The rise and fall of ‘superhead’ Jo Shuter acts as a reminder of what can happen without a robust expenses policy.
What started out with an ambitious headteacher with a relaxed attitude to spending, ended up with tabloid headlines, three separate investigations, suspension and public humiliation.
Shuter, aged 52, recently resigned as headteacher of the Quinton Kynaston Academy in St John’s Wood after serving an eight month suspension for ‘financial and human resource mismanagement’.
Her activities were investigated following concerns from a whistleblower revealed widespread misuse of schools funds with more than £10,000 on travel expenses, £3,000 on flowers and up to £746 a month on phone bills.
She also borrowed £6,000 from the school to pay for her 50th birthday, which was held on the premises. These various amounts were claimed despite her £170,000 salary.
It was the kind of salary she could expect thanks to the reputation she had built as somebody who in 2010 had been named Headteacher of the Year by the CBE.
In addition to her expenses claims, she faced accusations of nepotism with her sister being given £25,000 to make five promotional films as well as hiring her son and daughter for various roles.
After previously being gagged from talking about the accusations, Jo Shunter recently spoke to the Evening Standard to give her side of what happened.
She admits she made some serious errors of judgement but says it was out of ignorance and misunderstanding about her role when it came to expenses management.
She said: “I thought my job as head was to transform children’s lives. Nobody ever spelled out my financial responsibilities.
“When I was interviewed for the job in 2001 I told the governors that financial management was not my strength. The nature of headship has changed and now requires a thorough understanding of financial and HR management systems.”
She says that many of the criticisms against her have been unfair and do not show the full picture. She said that the large mobile phone bills were a result of her trying to conduct school business while away on foreign holidays.
She justified the £3,474 bill on flowers as a way to reward staff and make them feel a valued part of the team which resulted in a higher staff retention rate than other schools in the area.
But she held her hands up to some of the mistakes, such as the £6,000 taken out to pay for her 50th birthday celebrations. She said: “It was careless, not intentional, but it was all paid back in the end. I was living a chaotic life and devoting all my energy to the school and yes, I let some balls drop.”
The school has since introduced much more rigorous controls on expenses and the use of school funds. Shuter is now seeking to return to the education world, either as a headteacher or as a consultant.
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