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Headteacher didn't tell school handyman husband faced masturbation probe

Foxhole Academy
Foxhole Academy

A headteacher failed to tell employers her school handyman husband was being investigated by police for masturbating in front of a teenager, a disciplinary panel has heard.

Sarah Kate Cooke was principal of Foxhole Academy primary school where her spouse, Peter Cooke, carried out occasional maintenance.

She resigned after her husband of 30 years was arrested early last year, but a teaching disciplinary panel heard that while still employed, she failed to tell bosses of the possible safeguarding issues.

It is also alleged she failed to carry out proper staff background checks, known as disclosure barring service (DBS) checks, for both her husband and herself.

The checks would have flagged a caution Mr Cooke received in 2012 for stealing a bag of woman's clothing from a leisure centre and later trying them on.

Concerns came to light when the school was taken over by The Learning Academy Trust (TLAT) and record-keeping scrutinised.

At an National College for Teaching and Leadership (NCTL) professional misconduct hearing on Tuesday, it was alleged there were "very serious failings" over "a significant period of time" by the head.

Opening the case, Tom Day said: "The panel will hear the allegations that Mrs Cooke is guilty of unacceptable professional conduct in that while working as the headteacher at Foxhole Academy, between January 1 2011, and January 12 2016, she failed to maintain appropriate professional standards."

In all, Mrs Cooke is facing six allegations of wrongdoing at the school in St Austell, Cornwall, including failing to ensure DBS checks were updated for either herself or her husband.

She is also accused of failing to tell employers her spouse was under criminal investigation, or that he had earlier been cautioned and "continued to allow him to work at the school".

It is also alleged she was either "misleading" or "dishonest" in saying that proper safeguarding paperwork, known as a Section 175 form, had been completed.

Mr Day said: "Mrs Cooke would have known at that stage in 2015 that a DBS check would have shown at least a caution for 2012 for her husband.

"She accepted in the course of interview she knew her husband was cautioned for theft of a bag that contained women's clothing.

"Whether she knew the precise details or not, Mrs Cooke knew he'd received a caution and did not disclose that to her employer."

The presenting officer claimed Mrs Cooke showed a "careless attitude to safety, both as headteacher and as safeguarding officer".

He added Mrs Cooke then "became aware" her husband was being investigated by police in 2015 for another allegation relating to an incident on July 10 that year.

Mr Day said: "He was seen by neighbours, a teenage boy and the boy's mother in their own garden, watching pornography on a tablet and masturbating.

"It's not clear if she (Mrs Cooke) knew the precise details, but one may think that in itself would raise safeguarding concerns."

Mrs Cooke, in post before the school's takeover, claimed a "misapprehension" was to blame for any oversight, but told an earlier internal investigation she was just "too ashamed" to tell anyone.

Claire Ridehalgh, TLAT's chief operating officer, said Mrs Cooke "struggled with some procedural aspects of her role", describing her office as "very messy".

Mrs Cooke was not present for the hearing and faces a teaching ban if the allegations are proven.

Mr Cooke, of Newquay, Cornwall, was given a suspended three-month jail term at Truro Crown Court in November last year after being found guilty of outraging public decency in July 2015.