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Quintin Kynaston Academy head Jo Shuter ‘spent £7,000 of school’s cash on own birthday’

16:29 22 May 2013

Quintin Kynaston headteacher Jo Shuter

Quintin Kynaston headteacher Jo Shuter

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A St John’s Wood headteacher spent nearly £7,000 of her school’s money on her 50th birthday celebrations, a Department for Education report has found.

Thousands of pounds of school money was also spent on taxis, flowers and luxury hotels in less than two years by staff at Quintin Kynaston Community Academy, in Marlborough Hill.

It included more than £10,000 on meetings in top-class hotels, more than £10,000 on travel and £3,000-plus on flowers, although some has been repaid, including all the birthday party money.

The report, published last week, concluded that Jo Shuter – an award-winning “superhead” who took the school through two “outstanding” Ofsted inspections – had failed in her duty to be “economical” with public money.

Ms Shuter is currently prevented from responding due to ongoing negotiations, but hopes to explain her position as soon as possible, pointing out that she has been reinstated after an eight-month suspension, although she is not yet back at work.

Last week, the school’s governing body, which had suspended Ms Shuter over alleged financial irregularities, reinstated her with a “final written warning” following a “long and robust governors’ disciplinary process”.

Ms Shuter, named headteacher of the year in 2007 and honoured with a CBE in 2010, was backed by a 150-signature petition calling for her to be reinstated, with 95 members of staff writing to governors in her support. One staff member told the Wood&Vale that the “soul of the place had been taken away”.

But the report, which details investigations by two government bodies into the school’s financial practices from January 1, 2011, to August 31, 2012, found:

■ £11,429.02 was spent on travel, at least £8,426.15 of which was not on school business, such as taxi trips to The Ivy and The Savoy for Ms Shuter, although some of this has been repaid;

■ Ms Shuter undertook consultancy and speaking arrangements – being paid fees such as £15,000 by Coventry County Council – during school time;

■ Ms Shuter held her 50th birthday party at the academy at a cost of £6,957.49 for “staff time, catering, alcohol, food, party lights and landscaping”. The money was repaid a year later.

■ Ms Shuter regularly claimed back hundreds of pounds for her mobile phone contract, with bills ranging from £213.04 to £776.88, but deductions for personal use were “minimal” – despite the contract including phones for her son and daughter.

■ The school held overnight meetings in luxury hotels including The Grove hotel, Chandler’s Cross, Hertfordshire, costing £8,269.26 and in May 2012 at Marylebone’s Landmark Hotel costing £4,410.86.

■ The school spent £3,474 on thank-you and birthday flowers since becoming an academy in November 2011.

The report concluded that as the academy’s accounting officer, Ms Shuter was expected to “ensure proper and economical use of all resources” and to “avoid waste and extravagance”, but that “clearly these responsibilities have not been discharged”.

It added: “Funding provided to benefit the needs of the academy pupils has, in fact, been diverted for inappropriate purposes.”

The school has now been issued a financial notice to improve – including recovering inappropriate payments.

A DfE spokesman said: “The misuse of public money meant for schools is completely unacceptable. We will not lift the notice to improve until the school has made sufficient progress to address the identified weaknesses.”

The Met Police’s investigations into allegations of fraud/false accounting are ongoing. Nobody has been arrested. The school’s chair of governors, Patrick Lees, declined to comment.

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