An investigation is under way at a troubled city school and two former headteachers have been called out of retirement to take the reins.
It is understood that the inquiry relates to administrative and financial irregularities. The headteacher at St Joseph’s Catholic Primary School, in Rigby Street, Ribbleton, has been off work “for personal reasons” for several weeks.
Governors insist Gerry O’Brien has not been suspended but confirmed business manager Brian Murray left the school at the end of January.
Retired headteacher Janet Butterworth, who was most recently head at Blessed Sacrament Catholic Primary School, in nearby Farringdon Lane, is now holding the reins at the school along with Barbara Gardner, former St Anthony’s Fulwood head, who had also retired.
Mark Allen, chairman of governors at St Joseph’s, said: “We can confirm that our former business manager no longer works at the school, and the headteacher is currently taking a period of absence for personal reasons.
“We cannot comment further as the matter is subject to an internal investigation.”
Mr O’Brien has been at the school for two years and Mr Murray is believed to have arrived at around the same time.
One parent, who did not want to be named, said parents were told at a meeting last week the issue concerned “administrative irregularities”.
She added: “She (the headteacher) could not say any more but hinted that is was probable that Mr O’Brien would not be returning.”
The 279-pupil school received a damning report from Ofsted inspectors last month.
The official inspection report, which has just been published, said the school “requires improvement” across all five measured areas. Inspectors saw little evidence of improvement since the last inspection and added: “Teaching has not ensured that pupils make consistently good progress, and too few pupils achieve well, especially in Key Stage 1 and in writing throughout the school.”
Inspectors said: “Expectations of what pupils can achieve are not always high enough, and the work set is not always challenging enough.”
They criticised staff for not always checking that pupils took any notice of advice and guidance given in marking.
Behaviour among the children was also criticised, “particularly when teaching does not interest or engage them sufficiently”.
A few parents have raised concerns about behaviour and its impact on safety.
Middle leaders were described as “not fully accountable for the quality of teaching and pupils’ achievement and progress in their areas”.
Governors’ understanding of the use and analysis of data about pupils’ achievement was said to be inadequate and, the inspectors said: “They have not always held the school to account effectively enough”
Mrs Butterworth said: “We know there are improvements to be made at St Joseph’s and we have already made a good start.
“I’m pleased to say I persuaded another recently retired headteacher to join the team, Barbara Gardner, whose last school was a very popular and successful school in Fulwood.
“We’ve been observing teaching in all classes and we’ve seen children working hard and enjoying their lessons. We have an action plan for helping our teachers make learning for their classes even better.
“We’ve also met with a group of parents who gave us some ideas for making parents feel more welcome in school and improving how we communicate with them. We hope to put these ideas into practice after Easter.
“Although I have only been here for a few weeks, I know that there is a real enthusiasm to improve the school’s Ofsted rating to Good as soon as possible and I feel confident that we will get there.”
A spokesman for Lancashire County Council said: “We are not in a position to make any comment about the HR issue at St Joseph’s in Preston, as our role is purely to provide advice and support to the governors and senior leaders, as we do for the vast majority of schools in Lancashire. It’s also an issue which is still under investigation.”
However, a spokesman for the Lancaster Diocese said: “The diocese understands that the local authority is guiding the governing body as they carry out an investigation into this matter and so the diocese will follow their lead accordingly.”
Police say they are not involved at this stage.