£4m fraud at another of Gove’s favourite academy chains
£4.1m was siphoned from flagship academy chain, Haberdashers Aske Foundation Trust (HAFT), by former school accountant Samuel Kayode. He was jailed for nine years after being found guilty of fraud and theft after it was revealed he used bank transfers to shift money into his Nigerian-based company.
HAFT runs three academies and a free school in London. In February 2016, it received permission to open a second free school in the site of an old fire station in Southwark.
Kayode began dipping his hands in the till in 2006 during which time HAFT’s CEO was Elizabeth Sidwell. She became Schools Commissioner in 2011 on a two-year contract and has championed the growth of academes, UTCs and free schools. Rosie Cooper MP, in a House of Commons debate in March 2013, described Sidwell as 'peddling the Education Secretary’s ideological wares as if she was some kind of snake oil saleswoman.'
When police arrested a suspect in July 2014, HAFT’s CEO, Adrian Percival, wrote to parents asking them not to discuss the case with the media. This angered many parents who said rumours had been circulating for over a year. Percival said the ‘unauthorised transfers’ had been declared in HAFT’s accounts for year ending 31 August 2012. But these unauthorised transfers had been going on unnoticed for six years until a cleaner stumbled on some paperwork, became suspicious and blew the whistle. HAFT said in 2014 it hoped to reclaim the missing millions by seizing the offenders’ assets via the civil courts but only £800k has been returned to date.
HAFT was one of Gove’s favourite chains. In January 2012, he chose Haberdashers’ Aske’s Hatcham College to make a speech in which he described opponents to his policies as promoting a ‘bigoted backward bankrupt ideology’. They were ‘happy with failure - the enemies of promise’.
As on so many occasions during his tenure, Gove cited the OECD as evidence. But just a couple of weeks ago, Gove changed his mind about this once-praised organisation. That’s because the OECD was among the ‘experts’ which Gove claimed people had had enough of. Gove compared them to Nazis because they had warned against Brexit. Now it appears there may have been another about-turn, at least by Gove’s wife, Sarah Vine. She’s put out an appeal for ‘the clever people on Facebook’ to offer ‘advice and expertise’. Unsurprisingly, it’s attracted some derision.
HAFT joins a growing list of academy trusts praised by Gove which have since been censured for their finances: Durand, Perry Beeches, Cuckoo Hall, Barnfield Federation, Kings Science Academy. Apart from Kings, the criticised financial transactions were not fraudulent, but it should ring alarm bells about how well academy trusts are monitored if such dealings can happen in trusts named as examples to others.
As the number of academy trusts grows, so the ability of the Education Funding Agency to oversee their finances falls. And, if the principal regulator of these trusts, the Secretary of State for Education, is busy, as is likely in the coming months if not years, then, as Laura McInerney, editor of Schools Weeks said, ‘We’re stuffed.’