years.