Sharon Alexander Head Teacher Personal Statement

Head teacher, 43, found hanged after fearing her primary school would lose its 'outstanding' Ofsted rating

  • Body of Helen Mann, 43, was found on November 5 last year
  • She was head of Sytchampton Endowed First School, Worcestershire
  • Mrs Mann had been in charge for less than six months when she died

By Andy Dolan for the Daily Mail

Published: 17:03 GMT, 29 April 2013 | Updated: 02:11 GMT, 30 April 2013

Helen Mann, 43, a primary school head teacher who killed herself in her office less than six months after starting the job at Sytchampton Endowed First School, Worcestershire

A headmistress who feared her school could lose its ‘outstanding’ Ofsted ranking was found hanged on the premises, an inquest heard yesterday.

Helen Mann, 43, was discovered on the first day of the new half-term, just seven months in to her first headship.

The mother of two had been ‘struggling profoundly with her work’ and had also been left ‘tearful’ after a governors’ meeting in which it was agreed to make a part-time teacher redundant.

She confessed to the teacher, Angela Mercer, that she found the task ‘overwhelming’, and became even more anxious when the teacher told her she would lodge a claim for unfair dismissal.

Mrs Mann died on November 5 last year, seven months after starting at Sytchampton Endowed First School in the Worcestershire village.

Dr Stephanie Gait, the school’s chairman of governors, told the hearing that within a month of Mrs Mann starting, she was told that the school was likely to be downgraded by Ofsted the next time it faced inspection.

The warning came in a report from the local authority’s ‘school improvement adviser’ following a two-day visit to the 80-pupil primary. The inquest at Stourport-on-Severn, Worcestershire, heard that the school had been ranked as ‘outstanding’ by Ofsted in its previous three or four inspections, but had been without a permanent head for five terms before Mrs Mann started.

Dr Gait told the court Mrs Mann was ‘very concerned about whenever our next Ofsted review would be’.

She added: ‘She was concerned that it wouldn’t be classified as “outstanding” if they were to come in soon. That had been mentioned in at least one governors’ meeting and we all said that we understood this would be the case but not through any fault of hers.’

Tragic: Mrs Mann with children at Sytchampton Endowed First School, Worcestershire

Dr Gait said that while Mrs Mann was ‘bright-eyed and bushy-tailed’ when she joined the school, she appeared exhausted rather than rested when she returned after the summer break.

Mrs Mann’s impressive start at the school had been ‘blighted’ by the upset she felt at having to dismiss Mrs Mercer, she said.

Mrs Mercer said she found out she was to lose her job only after her son was told by a pupil during a karate lesson at the school hall one evening last May.

She said: ‘I went to see Mrs Mann and she was clearly distressed. She was concerned for me, but also she found it overwhelming.

Sytchampton Endowed First School, Worcestershire, where Helen Mann's body was found

‘I was signed off sick for two weeks before half-term. I am told that when Mrs Mann found out, she broke down in tears.’

Kirsten Rowan, the acting head before Mrs Mann’s appointment, said staff thought the new head was trying to change ‘too much, too soon’.

Mrs Rowan said she had been off sick with post-traumatic stress disorder since the discovery of Mrs Mann’s body.

Mrs Mann was signed off sick just three weeks into the autumn term after collapsing in a meeting.

The home of Helen Mann, 43. Her inquest heard that she was concerned that if an Ofsted inspection was imminent, the school would lose its 'outstanding' rating

A month later, at the end of half-term, she attended a meeting to discuss a phased return to work after the following week’s holiday.

Jacqueline Stanley, who had been the head’s teaching assistant, described her appearance as ‘dreadful’ and said: ‘It was lovely to see her (back in school) but she looked so ill.

‘My thoughts were, “Oh my goodness – you should not be coming back to work’.”

The hearing continues.

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A grammar school has introduced a new policy where pupils have to shake their teacher's hand before each lesson - raising fears about the spread of germs.

The idea was brought in by new headteacher Amanda Simpson, who became the first female head of Tunbridge Wells Grammar School this month.

Some teachers have started bringing in hand sanitiser to prevent bacteria being passed from the school's pupils as they will have to shake hands around 150 times a day.

Mrs Simpson defended the policy and said it was introduced because she wanted pupils to feel 'welcomed and appreciated'.

She also said it had proved a success at her previous school, a mixed comprehensive in Luton.

Mrs Simpson defended the policy and said it was introduced because she wanted pupils to feel 'welcomed and appreciated'

However one parent said the new policy was unwise as winter neared with its seasonal threat of bugs and flu.

They told Kent Live: 'It will be interesting to see what happens if there's an outbreak of Norovirus. 

'I assume it was introduced because the new head wanted to introduce some element of respect - but I wouldn't think that sort of thing would make any difference.' 

But Mrs Simpson, a former PE and dance teacher, said she had received no 'negative reaction' from pupils at what is one of the largest of the remaining grammar schools in England.

She said: 'I and other members of staff greet pupils with a handshake and a smile every lesson because we want them to feel welcome and appreciated.

'We have had no negative reaction from pupils and they seem to appreciate the gesture. 

'I introduced this in my previous school without any complaint and without any increase in the rate of infection, so I believe the concerns are unwarranted.

'Although we keep the school as clean as possible, pupils will inevitably touch handrails, doorknobs and other items which other boys have previously touched during the day, so to focus on contact through a simple handshake is strange.

'In any event, hand sanitisers will be available throughout the school for anyone with concerns about infection.' 

When she was announced as the new head teacher of the school that has 1,200 pupils she said she wanted to 'prepare students academically and as young people living in the 21st century'.

Some teachers at Tunbridge Wells Grammar School (pictured) have taken to bringing in hand sanitiser in a bid to prevent bacteria being passed between the school's pupils

A study by scientists at Aberystwyth University in Wales found a hand shake transferred more bacteria than other forms of hand-on-hand action.

Following the findings they called for the widespread adoption of the fist bump instead, especially during flu outbreaks.

The study, published in the American Journal of Infection Control, showed a handshake transferred 10 times as many bacteria as a meeting of fists. 

Dr Dave Whitworth, a reader in Biochemistry at Aberystwyth University told MailOnline: 'Whether it causes an increase in the incidence of infectious disease will depend on how well and often pupils/staff get to wash their hands. 

'Presumably, as shaking is reported to happen at the start of lessons, shakers would not then be able to wash their hands until a long time later, during which time they will almost certainly touch their faces, which is a major route of infection. 

'People touch their faces surprisingly frequently, and the young do it more often than older people. 

'Handshake bans are happening in healthcare settings because of the increased risk and sensitivity to the causative agents of infectious disease and a desire to reduce spread as much as possible. If all the pupils are fit and healthy, then there may be no health consequences amongst them, but the compulsory handshaking will make it more important to prevent pupils/staff with an illness from attending. 

'The spread of disease will extend beyond the school and into the community. Good hygiene is key to stop the spread of infectious disease, and alcohol rubs are known to not be effective against all microbes, and they can be over-used.'  

Professor Hugh Pennington, a leading bacteriologist, said teachers were at greater risk of picking up viruses than pupils.

He said: 'The best people to spread viruses like flu in the community are the children because they get close to each other and they are not to good at washing their hands. 

'Flu will get on to their hands but flu does not affect children in the same way as adults. It will be the teachers and when they get home poor old grandad sitting on the sofa - who are at risk.

'But if this hand shaking policy was associated with a hand washing policy I would be very happy indeed.'  

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