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Headteacher employed husband to do school building work
Updated 9:52pm Monday 23rd June 2014 in Echo News
A FORMER Basildon headteacher employed her husband as a teaching assistant - despite knowing he had criminal convictions.
Carole Ann Ritchie, 57, later employed partner Colin Ritchie’s firm, CPR Management UK Limited, to carry-out building works on Castledon special needs school, Wickford, which went more than £60,000 over budget.
The former head, who has now left teaching to become a life coach, admitted five counts of unacceptable professional misconduct when she appeared before a disciplinary panel this week.
The Department for Education now has a week to decide whether it will ban Mrs Ritchie from the profession.
In a report released to the Echo, chair of the panel, Keith Jackson Horner, said: “We conclude the case suggests an element of favouritism towards an individual to whom she was personally connected.
“The lack of propriety undermines public confidence in the profession.”
The panel heard that the teacher, who was then known as Carole Clift, appointed her partner, as a Senior Learning Support Assistant without the post being advertised, without him submitting an application, attending an interview or having any previous experience.
At the time she knew that he had criminal convictions which would not pass a Criminal Records Bureau check.
He subsequently resigned but three months later his company, CPR, based in Lower Southend Road, Wickford, was appointed to carry out a number of building works.
Mrs Ritchie ignored advice from Stephen Nunn, the school’s HR advisor, which said Mr Ritchie was not a suitable person to be employed at the school.
The panel found that Mrs Ritchie did not go through the proper process when tendering out six projects to CPR, including works to the car park, playground resurfacing, ICT, Life Skills Base and a bungalow conversion.
She failed to get at least three competitive quotes.
Four of the six projects then ran significantly over initial quotes - costing about £60,000.
On its company website, CPR has included pictures of the work it carried out at Castledon.
“Carole Clift” is also quoted on the company’s testimonial page.
In addition to her life coach business, Mrs Ritchie, also now lists herself as Training and Communications Consultant at CPR on her professional LinkedIn page.
Parents at Castledon School were left in the dark after Mrs Ritchie took five months paid leave and then resigned as head in 2012.
The County Council, along with governors confirmed they were carrying out an investigation but would not disclose the nature of their enquiries.
THE Echo contacted Carole Ritchie and CPR Management UK Limited.
Mrs Ritchie provided the following statement on behalf of herself and the company.
She said: “Having worked extremely hard turning around Castledon School from a school earmarked for closure to a school judged by Ofsted in October 2010 as Outstanding, I then missed out many of the formal processes that form part of the whole buildings management aspect of being a headteacher.
“I would like to say that, at no point, did I gain financially from any decisions made, nor did I place any child at risk.
“It has now been formally acknowledged that all building work charged for was carried out well and that, at no point did I employ anyone or use any contractor without first carrying out a List 99 check to ensure they were not barred from working with children, and none of them were.
“None of my actions were taken in a secretive manner.
“In fact many people were fully aware of, and in agreement with, the involvement of my husband’s company at the time.
“Unfortunately, I did not ensure that everything was recorded on paper, apart from the governor’s declaration of interest, which I filled in at each meeting.
“I was naive in thinking that anyone who knew me would know that I would only ever do what was best for the children with special needs and their families at the time, and that it was that which mattered most.”
THE Crown Prosecution Service and Essex Police have confirmed that there are no criminal prodeedings pending against the Ritchies.
A spokesman from Essex County Council said it had no responsibility to monitor recruitment or financial management at Castledon School.
He said the responsibility lay with the headteacher, Mrs Ritchie, because the school was locally managed.
The council also said is had no power to prevent headteachers employing anyone it felt unsuitable.
He added: “The council can confirm that Mrs Ritchie is no longer employed as a headteacher with this authority.
“Essex County Council took immediate action the moment it became aware of concerns.
“This action involved input from the authority’s Internal Audit Department and support was provided to the governing body of this locally managed school.”
The Echo contacted Castledon School, however nobody was available to comment.