'Superhead' ennobled by Labour could be struck off

Disciplinary hearing to decide future of colourful head who transformed school
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The Independent Online

One of the first school "superheads" to be ennobled under Labour is to face charges of unacceptable professional conduct at a disciplinary hearing today. Dame Jean Else, former headteacher of Whalley Range High School for Girls in Manchester, will go before a professional conduct committee of the General Teaching Council.

If the case is proved, she faces a range of sanctions from a reprimand to being banned from teaching for life.

Dame Jean, honoured in the New Year's Honours list of 2001 for her services to education, took over Whalley Range – the school which former education secretary Estelle Morris attended – when it had the worst truancy rate in the country, with one in four girls skipping lessons.

During her eight years at the school, Dame Jean more than trebled GCSE exam results, with 52 per cent of girls achieving five or more A* to C grade passes in 2002 compared to just 16 per cent when she arrived in 1994. Attendance went up to 96.5 per cent. The number of pupils on the roll soared from 766 to 1,700 and by the time she was honoured all the girls who sat A-levels went on to university.

But she was suspended from the headship in 2004 over allegations of financial irregularities and sacked two years later. An inquiry by the Audit Commission, the spending watchdog, acknowledged that the school had been a success educationally but found there had been a "significant breakdown in appropriate standards of governance and accountability". In particular, it criticised the employment of Dame Jean's twin, Maureen Rochford, as an assistant head, and "excessive sums" spent on parties at the school. Dame Jean said the watchdog had found "nothing of substance".

After she was made a dame, Ms Morris sent a video message of congratulations that was played at a school party. Ofsted, the education standards watchdog, praised her for "exceptionally good" leadership and in 2003 described the school as "outstanding".

Dame Jean adopted a flamboyant approach to running her school, deciding on her arrival to do away with its shabby 1950s image and setting about, with other teaching staff, repainting the interior. She also conducted a high-profile campaign in 2003 when her school was threatened by Manchester city Council with budget cuts. During her tenure as head of Whalley Range, she was often employed as an adviser by Manchester City Council and the then Department for Education and Skills to help schools in trouble lift their performance.

Today's hearing in Birmingham is expected to last two days and is held under the GTC's regulatory system, which allows councils to pass on cases where professional misconduct or incompetence has been alleged for further disciplinary action.