The head of finance at Two Mile Ash School stole £120,000 from its bank account to fund a luxury lifestyle, a court heard.
Mother-of-three Kathryn Nethersole took the cash because she could not adjust to a huge drop in income when she split up with her partner of 18 years.
Nethersole, of Great Portway, Great Denham, Bedfordshire, admitted six counts of fraud by abuse of position.
The court heard how the 37-year-old began transferring money out of the academy’s bank accounts and into her own just two months after taking up her post. Her fraud went undetected for three years.
Nethersole then spent the cash on luxuries including designer handbags, shoes and exotic holidays and drove an expensive M-Class Mercedes 4x4.
Aylesbury Crown Court heard how the qualified financier took up the head of finance job at the school at the beginning of 2011 and used her powers and knowledge of its systems to conceal her crimes.
At the time she was in the process of breaking up with her partner of 18 years and the father of her three children.
The court heard she stole £120,000 from the accounts, finally being caught last summer when it was noticed that she had paid a £5,000 cheque into her own account, but had listed a different payee on the school records.
Jailing Nethersole for 26 months, Recorder Andrew Wright said: “These offences are so serious the custody threshold is passed by a country mile. This was a gross and persistent breach of trust.
“You were responsible for the financial planning, management and much of the day to day management of the school. Your role was much akin to that of a chief financial officer at a company.
“The school is a well respected one with a strong reputation. It operates as an academy which gives it a level of financial independence.
“Two months after starting employment at a salary level significantly below what you had been previously earning, you then started a systematic fraud which lasted throughout the period of your employment.”
The judge said the fact that several audits during her time in charge of the finances had failed to reveal any anomalies demonstrated the financier’s ability to ‘manipulate’ the system for her own gain.
He said: “You went to the school with some sort of planning in mind to act as you did.
“It was noted by other staff at the school that you continued to maintain a luxurious lifestyle inconsistent with your new income.
“It became apparent over time that you were retaining too much involvement in day to day matters that was not necessary for your role, that you would not delegate these tasks. This was with a view to minimising the chance of the discovery of your fraud.”
The court heard her crimes have left the school unable to bid for around £150,000 of Government funding.
In a victim impact statement read to the court, headteacher Sarah Bennett said it was the school’s more than 600 pupils and 150 staff who were the real victims of Nethersole’s deception.
She said: “I have been left devastated. The defendant was a hugely trusted member of my senior leadership team.
“She deliberately misled me when presenting budgets. The school was left financially vulnerable meaning that jobs were vulnerable.”
Defending her, James Juggapah said that Nethersole was full of remorse for what she had done and that she had already paid all of the money back to the school.
He said: “She is a highly qualified individual and she did do a lot of hard work whilst she was in the post to raise significant funds for the school.
“She found that the pressure of the job itself, the breakdown of her relationship and the fact she was unable to control these competing pressures led her to take such steps which she can only describe as foolish and stupid.
“Her partner had stopped financial support of her, combined with this job that she had taken on a lower salary.
“This is somebody who has hit a hard place in their life and has taken the wrong choice, has taken the easy way out and has committed this fraud.”