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The Thieving Headmistress (BBC2)


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Did anyone see “The Thieving Headmistress” on BBC last night? It was a drama-documentary on the case of Colleen McCabe of Rigby Catholic College. It is believed that this headmistress stole about £500,000 from the school.

I have seen some of these antics take place in schools that I have taught in the past. You know the kind of thing, senior management team bonding, by having meals in expensive hotels, etc. However, she seemed to take it to excess by having senior management meetings on the Orient Express. I have also not encountered a headmistress who got the school to pay for holidays in Malta with her boyfriend (far too downmarket for most of the heads I have known).

Several points came out of the documentary:

1. Why did Ofsted not pick up this obvious case of corruption? Did they not notice the lack of textbooks in the school? Did they not think it strange that the last lesson of the day was shortened so that the teachers and children could clean up the school? (The money for cleaning the school had been spent on a Mercedes and a Gucci watch.)

2. The corruption started when Rigby Catholic College opted out of LEA control and became a grant maintained school. It only ended when the Labour Government banned GM schools and it was taken back into LEA control. As Tony Blair has now established his own GM schools, does this mean that we can expect to see more Colleen McCabes?

3. Why were her co-conspirators, the school governors, not tried and convicted for corruption? I thought the two priests on the governing hoard should definitely have ended up in prison. Especially the one who admitted provided false receipts for services to the school.

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Did anyone see “The Thieving Headmistress” on BBC last night? It was a drama-documentary on the case of Colleen McCabe of Rigby Catholic College. It is believed that this headmistress stole about £500,000 from the school.

I have seen some of these antics take place in schools that I have taught in the past. You know the kind of thing, senior management team bonding, by having meals in expensive hotels, etc. However, she seemed to take it to excess by having senior management meetings on the Orient Express. I have also not encountered a headmistress who got the school to pay for holidays in Malta with her boyfriend (far too downmarket for most of the heads I have known).

Several points came out of the documentary:

1. Why did Ofsted not pick up this obvious case of corruption? Did they not notice the lack of textbooks in the school? Did they not think it strange that the last lesson of the day was shortened so that the teachers and children could clean up the school? (The money for cleaning the school had been spent on a Mercedes and a Gucci watch.)

2. The corruption started when Rigby Catholic College opted out of LEA control and became a grant maintained school. It only ended when the Labour Government banned GM schools and it was taken back into LEA control. As Tony Blair has now established his own GM schools, does this mean that we can expect to see more Colleen McCabes?

3. Why were her co-conspirators, the school governors, not tried and convicted for corruption? I thought the two priests on the governing hoard should definitely have ended up in prison. Especially the one who admitted provided false receipts for services to the school.

Colleen Macabe was an extreme example of a deplorable trend common to many many schools since Local Management of school budgets were introduced in 1988.

Several years ago a technology college in Kent was allegedly victim of a fraud when a headteacher spent half the budget on "technology" from a company where her husband was a director. The headteacher in question retired quickly leaving the school with huge debts and useless empty boxes where computers should have been. I believe the whole thing was hushed up by the county council

Ofsted are hopeless when it comes to identifying financial "issues". Similarly auditors too often just look for matching paperwork without delving any deeper.

Incidentally my partner Alison worked at Bromley's St John Rigby College when Macabe was head teacher - she remembers a school without books and resources whilst the Senior Leadership Team drove around in Lexus cars provided by the school.

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