When you’re in a hole, Mr Gove, stop digging. Gove refuses to criticise “idealists” behind free school investigated for fraud.

Janet Downs's picture
A flagship free school may have been found fabricating invoices and employing family members, but Education Secretary Michael Gove refused to criticise it when challenged.

There were “questions to be answered” about the Kings Science Academy, Bradford, Gove said, but refused to go further. Instead he praised “idealists” behind the Academy and other free schools.

Gove accused his Labour critics of turning a blind eye to the “appalling” state of education in Bradford for many years:

“The quality of education in Bradford has, for many years, been appalling. They are prepared to turn a blind eye consistently to Labour local authorities that fail.”

But Bradford wasn’t a Labour local authority. No one party has had overall control since 2000. And it was the Conservatives who took the leading roles for ten years from 2000. Labour has only run Bradford, without an overall majority and only with support from the Greens, since 2010.

In any case, Bradford local authority was powerless to intervene in education. It had been taken over by private-operator Serco on a ten-year contract in 2000 as “Education Bradford”. In 2009, the Council recommended education be brought back in-house when the contract ended. This followed accusations that Serco hadn’t delivered the promised improvements and the contract hadn’t been value-for-money. And in March 2011 Serco’s involvement in education in Bradford was criticised in Channel 4’s Dispatches: Britain’s Secret Fat Cats. Education in Bradford is now back under the control of the local authority.

So, Gove tried to deflect criticism of Kings Science Academy by attacking a “Labour” local authority which wasn’t a Labour one. And in severely criticising the “appalling” state of education in Bradford he was, in fact, attacking a company which he said he would be happy to see running schools (see sidebar: Gove IS in favour of profit-making companies running state schools)

That hole he’s digging just got deeper.

UPDATE 12.59

Gove told the Commons on 11 November 2013,  "The highest-performing school in Bradford is, I believe, an academy."  In 2012 (the only results in the public domain) showed this wasn't the case.  There are very few primary academies in Bradford LA so it's rather unfair to point out that Appleton Academy's Key Stage 2 results put it at position 88 out of 188.  At secondary level, Bingley Grammar School, Voluntary Aided, was the highest-performing state school.  Second was Ilkley Grammar, a converter academy.  At 3rd place was a VA school, 4th was a Community School and at 5th place was a sponsored academy.

UPDATE 13.10

It seems Gove didn't know who was in charge in Derby either.  He told the Commons "it must be stressed that the action we have taken to deal with the Al-Madinah free school was taken faster than any action taken by Labour-led Derby council to deal with any of the underperforming schools in that great city."  But there was no overall control in Derby from 2006-2012 when Labour did take control.    Gove said turning the Sinfin school into an academy had seen "a real improvement in performance".  But the community school only became a sponsored academy on 1 June 2013 so perhaps it's a little premature to talk about rapid improvement.  And the "real improvement" at the Grampian school, from 54% to 94% of Key Stage 2 pupils achieving Level 4, happened before it became an academy on 1 December 2012. 

UPDATE 17:13

Gove also told the Commons “…as Ofsted has pointed out with respect to Derby, it is in one of the weakest areas of school improvement of any local authority.”

Derby was picked out by Ofsted earlier in the year for focused school inspections because of concerns about education standards.

After they took place Ofsted wrote “…there was a general perception that the support and challenge provided to schools by the local authority had improved in the last year or so…” although there was still a long way to go.

Gove seems to have missed that.

Ofsted hasn’t followed up with a full inspection of Derby’s school improvement function presumably because there was "cause for optimism".

Gove missed that too.

However, this wasn’t the case in Norfolk (Conservative controlled 2001-2013, now no overall control) or Isle of Wight (Conservative controlled 2005-13, now Independent).  Ofsted did a full inspection and found both counties raised “serious concerns”.

I wonder if Gove will accuse Conservative LAs of turning a "Nelsonian blind eye".


Note: citing Ofsted judgements does not imply agreement.

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