Gove’s chiels ding again as he passes the buck and ducks responsibility

Janet Downs's picture
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“…but it is important to recognise that the principals of academies are more accountable than the heads of local authority schools…Facts are chiels that winna ding”. That is as a result of the greater accountability they face, and not just to the taxpayer through the EFA, but to the Charity Commission.”

Michael Gove, House of Commons, 6 January 2013

It’s not the first time education secretary Michael Gove has quoted Robert Burns – but Gove’s “chiels” continue to “ding”. His claim that academies are more accountable than local authority (LA) schools has been scotched here before. And it’s difficult to envisage heads of LA schools getting away with quite the level of fraud that it is now under police investigation at the Kings Science Academy.

When David Ward MP asked what steps the Department for Education (DfE) had taken in relation to the principal of Bradford’s Kings Science Academy following the DfE’s critical audit report, Gove passed the buck to the governing body of the free school. He said it was their responsibility. In any case, there was an ongoing police investigation, he added, which he didn’t want to prejudice.

Ward replied, “That is disappointing, because of course the head of a maintained school would have been on his bike long ago.”

But Gove can’t pass the buck. He is Principal Regulator for academies. He has a duty to ensure the trusts that run academies comply with the law in respect of the “control and management” of the charitable trust. He must ensure charity assets such as money are “being applied correctly and consistently” in line with Funding Agreements and charity law. He must also ensure information about academy trusts is readily available to the public. Perhaps he should remind Sabres Educational Trust of this since its website became nothing more than a holding page.

Gove said academies are accountable to the Charity Commission but, as stated above, he is the Principal Regulator. If he identifies a problem with an academy trust he can invite the Commission to intervene but the Commission is under no obligation to accept the invitation. In any case, the National Audit Office (NAO) has issued a critical report about the Charity Commission:

1The Commission isn’t regulating charities effectively.
2It doesn’t do enough to root out and confront abuses of charitable status.
3It demonstrates poor use of information and often depends solely on assurances from charity trustees.
4It makes insufficient use of its powers and fails to take strong action in some serious cases.
5Its ineffectiveness is likely to undermine the Commission’s ability to increase public trust and confidence.
6The Commission doesn’t deliver value for money.

With such assurances, it’s difficult to believe that academies are more accountable than LA maintained schools which are covered by LA internal audits.

 

The chiels are definitely dinging.

UPDATE 9 January 2014 16/03

The Yorkshire Post reports that a 41 year-old man has been arrested in connections with allegations of fraud at Kings Science Academy. The paper understands it is the school’s principal Sajid Raza (aka Sajid Hussain).

Charity lawyer Lord Phillips warned against the Secretary of State becoming principal regulator of the exempt charities which run academies. He believed it would inevitably "involve conflicts of interest". He also expressed concern that the DfE didn't have sufficient knowledge of the law governing charities to be an effective regulator.

It appears his fear were not groundless.
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