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Reflections on the Priory…

Having campaigned for over a year against the raise of academies in Lincolnshire, I am surprised not to be getting more of a kick from the Priory scandal (the details of which are outlined by Fiona in an earlier post.)
The reasons for the deflation are varied. But as a Labour councillor, much of the bad taste is because this scandal has been created by the previous government and then simply nurtured by this one. I am sure Lord Adonis and co must be very proud of the cronies they have inflicted on the tax payers of Lincolnshire!

And then there are the unanswered questions still.

I have had former employees of the shamed and ousted chief executive state that he always had a questionable leadership style and that they were stunned when he was appointed exec of the Priory Federation. How was he appointed? Is it true that the shamed and then jailed former Tory leader of Lincolnshire County Council, Jim Speechly, introduced Gilliland to Lord Adonis? I have heard that it is and would love to find out more. (When we do corruption and scandal in Lincolnshire we do it well!)

How was the Priory EVER found to be outstanding in financial matters? Time and time again they passed external audits, but it is quite clear from the DE report that the corruption had been endemic from the start.

How on earth did was all of this allowed to happen behind the backs of trustees and governors? I am sick to the back teeth of governors who fail to challenge and question the decision making of head teachers and executives. In this new academy world there is no place for nodding dog governors.

There is one issue that makes me angrier than them all. The Priory was our first Lincolnshire academy. The extra money they were given under Labour was at the expense of other equally deserving schools, many of whom had the rug pulled from under them when BSF was scrapped. The injustice created by The Priory drove many of Lincoln secondaries to early conversion under the coalition as a way to address the imbalance, particularly when the extra early finance payments became fully understood. As the Lincoln schools fell, so the rest of the county followed, aided and abetted by CFBT at the helm of the county. Our locally controlled and democratically accountable education system has been dismantled on the basis of a corrupt foundation.

And now lets cut to the real scandal. Probably the greatest of them all. One of the Priory academies – Withern – has the second worst exam performance in the county.

I find the anti-academy case more than proven, your honour.

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Comments, replies and queries

  1. Theo Smakass says:

    Well put Sarah, the lack of accountability coupled with large sums of money was always going to end in tears. These people have lied to us from the beginning stating that they were not under investigation when that was clearly not the case. If the outcome of the investigation shows a need for criminal prosecutions then an example should be made of those involved. To brush this under the carpet would set a truly awful example to the children being educated by these people that greed is good and money is all that matters.

  2. Margaret Brand says:

    I was talking to someone about this today. I hadn’t realised the extent to which Gililands whole family was involved. I find the possible Jim Speechley connection just fascinating, worrying, confusing . . . . . I need to think about that one!

  3. Alan Watkins-Groves says:

    I find the Speechley connection unlikely. When I was fighting the academies before they were formed I advanced the argument that there would be no proper oversight by the council and business people running other academies were suspected of making illegal profits from them. Mr Jones, head of CLCC at the time, pointed to Speechley as a corrupt local politician to illustrate his contention that council scrutiny might be no better than business scrutiny. Christine Talbot was asked by the NUT DivSec at my request whether it was true that the Priory had bought the French study centre. and she apparently replied that it was and she’d been there. Perhaps a more interesting connection to pursue.

    • Gary Rudd says:

      I think if you look back you will find that Talbot was a supporter of Speechley and voted for him to retain his position as Council leader. She was a close associate of the late Charles Ireland who was an ardent follower of Jim Speechley.

  4. The Trust has issued a response to the DfE report. As Sarah points out, this Federation was established under the Labour Government and the Trust admits that the DfE (or DCSF as it was then) exerted “enormous pressure” to ensure the project worked and expected Mr Gilliland as CEO to “export the brand”. The Federation was clearly intended to be a flagship and money was spent on the academies which could have been shared more equitably with other Lincolnshire schools. The Trust now acknowledges that “observers” had made allegations of unfairness.

    It’s clear from the Trust’s response that Mr Gilliland’s “charismatic and forceful leadership style” did not make him “universally popular” and he had created friction in the Lincoln area.

    The Trust admits that the former Financial Director, Steve Davies, was not qualified or suitably experienced. This is an astonishing admission of incompetence. The DfE had recommended “earlier” that Mr Davies should be replaced with a more competent person. The Department doesn’t give the exact date of this “earlier” recommendation but Mr Davies, who is cited in the DfE report for using the Federation credit card inappropriately including paying for his own leaving present (Deluxe Metal Sextant at a cost of £505.90), eventually left in December 2011 (although his contract ran until 31 March 2012 because of accrued holidays). His severance package included “a compromise payment of one year’s salary (around £84,000) with the Federation.”

  5. This short new item (2 mins) features the controversy surrounding the amount of money directed at the Priory Academies.

  6. Christine Talbot, a trustee of the Priory Federation told the BBC that she didn’t “have an oversight of many of the decisions that were made.” It is Trustees’ responsibility to have “oversight” – that’s their role. Any Trustee who did not exercise this responsibility should resign.

    Ms Talbot is also a Conservative councillor for Lincolnshire County Council. This is the Council which recommended that all Lincolnshire schools become academies. But Councillor Talbot told the BBC, “The governance arrangements for all academies need tightening up and this highlights the need for local accountability.”

    Perhaps Councillor Talbot should stress the need for local accountability to her fellow County Councillors.

  7. Alan Watkins-Groves says:

    I wrote many letters to the Press about the huge sums of money involved, I pointed out that £25,000,000 would be sufficient to build new schools, what was the rest going to be spent on? I organised meetings at school and the Drill Hall but no-one came. I published Gilliland’s ridiculous list of clothing and jewellery that was unacceptable for lady teachers (including a ban on thumb rings). In the end I, along with many others, took generous payments to disappear after signing gagging agreements. Many of us predicted this, the man was not an unknown quantity.

    • “In the end I, along with many others, took generous payments to disappear after signing gagging agreements.”

      Are you going to pay them back?

  8. Alan Watkins-Groves says:

    When the next set of results come out, without the benefit of the excessive ‘GCSEs’ awarded for hairdressing et al, the Fed will be shown up for what it really is – a Grammar School flagship and a three Secondary Moderns. In one of my letters to the Press I pointed out that Gilliland’s plan was to return Lincoln’s education system back to before the 60s.

  9. sarah dodds says:

    Alan – I would love to speak with you about your background knowledge on all this – which is clearly far greater than my own. Can you please contact me – LSN have my contact details

  10. Alan Watkins-Groves says:

    @Adam- the actual wording says that I may not do or say anything that may harm the Priory’s business. Everything here was said before the agreement. So, no, I won’t be handing the money back. I consider it fair payment for the treatment I received and I don’t think I could damage the business more than has been done already.

  11. Adam says:

    Before condemning you, I’m asking myself whether I would abandon my principles for a “generous payment”. It all seems to ride on the amount.

  12. Margaret Hodge, chair of the Public Accounts Committee, commented (28 Nov 2011) on the purchase of the centre in France by the Priory Trust and said ‘…we have to ensure that there is value for money for every pound of taxpayers’ money spent [on schools]. When these stories reach us, you began thinking, “Crumbs, this is the beginning of things going badly wrong,” in terms of our getting value for money for the taxpayer.’

    Earlier, Margaret Hodge had said, “In the Priory Federation of Academies Trust… salary and benefits for the so-called executive head teacher [Mr Gilliland] were over £200,000, with additional pension contributions of another £28,500. The top three members of staff collectively earned £500,000. The top four earned £600,000, which means that four people in this trust – this is the Priory academy LSST, a thriving, prosperous school- earned over £100,000. In 2008, it bought a property in France for around £500,000. It has since spent £1.4 million on it. The year 2010 shows that the federation paid four trustees more than £31,000 in travel and subsistence. When asked, the federation said that a lot of this went on travelling to and from the French centre. Again, this is a shocking example. I hope you are as shocked as I was. What it demonstrates is that if you do not have a proper system of accountability in place when you are increasingly having fragmentation of institutions, more of this will happen unless you guys [the YPLA, now EFA] can step in and intervene.”

    Perhaps it was this exchange that prompted the YPLA to investigate the finances of the Trust.

  13. Andrew Austin says:

    I for one would love to hear about the events that Alan has brought to our attention, not to condemn him (who are any of us to do that) but to better understand the workings and failings of a company that at first glance has placed profit before education and has soiled the integrity of many well meaning educators, many of which will doubtless be tarred with the same brush purely for working in the academies in question. I for one salute Alan’s honesty in coming forward.

  14. Ricky Tarr says:

    I’ve yet to see any evidence that ‘academy status’ was a salient issue here.

    The irregularities listed in the report concerning the Priory are mostly small-scale alleged abuses of the school’s credit card – something that could happen in any school that has a credit card.

    Evidently, these irregularities (and others) were spotted in the end and action has been taken. I haven’t seen any proof that LA auditors would have been any quicker off the mark.

    Certainly the scale of alleged wrongdoing here is tiny compared with the sums allegedly involved in a well-reported case of a local authority supervised school in North West London, where some newspapers have reported more than £1m to have gone south.

    Since criminal charges have been brought in that case (and may be in the Priory one) we should all be careful not to say anything prejudicial. My point is merely that the authorities and the courts may well find themselves from time to time dealing with alleged frauds in LA as well as academy schools, and the status of the school and whether its accounts are LA-inspected or EFA-inspected isn’t really an important consideration.

    • Ricky have you watched this video?

      Do you have any insight at all into how state schools like this and Mossbourne can exist in the kind of extreme luxury we would expect for our most highly funded private schools while most of us struggle on in hugely overcrowded and dysfunctional buildings, and none of the slack in resources which would allow us to sort out essential issues which are hampering student progress?

      “The irregularities” here – whereby some students get incredible resources while others are failed by lack of funding – are absolutely vast. Because the finance involved is state finance we are entitled to an explanation as to how and why these irregularities are occurring and we aren’t getting any.

      • Ricky Tarr says:


        You know full well that the huge sums given to this academy federation were given to them by the last Labour government and that the outrageously extravagant capital projects were provided under BSF – which Gove wisely scrapped.

        • The cancellation of BSF left a lot of maintained schools in decrepit buildings, unfit for purpose, unsafe and unhealthy. There is widespread acknowledgement that the implementation of BSF was problematic, but at least the initiative’s aim was to improve all schools in the country, not just a select few, which is what is happening now.

          I don’t think that Michael Gove was “wise” in scrapping BSF and the manner in which he did it was unlawful. Justice Holman allowed challenges by 6 councils, declaring Gove had unlawfully failed to consult them before imposing the cuts. In five of the cases the failure was ‘so unfair as to amount to an abuse of power’, said the judge. Its another example of how Gove and this government hold in contempt the public’s right to proper consultation.

        • Could you link to the details Ricky? I’m unaware of any of them.

          Could you also give me some indication of why you think Gove is wise? Many schools are struggling with entirely unsuitable and in some cases dangerous accommodation which makes it extremely difficult for them to teach effectively. While anybody would have supported improved management of the schools rebuilding program and few would have objected to a brief suspension pending re-evaluation I’ve never come across anyone who thinks it was a remotely sensible idea just to scrap it.

          Perhaps you have no idea of the decades schools have spent trying to find routes through which they could get urgent rebuilds and the consequences of their suddenly having no way forward?

          Personally I compare school planning here with that just a few miles away in Scotland and the rapidly increasing ignorance of already deeply flawed policy here makes me cry.

        • Ricky – you are correct about the huge amount of money diverted to Labour’s prestigious academy programme at the expense of other schools. It wasn’t just in Licolnshire that flagship schools were established. Sponsored academies were under incredible pressure to perform. This pressure contributed to the high rate of attrition among heads of early academies (see PriceWaterhouseCoopers 2008).

          The response of the Priory Federation to the EFA report admits that the Federation was under intense pressure to succeed and “export the brand”.

          Deception about academies has been going on since they were first established (see thread below).

        • andy says:

          Ricky: I tend to agree the spirit of your comment though not necessariily the choice of descriptor (i.e. wisely). That is to say, whichever party won the last election was picking an incredible financial mess and whatever decisions they settled on would have caused a hue and cry. In relation to the scrapping of the BSF programme I reckon that just about everyone saw that coming and thus while it was hugely disappointing, as a big ticket item, it was no real surprise. What was surprising was the way the government went about it, which ended up with a legal judgement against them – not for doing it but the way they did it.

          The real tragedy is that there was and remains a desparate need for rebuild and major refurbishment of existing school stock. Scotland seems to have undertaken this is a more coherent way that England did. How and why this came to pass is another interesting but entirely separate debate. The terms of the BSF programme with it underlying PFI contracts remains a major issue for labour to address (and likewise with the hospital programme). So in terms of financial probity perhaps the Blair/Brown regime had more serious issues to be held to account for than the petty criminal activities of an Academy Trust whose financial accounting system was demonstrably farcical and shoudl lead to criminal proceedings.

          The impenetrable question is that of how to sensibly and responsibily fund major building projects – whether inside and outside a scenario of financial austerity? Perhaps there should be further scrutiny of the decisions to give an extra £18billion to the IMF through 2 separate tranches and the approval of £32 billion for HS2. Based on all previous governmental projects which reflect a tripling and more of the original estimate, the HS2 could come at £90-100billion and the profit takers will not be taxpayer but the rail companies. Cancelling these monies would massively reduce our borrowing and enable a refocusing on infrastructure – not the least of these being schools.

    • Ricky – again you have made my day! It’s hilarious that you consider the irregularities to be small-time stuff which could happen to any school that has a credit card. It’s also obvious you haven’t read the report or you would know that the irregularities weren’t just using the Federation’s credit card for a few personal items. Under this logic, the MPs expenses scandal is equally “small-scale”.

      Ricky – the abuse isn’t “alleged”, it’s been discovered by the Education Funding Agency (EFA). You would also know (if you’d read and understood the posts above) that the DfE has asked the police to investigate the Priory case.

      You are correct that fraud can take place in LA maintained school. However, local authorities have to send annual statements to the DfE which have to include confirmation of the assurance provided by the LA’s audit system for schools. And while it’s true that academies are supposed to have their accounts audited, these accounts do not have to be submitted to the Charity Commission. They are available from Companies House on payment of a fee. Academies are supposed to provide copies of academies on request (subject to a copying fee) but in the case of the Priory Federation this doesn’t seem to have happened.

      Even one of the Trustees of the Priory Federation has said there needs to be more local accountability of academies and chains. This is ironic considering the Trustee is a Tory Councillor at Lincolnshire County Council which announced some months ago that all Lincolnshire schools should become academies.

      • Ricky Tarr says:


        I have read the report. And it is small scale compared to the £1.6m irregularities alleged at the other school.

        Ricky – the abuse isn’t “alleged”, it’s been discovered by the Education Funding Agency (EFA).

        Yes, I know. But since criminal charges are contemplated, blogs and sites like this are supposed to follow the same conventions as newspapers……. being careful not to say anything that would prejudice a fair trial and generally observing the “innocent until proven guilty” assumption.

        As for the Tory Councillor – sadly, Tories active in local government frequently go native and become part of the problem rather than part of the solution.

        Since Lincolnshire isn’t exactly a byword for honesty and integrity in local government (….and one Lincolnshire Tory in particular!), I find it odd that anyone should think that having accounts audited by that shower would be preferable to having them done by Buzzacots or PwC.

        • “blogs and sites like this are supposed to follow the same conventions as newspapers”

          Since when? Links please. I continue to get blatant lies written about me relentlessly on the internet and I’d be delighted to know what legal protection I have.

        • Ricky – the evidence is in the public domain. It was splashed over newspapers at the weekend. I think the discussion here has been restrained compared with some of the tabloids (have you read the Mail’s account?).

          Please could you link to information about the other school. First you say the fraud was £1 million and then it’s £1.6.

          And could you be more explicit about “Tories in local government frequently go native”. I haven’t a clue what you mean.

  15. Ricky Tarr says:

    Rebecca, here’s some free legal advice from the Queen’s solicitor:

    • Thanks for that Ricky but the kind of guff which is written about me would evaporate the minute it got near a court of law. The main problem I have is that under this government’s new laws it is more and more likely that an employer will simply fire me if they are sent substantial lies about me because it is hard for them to be sure there is no truth in them at all. I have no recourse to appeal or right to challenge their decision in order to explore what is actually going on – so I can’t find out where the allegations are coming from or what they are.

      Hence my right to free speech depends on my ability to be able to afford to lose my income. It’s a big price to pay when you are a parent and you see what your children miss out on because you choose to write about what’s going on.

    • Ricky Tarr says:

      I wonder if perhaps Ricky is referring to these news reports about Paul Gorman at St. Boniface College Janet?

      Is Plymouth in “North West London”, Rebecca?
      Keep up….

  16. Ricky – you raise an important point about discussing cases which are subject to criminal investigation. It is quite right and proper that no discussion about possible evidence, speculation and so on should take place while investigation is ongoing and before a trial. Once a trial begins, however, it is quite acceptable for the media and others to discuss the evidence that is presented to Court.

    In the case of the Priory Federation the evidence (not speculation) has been presented by the Education Funding Agency. The DfE has referred the findings to the police. The official findings of the EFA are in the public domain. Discussion about this evidence is, therefore, allowable.

    In the case of the school to which you refer, Copland Community School, the fact that some staff have been arrested is a fact which can be reported. What could not be reported is any speculation or discussion which could prevent a fair trial. However, what can be reported is what action was taken by the Council when the allegations first surfaced because this is a matter of record.

    • Ricky Tarr says:


      Quite so. Which is why I am discussing both these cases, but taking care to use qualifiers such as ‘alleged’ when it comes to specific accusations of wrongdoing levelled against named individuals who may one day face trial.

      Now, returning to the point:

      Since it is demonstrably the case that scandals arise in both local authority and academy schools, and it is demonstrably the case that in these cases concerns were investigated once raised, why are you implying that the Priory case serves as some special warning of the dangers of academization?

      There will be villains and fools in whatever school system we have in this country. Obviously there is a need for robust systems of accountability.

      So far, the evidence shows the systems in place work.

      • Ricky – our replies crossed – see my post re Priory Federation (Lincolnshire) and Copland School (Brent).

        In both cases there have been concerns made about light touch regulation. The Audit Commission report into Brent found this to be inadequate. And the Tory Councillor in Lincolnshire has said there should be more local accountability.

        Both these cases show that the systems in place at the time did NOT work well. It took a whistle-blower to expose the irregularities at Copland. Allegations about the Priory Federation were made on the “Politics Show Yorkshire and Lincolnshire” (this programme was referred to in the Public Accounts Committee November 2011). I do not know the date of this TV programme and I do not know what action was taken either by the Trustees or by the Principal Regulator (the Secretary of State) after the programme was aired.

        Although I mention Lincolnshire County Council’s handling of the case in my other post – it was, in fact, nothing to do with Lincolnshire County Council because the Federation was a group of academies. The Trustees were initally responsible for investigating these claims. If this were insufficient then it was the responsibility of the Principal Regulator to ask the Charity Commission to investigate. As it was, the Education Funding Agency undertook the investigation. I’m not sure whether this was the correct course of action although it has to be said that the EFA was thorough.

        It would be interesting to read any Audit Commission report into the handling of the Priory Case by the Priory Federation Trustees and the Principal Regulator.

  17. Ricky – you compare the Priory Federation irregularities with a larger irregularity at a school maintained by a local authority. You imply that the actions of the Priory CEO were of small account when compared with the larger amount of money involved in the latter case. However, they are both crimes: theft is theft, fraud is fraud. It is up to the Crown Prosecution Service to prosecute cases and it is up to the Court to decide on the punishment. This would, no doubt, reflect the sum of money involved.

    It is too early to comment on Lincolnshire County Council’s handling of the Priory Federation Case – allegations about wrong-doing had been made before they were brought up at the Public Accounts Committee in November 2011. However, an investigation has taken place into Brent Council’s handling of the Copland affair.

    An Audit Commission report into Brent Council’s actions re Copland Community School concluded that the Council acted promptly when the alleged financial irregularities were brought to its attention. However, the report found weaknesses in Brent’s oversight of the school’s finances. The light touch surveillance was in accordance with Government guidelines at the time for “successful” schools but was found to be inadequate.

    The then Education Secretary sacked the Governing Body of the school while Brent was investigating the claims.

    • Ricky Tarr says:


      Yes, no one disputes any of that.

      For the third time, I return to the burden of my original comment –

      If the fact that irregularities took place at the Priory is used (as it has been here) as a warning of the dangers of academization…….

      then, surely, the fact that much larger irregularities were found at Copland could be seen as an even more dramatic warning of the dangers of having LAs in charge.

      Or, we could be more grown up about it all and acknowledge that in neither case was the fact that it was an academy or an LA school a significant factor.

      • Why do you not think it is wise for there to be systems for the public scrutiny of public money Ricky?

      • In both cases the light touch regulation has been found wanting. Academies are given more autonomy than other schools. If this autonomy is not adequately supervised then there is more opportunity for lax management, even criminal wrongdoing. In the case of any local authority school, including Trust schools, the local authority can intervene – indeed, it has a duty to intervene.

        In the case of academies, the local authority has no power to intervene. So, yes, the Priory affair is a warning about the lack of accountability around academies.

        • Ricky Tarr says:


          But the system wasn’t found wanting. The alarm was sounded. The government acted. The matter was investigated. Unless you want to infantilize the whole profession and not allow headteachers to have any spending money of their own, you have to risk the occasional abuse….. but be prepared to act promptly when concerns are raised.

          • That sounds like a decent point. What prompted the DFE investigation? Was it prompted by the systems put in place to monitor academies? It sounds like there are people who’ve contributed to this thread who would know…

  18. Ricky Tarr says:

    …. also Janet, you haven’t really explained why you put so much faith in the competence or integrity of LAs.

    In many parts of the country local government is infamously incompetent or corrupt, in some parts both.

    • Do local government accounts not have to be audited? Up here local budgets are subject to extensive scrutiny.

      I think the point it, Ricky, that these things are hard to scrutinise and monitor and there need to be robust systems to ensure they are monitored and that there are people in place who are not only accountable but are empowered with the access, support and systems they need to ensure they are effectively accountable. The existing systems are not perfect to it is essential we plan to ensure any new systems are better, not worse.

  19. sarah dodds says:

    Ricky – I have really enjoyed your comments and have the following points to make and questions to ask.
    My opposition to academies reaches much further than merely to finance structure. There are issues in Lincolnshire concerning exclusion, SEN, selection, and a move to a more corporate and less democratic governance model that I find very alarming.
    I do accept that LAs are very rarely perfect – especially in the case of Lincolnshire! However, I am curious as to whether you think that this kind of a problem is more or less likely to happen in the big business, lightly regulated academy world than in the LA model?

    • Ricky Tarr says:

      sarah dodds

      ….whether you think that this kind of a problem is more or less likely to happen in the big business, lightly regulated academy world than in the LA model?

      Much less likely in academies. Although there will be exceptions, the quality of governance in academies and free schools is/will be much higher. This is particularly the case with free schools and academy chains. Converters may need some work.

      If you look at the trustees of Ark, for example, you’ll find a stronger board than in many a FTSE 100 company.

      I think this will reap benefits beyond the finance area – innovation, accountability etc.

      I have heard many complaints from teachers in community schools about heads & SMTs getting away with murder because they enjoy warm, crony relationships with the LA. Academy governors will be more robust in holding them to account across the board – driving improvements in the classroom, raising standards of behaviour, as well as establishing sound business and financial systems.

      • I have also heard these complaints Ricky but you have seemed to fail to spot that the tensions which generates them is that increasingly over recent years heads have had to choose whether to do what is right for the community where there schools and the community of students they lead or to follow counter-productive central diktat which has been communicated to schools through LAs.

        There used to be quite a lot of LAs that were, in effect, co-operative organisations through which the local schools administered their joint affairs but these are long since gone as LAs which operate in that way were put into special measures to force them to concentrate more on enforcing diktat.

        LAs are hated because they became the instrument of enforcement of counter-productive central policy but were given no power or authority to be conduits of feedback whereby that central policy could be refined to become fit for purpose. So this leads to a culture where heads who do what they’re told from above and pay not attention to their community “get away with murder because they enjoy warm, crony relationships with the LA and get the better resources, attention and priorities” while heads which are doing excellent jobs and occasionally say no to inappropriate policies which were clearly not designed for them and will have negative effects those who invented the policies did not see are punished by their LAs due to the LAs needing to be ‘Ofstedproof’ themselves.

        I am not suggesting that all or even many LAs are that bad but there has clearly been a gradual but marked shift in that direction over the last 2 decades.

        Your post is contradictory Ricky because it seems to imply both that LAs should have been more liked and also that they should have more vehemently punished schools which were being very well managed.

        So how his Gove ‘fixing’ this situation Ricky? By shutting down LAs and beefing up Ofsted to punish schools more severely for not more rapidly following inappropriate diktat. Do you think that will improve education? If so why?

        Do you agree with his policy of running a cultural revolution and punishing and getting rid of anyone who suggests that melting all the teaspoons and metal objects in their house might not be the right thing to do?

        • By the way Ricky – while were on about results in China – please let’s be absolutely clear that the outstanding results Chinese students are due to the axiomatic and structural construction of their mathematics and nothing whatsoever to do with them having been through a cultural revolution.

          Please do feel free to chat about the details the comparison between Pacific Rim and Western Teaching which are explored in my series of blogs which start with this one:

          You can comment here or in comments to my blog.

      • Ricky – evidence, please, for your assertion that “the quality of governance in academies and free schools is/will be much higher.” Without evidence this is mere opinion.

        You are churning out Government spin re academies. This has been found wanting:

        • Ricky Tarr says:


          Isn’t it just a little bit much for you to be requesting evidence and chiding me for providing ‘mere opinion’ when sarah’s original question was phrased: I am curious as to whether you think …..

          There is a time and place for opinion. It’s when you are asked what you think.

          • Okay. Do feel free to pick up on some of the points I’ve raised too… :-)

          • Ricky – fair point. I’m a bit touchy about claims re how much better free schools and academies are than other types of schools. Mr Gove constantly makes these assertions but they are not backed up by evidence as a Freedom of Information request revealed:


            Unfortunately the way you phrased your opinion set my bullshit antennae waving. You said “the quality of governance in academies and free schools is/will be much higher.” The “is” remark could be proved (or disproved) by evidence. The “will be”, of course, is opinion which cannot yet be upheld.

            I suspect (my opinion) that the governing bodies of academies and free schools will vary in quality just as they do in LA maintained schools. It’s just that there seems to be no body which has oversight yet, hence the concerns of the NAO (see below).

      • sarah dodds says:

        Can I ask for the evidence for your views Ricky? My own expereince of watching schools pre and post conversion tells me that the relationship between trustees, SMTa and sponsors results in what can only be described as “nodding-dog” governance.

  20. “I am sick to the back teeth of governors who fail to challenge and question the decision making of head teachers and executives. In this new academy world there is no place for nodding dog governors.”

    We aren’t all nodding dog governors. In Lincolnshire there are too many vested interests to look at underachievement in areas of high deprivation such as in Mablethorpe (where the 11-plus has done untold damage).

    I have fought hard to engage schools and academies with extended learning / families to no avail but I am not afraid to ask questions at governor meetings, and I will not give up.

    My biggest criticism is that schools and academies are not pooling resources. This has had dire consequences for Education, Skills and Training in our area, in towns just a few miles apart. See my graph for Alford and Mablethorpe, it’s taken from multiple deprivation indices and includes the C&YP subdomain:

    “As the Lincoln schools fell, so the rest of the county followed, aided and abetted by CFBT at the helm of the county.”

    Totally agree with this one, this is the same party who have said children are where they need to be, in secondary modern schools with no sixth-forms, due to SATs results and the 11-plus..

    They provide no second chances: 100% increase in parent’s contributions to concessionary transport to nearest ‘sixth-forms from September 2012, no meaningful provision nor public consultation on RPA and standard responses to parent’s complaints.

    The situation in Lincoln is deeply unfair. It’s a real kick in the teeth for children with high aspirations from less well-off families across the county.

    “Our locally controlled and democratically accountable education system has been dismantled on the basis of a corrupt foundation.”

    The same should be said for the academies argument. It doesn’t exist in isolation to rejection by 11-plus, not in Lincolnshire. SM academies will struggle to make floor targets due to unfair competition, it’s a no-brainer who will suffer.

    The Lincolnshire argument isn’t inclusive and it should be!

  21. sarah dodds says:

    Alan – in total agreement. And I totally recognise where we do have strong governors. It is a shame that there are not more of you around!

  22. Carlos Alvarado says:

    The UK is slowly becoming a banana republic.
    The MPs has been found stealing money, minister like Dr Fox and his “Special male friend” selling guns and making money and traveling around the world at tax payer expenses

    Rupert Murdock buying influence to a point that the the party candidates were visiting him to get his approval. The Police was involved selling details etc.

    The Case of Priory in Lincoln is just one of many. The corruption seems to
    carry on with no control. No even the Speechly case made any difference.

    I am at the moment keeping an eye open to the sale of the Lawn in Lincoln. I hope that there is not corruptive practices on this City Council deal.

  23. Ricky, Rebecca – both of you raised the same question about the investigation into the Priory – what triggered it? This raises a further question about the length of time it took for the relevant authority to act.

    Accusations were made on a BBC Look North programme – I do not know the date. The accusations must have been made before the programme was broadcast or the BBC would not have run the item. This programme was cited in the Commons Public Accounts Committee in November 2011. The Chief Executive of the YPLA told the Committee that the YPLA ” have looked at the details of the Priory case” Notice that this statement is in the past tense – this implies that the YPLA had investigated before Nov 2011. If so, why weren’t the financial irregularities reported then? It could be, of course, that the investigation was still ongoing. If this were the case, then why didn’t the Chief Exec say so?

    It is becoming clearer that an inquiry needs to take place into the handling of this case.

  24. The Head of the National Audit Office (NAO) told the Public Accounts Committee in November 2011, “39% of academies had never submitted a return at all and 38% were in arrears” and expressed concern about light-touch regulation. The NAO warned in its report on Academies in 2010: “It is important that academies’ freedom and independence are matched with robust governance and accountability. While the Young People’s Learning Agency monitors academies’ academic and financial performance, it does not have equivalent processes for monitoring standards of governance.”

    The Chief Executive of the YPLA told the Committee that the YPLA was “still building the systems that will allow us to collect the data very easily” and in his opinion the framework of the system “had been established quite well.”

    Sir David Bell, Permanent Secretary at the DfE, told the Committee that it was the responsibility of local authorities to monitor maintained schools and there was no systemic problem.

    So, there is no systemic problem among local authorities but the head of the NAO is concerned about the accountability of academies. The YPLA Chief Exec said the YPLA was working on the system for academies. But the YPLA is now defunct and has been replaced by the EFA which is not sure if it should be dealing with complaints about academies. The Secretary of State is the principal regulator of academies but according to Charity Commission rules the principal regulator can’t investigate its charities (academies are exempt charities) but can ask the Charity Commission to investigate.

    The situation appears to be rather confused.

    • Ricky Tarr says:


      The Head of the National Audit Office (NAO) told the Public Accounts Committee in November 2011, “39% of academies had never submitted a return at all and 38% were in arrears”

      Both here and on another thread your use of this quote risks giving the impression that these academies have not filed annual accounts.

      This is not so. The “return” referred to was a specific form that was supposed to be sent to the department now known as DfE.

      Nor was that the situation in September 2011. The comproller and auditor general was using a figure from his own report of September 2010.

      In April 2010, work began on a new financial reporting system for academies. That is now in place.

      Nowadays academies even have to evaluate their own compliance… and submit a return on that!

      (Another way of putting it: under Labour things were pretty slack. The coalition has tightened them up.)

      • Ricky – you are correct that the head of the NAO was quoting figures from its 2010 report. Here is the full quotation from 2010:

        “Academies have the freedom to determine their own cost centre structure, which makes it difficult to monitor and analyse detailed financial performance across academies, and benchmark against comparable maintained schools. In addition to annual accounts and funding returns, academies are required to submit a supplementary detailed income and expenditure return to the Department. However, only 38 per cent of academies have submitted a return in all years since opening, and 39 per cent have never submitted this return. In future, such returns will be sent to the Young People’s Learning Agency, which intends to agree a set of appropriate returns with academies and improve compliance.”

        So the “specific form” was a detailed income and expenditure return. Academies have to publish accounts (I’ve never denied that) – these now go to Company House where they can be seen on payment of a nominal fee.

        I apologise for giving the impression that I was referring to accounts – I hope I have cleared up any misunderstanding.

      • Re consistency between accountability systems in academies and LA schools. Sir David Bell told the Publics Accounts Committee that the DfE was “putting in place an accountability system for academies”. Bear in mind this was in November 2011, about 15 months after the Academies Act was pushed through Parliament. If the systems put in place under Labour were slack then the DfE should have known this and published updated, more rigourous financial rules for academies as a matter of urgency. It appears that it was still work in progress in November 2011.

        Sir David said the DfE was “moving towards” a system which would be very similar to benchmark system now in place for LA schools and in 2012 the DfE should be able to generate similar data from academies. That is good news. Let’s hope the system is working well enough for financial data for academies to be published in the 2012 School Performance Tables.

        • Ricky Tarr says:


          The DfE statement that you quoted on the other Priory thread bears repetition here, if only to keep things in perspective:

          The financial accountability systems in place for Academies are more rigorous than those for maintained schools. Unlike maintained schools, Academies must have their accounts externally audited.

          • This is from the DFE’s report Ricky: (‘They’ is the Priory)

            “They have also been subject to an annual external audit
            of their accounts and no issues were raised with them. Assumptions were made by
            the CEO and Chair of Governors that the annual audit would have looked at financial
            and accounting in detail so had taken assurance that, as no issues were raised,
            there were no problems. However the areas where issues have now arisen were not
            seen by the accountants as material to the accounts.”

            This would indicate that perhaps external audit is not so effective a system as the scrutiny of budgets by others with expertise in the management of schools.

          • That’s true – but it raises the question about why the external audit did not pick up the financial regularities at the Priory Federation. I will not speculate – that would be unwise as the police are now involved. However, I’m sure it is something that will need to be addressed.

            The DfE requires LA schools to assess their compliance with the Schools Financial Value Standard introduced July 2011. The National Audit Office (NAO) considers this new Standard is an improvement on the previous Standard. The DfE relies on LAs to monitor the financial management of its schools and intervene where necessary. It obviously thinks LAs can do this job otherwise it would surely have established a system of external audit. As academies are not subject to LA supervision, then an external audit is necessary. It’s odd that the Government should now claim that the financial accountability systems for LA schools are not as rigorous as in academies when it was the Government who set up the system for LA schools as recently as July 2011.

            However, that’s not to say there aren’t concerns about monitoring of the new Standard. The NAO is concerned that with reduced funding there might not be the necessary resources in place. It has recommended that the DfE should decide how it is going to review the working of the new system and establish a response if any LA school fails to meet the new Standard.

            And to keep things in perspective – the NAO found that 92% of LA schools were compliant with the previous Standard by the deadline of March 2010.


          • Its not wise to quote DfE statements as if these are unassailable facts. Many of their statements have been challenged because they deliberately or carelessly avoid the charge put to them. Put in the context of the wider issue of how this government slips and slides around questions of transparency, probity and accountability, this statement carries about as much rigorous weight as Cameron claiming that Andy Coulson went through the appropriate checks before he sat in residence in Number 10 whilst still on the payroll of News Interntional. Or as Jeremy Hunt and Adam Smith ensuring that Hunt in no way could be deemed to have strayed away from impartiality when it came to assessing the Murdoch’s suitability to take over BSkyB. If the Tories had a proven track record of encouraging and allowing real scrutiny, then there is no need to question this and other DfE statements but when Gove has been resisting demands from the Information Commissioner to hand over private emails and when his SPADS have been instructing colleagues and DfE civil servants not to respond to FoI requests, then voters will be more reassured that schools’ accountability is best monitored and checked by a Local Authority.

  25. Ricky Tarr says:

    Also, for perspective, it’s worth noting some sections of the Priory Trustees response.

    Setting aside the wrongdoing for a mo, and turning to some of the expenditure that was lavish, eyebrow-raising …but legit:

    Contrary to many general misconceptions, The Priory Federation
    works closely with the LA: the LA is a Sponsor…….

    …The LA was appointed the procurer for all of the new
    developments: the new builds at Lincoln Academy and Witham
    Academy, the Boarding House and Sports Centre at Priory LSST
    and the new build at Ruskin……

    ……The decision to purchase the French Centre was made before the
    Academies were opened…

    Puts a rather different complexion on things, no?

    • Thanks, Ricky – that explains what I thought was my mistake in my post of 30/4/12 (3.38pm) when I said it was too early to speculate on Lincolnshire County Council’s handling of the case. It was only after posting this comment that I realised that LAs are not responsible for academies because academies have opted out of the LA. But, if the LA is a sponsor then the relationship is one of sponsor and academy not LA and academy. This raises important questions: is there a conflict of interest? If an LA sponsors academies does this deflect attention from its maintained schools? How far is the LA, as sponsor, responsible for the financial probity of its academies? Bearing in mind that Lincolnshire has asked all its schools to become academies…

      Thanks, Ricky, you’ve opened up a very interesting avenue. However, as the police are involved, then it’s perhaps unwise to discuss how far, if at all, Lincolnshire County Council as sponsor is responsible for the governance of its academies.

    • Ricky – having just typed the above response, I’m unsure if Lincolnshire County Council is a sponsor in the full sense. According to the Priory Federation “The Sponsor of the Federation is The Priory Federation of Academies Fundraising Trust. The Sponsor has a majority on the Board of Trustees.” The trust has one LA respresentative – again, I’m not sure if this complies with the definition of an academy sponsor. Before May 2010 sponsors were expected to contribute financially to their academies – if LCC were a sponsor then it would be expected to make a contribution. If it didn’t, was this because (a) it contributed in kind or (b) it wasn’t really a Sponsor in the full sense or (c) another reason?

      I’m surprised you find the purchase of sex games and supplements to be a legitimate expenditure. A novel approach to sex education, perhaps?

      • Ricky Tarr says:


        I think what it means is that the LA put up £10m to start the academy off, with the government putting up the remaining £50m.

        The LA has the right to nominate one trustee, as for some reason does Churchill College, Cambridge.

        • Ricky – “Initially, sponsors were required to pay 10% of capital costs, capped at £2 million. This was then replaced by an endowment model, whereby the sponsor created an endowment fund, the interest from which was intended to provide income for the academy. There is now no requirement for new sponsors to make a financial contribution.”

          from the Public Accounts Committee Report on the Academies Programme 19 January 2011.

          If LCC were a sponsor of the Priory Federation then its contribution would have been capped at £2 mill. According to the Accounts for year ending 31/8/09, LCC contributed £200,000.

  26. Carlos says:

    Does it matter what Sir Somebody and Lord Banana have said. They all come from the same priviledged stables. We have a lunatic right wing education Secetary treating teachers and the public like we are all idiots. It gives the impression that the UK is becoming a totalitarian state where corporation and private business want to take over everything including the oxygen in the air. They are enriching themselves with tax payers money and get away with it. A rioter steals a £150.00 TV set and gets abused by the newspapers and goes to jail.

    Is about time that we the people stop this take over by the oligarquy and demand from the political class more honesty and a clean government for the people and not for crooks and opportunists?

  27. Ricky – the EFA was concerned about the use of the French centre by Trustees/Trust staff of the Priory Federation, its use for activities unrelated to the Federation and the refurbishment of apartments there.

    It is irrelevant that the decision to purchase the French centre was made before the Academies were opened. It was still purchased by the Priory Federation of Academies Trust which was incorporated on 29 April 2008. The first academies opened in September 2008. The Priory Fundraising Trust was incoroporated on 16 February 2007. Accounts submitted to the Charity Commission for year ending 31/8/09 refer to “payment by The Priory Fundraising Trust to The Priory Federation of
    Academies towards the purchase price of the French Curriculum Centre.”

    The decision to purchase the French centre may have been made before the academies opened their doors to pupils but it was still purchased by the Priory Federation of Academies Trust.

    The above accounts refer to Lincolnshire County Council under the heading Sponsorship Income. LCC donated £200,000. This donation and others are the only reference to sponsorship in the accounts which were signed off by R Gilliland, Executive Head.

  28. Ricky Tarr says:


    According to the BBC, the council ponied up £10m.

    • Thanks, Ricky. It appears that the £10 million was for “primary provision”. Only one of the three academies at the time (2008) planned to take primary age pupils – Priory Witham Academy which admits up to 60 pupils at age 5.

      In 2011, KS2 results for Priory Witham were as follows: 29% achieved Level 4, down from 55% in 2010. However, the number of pupils involved could have been very small so even a slight fluctuation would show up more heavily in results given as a percentage. This is a recurring problem with small rural schools.

      Meanwhile, pressure is growing on the Board of Trustees to resign.

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