The former headteacher of a Blackpool school where a pupil was allegedly locked in a room to calm down today claimed her pleas for help with unruly children were ignored by education chiefs.
Cath Woodall was one of seven staff members suspended from Revoe Community Primary School (above) in February amid allegations a child was locked in a ‘time out’ room, used for youngsters with behavioural problems.
Mrs Woodall who has now retired, today defended the use of the room and said a lock had been fitted as a health and safety measure to stop children getting into it by themselves.
She also accused Blackpool Council of failing to respond to her pleas for “help and ideas” with pupils with challenging behaviour.
In an exclusive interview with The Gazette, Mrs Woodall, who was not at the Grasmere Road school on the day when the incident happened, said: “Several emails were sent to the authority seeking support and advice but they were ignored.
“We always asked for help and ideas.
“I never received a response to my communications.
“The school improvement officer never indicated they had any concerns with safeguarding in the school.
“This (the investigation) came as a real shock.”
On the issue of the room used, Mrs Woodall, 62, said: “It was considered to be a time out room. It was for extreme behaviour and for children to cool down on their own.
“Often a child wanted to have a sleep. When anybody gets so worked up, they get tired.
“We had a large room and a small one and children were given the choice of which they wanted to go in. That would be supervised.”
Mrs Woodall said a lock had been fitted on the outside of one of the rooms to stop children from getting into it by themselves.
She said she could not comment on claims the lock had been used while the pupil was inside the room on the day of the incident because she was not present.
She said: “The lock was only installed as a temporary measure because the door had been badly damaged just a few weeks prior to the incident.
“It was to stop children from getting into the room.
“I did not envisage a lock on a damaged door for health and safety reasons could negatively affect the welfare of children and result in the unpleasant repercussions of the incident.
“The door would have been replaced in the new financial year and the replacement would not have had a lock on it.”
A probe was launched by Lancashire Police and Blackpool Council after the school’s February half term.
It is thought the child had been placed in the time out room after threatening to stab themselves and others with a knife, although the pupil was not in possession of a weapon.
At the time the council said there were concerns over “the professional judgement” of staff in relation to pupils “when isolating them during challenging behaviour” – but confirmed there was no reason to suspect any child had come to any harm.
Lancashire Police dropped its investigation after 10 days.
Blackpool Council has refused to comment on Mrs Woodall’s claims, as its investigation is still on-going.
A town hall spokesman said: “We can confirm Catherine Woodall has resigned from her post of headteacher at Revoe Primary School with effect from August 31, 2013.
“As the disciplinary process is still ongoing with several members of staff it would be inappropriate to comment on the statements made by Mrs Woodall in relation to the incident in February.
“The March 2013 Ofsted inspection, that deemed the school to be in special measures, identified the leadership to be inadequate.
“An inspection that took place in July states the interim leadership team have already had ‘an immediate and positive impact’ which should give parents and pupils confidence that the school is now improving and moving forward.”
Mrs Woodall resigned in August after 32 years in the profession, the last six at Revoe.
She claims she had tendered her resignation before she was suspended.
She added: “You hope that nothing will happen when you’re off and when it does and you’re suspended as a result and ultimately potentially blamed and it’s your name given out, it’s disappointing to say the least.
“A lot of public money has been spent on an investigation – something the police sorted out in 10 days and is taking the authority more than six months to sort out.
“My biggest disappointment was I retired still under suspension, that was never lifted. I’m disappointed I didn’t get to see the children again because the one thing my career was all about was the children. It’s just sad to finish your career in that way.
“I don’t hold anything against anybody personally but I would have liked some closure, with the authority to acknowledge that I’d retired.
“I had always intended to hand in my resignation when I returned to work following the February half term break, it is simply coincidence that my resignation was handed in around the time of the suspension.”
Parents at the school have been informed some of the suspended staff will be returning to their posts, pending the outcome of individual disciplinary hearings.
The process of recruiting a new headteacher will now begin but Christina Muchlinski will continue as acting headteacher in the meantime.
Ros Homer, Blackpool branch secretary for the National Union of Teachers, said: “I just find it very, very sad that it’s all happened. They were doing a good job, it was a very challenging school and staff were very highly qualified.
“Hopefully when the investigation comes to an end the school can draw a line under it.”