Kings Science Academy and the Chair that wasn't there

Henry Stewart's picture
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This week the Yorkshire Post reported that the headteacher of Kings Science Academy, a free school in Bradford, had been arrested in connection with the widely reported financial irregularities at the school. One odd aspect of this case is that, eleven months after the EFA report highlighted the problems, the headteacher remains in post. This raises questions about how well equipped academies are to deal with situations like this.

Michael Gove explained in Parliament this week (col 16) that, for academies, only governors are able to remove or suspend a headteacher and the DfE cannot intervene. One problem with Kings Science appears to be the uncertainty around who the governors are. For over twelve months their web site (archive version here) stated that their Chair was Alan Lewis, who is also Vice-Chair of the Conservative Party nationally.

However Alan Lewis, though now listed as Executive Patron, denies that he was ever Chair. The DfE says it was told by the school in October 2011 that Alan Lewis was the Chair, but discovered 12 months later that he was not. The DfE told the Yorkshire Post that the school had no chair at all for 12 months. For over a year the school seems to have believed that Mr Lewis was Chair. What went on during this period? Were governing body meetings held? Or did the headteacher just do as he wished without oversight? The Yorkshire Post notes: "The review by the Education Funding Agency warns that having no chairman raises concerns over whether there was a properly constituted governing body in place and over the legitimacy of its decisions".

Alan Lewis has a direct financial interest in the school. He is chair of the Hartley Group, which owns the land the school is built on and will receive almost £300,000 a year in rent - adding up to almost £6 million over the 20 years of the contract. Whether Mr Lewis is Chair or Executive Patron (where, according to the school "he will oversee governance") this would appear to represent a conflict of interest. It must also be asked if £300,000 a year is really the market rate for land of this sort in Bradford?

Of governors and headteachers



Without a local authority to support and challenge, responsibility falls in academies and free schools entirely to the Governing Body to hold the headteacher to account. In practice this responsibility lies with the Chair of Governors. The problem here is that, if they are working well together, the Chair and Head have a close working relationship and tend to have a common viewpoint. In addition most of the information received by the Chair, and the Governing Body, comes from the headteacher - meaning that governors tend to see things from their viewpoint.

In my experience it is very rare for a Chair, or Governing Body, to take action against a head unless they are prompted to do so by the local authority. I even know of one case where the Chair was presented with clear evidence of exam fraud (by a teacher in the school) and, rather than confront the head, resigned as chair. The local authority had to ensure that action was taken by the new chair.

How maintained schools can respond



Since local management of schools was introduced in 1988, local authorities do not directly run schools and responsibility for suspending or dismissing a headteacher would also fall to the Governing Body. However there is a crucial difference from academies: if the governors fail to act the local authority can withdraw delegation of powers and take back direct control of the school

This summer allegations were made against Hackney headteacher Greg Wallace that an IT contract had been awarded "to a company run by a man with a close personal relationship" to Mr Wallace. It appears that the governors were supportive of the headteacher, with the Chair telling the BBC that the contracts were awarded fairly. Hackney Council withdrew delegated powers and suspended the headteacher. After an investigation Mr Wallace resigned and was reported as having left with no compromise agreement or other payment.

This seems to be a crucial difference. Sometimes headteachers need to move on, in extreme cases due to irregularities like this or simply because they are not able to move a school forward. I know of many cases where the local authority has "encouraged" chairs to take action and the above example shows how issues around a headteacher can be dealt with even without the support of the Governing Body. That the head of Kings Science appears to be still in post, even after being arrested, suggests that similar effective measures do not exist in the structure of academies.

Thanks



My thanks to the Yorkshire Post, for their very thorough investigations and reporting on the Kings Science Academy, the source of much of the information above. They also found that the DfE had misled MPS over the inquiry at the school.

Thanks also to @assemblytube for finding the archive version of the Kings Science we site
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