That was the question posed in Parliament by David Ward, the Liberal MP for Bradford. Others may have seen his damning indictment already, as it dates from 19th November. But for those who haven't, and because it is fine piece of Parliamentary oratory, I think it is worth reading. And reporters and activists locally in Bradford have told me how surprised they are that this scandal is not getting more national attention.
Last week, in response to the Guardian revelation
that individuals and companies linked to academies were making millions - the DfE claimed
: "The rules are clear. No individual or organisation with a governing relationship to an academy can make a profit." They presumably believe this is also true of free schools. The Kings Science saga indicates that an awful lot has to happen before anybody intervenes. Over to David Ward:"At the Kings science academy, a principal with no experience even as a deputy, let alone a head teacher, was appointed without an interview. Is that acceptable to the Minister?Prior to the new build, £460,000 was invested in temporary accommodation at an old school of which the principal’s father was a trustee. Is that acceptable?Insurance was paid on the school—a temporary provision—to an insurance company set up by a trust of which the principal’s father was a trustee. Is that acceptable?The principal himself was shown to be a director of that insurance company, although he claimed that that was a mistake. Is that acceptable?A benefactor—more correctly referred to by the hon. Member for Gateshead as a beneficiary—called Alan Lewis, who happens to be a vice-chairman of the Conservative party, provided a site containing warehouses that were largely derelict and empty, but then received £10 million-worth of public money to build the new school.We have now heard that he will receive £6 million over a 20-year period, after which the building reverts back to his sole ownership. That same person, at the time of the negotiations on the lease payments on the new building, was chair of the governing body. Is that acceptable to the Minister?An accountants’ report in the summer of 2012—the accountants brought in were those of, guess who, Alan Lewis—identified widespread financial irregularities dating back as long ago as the period before the school’s opening, but the Education Funding Agency did not send in the external assurance team until a scheduled visit took place in December 2012. It waited for a scheduled visit! Is that acceptable to the Minister?Bill Esterson: The hon. Gentleman is describing a disgraceful and worsening litany of what has happened at the school in his constituency. Is there a way of providing oversight that would avoid all those terrible things that he is describing?Mr Ward: My great concern is that the oversight is not wanted, because were it in place, it would ask the awkward questions that people do not want to answer. We do not see what we do not look for.An internal audit investigation team at the beginning of 2013 concurred with the accountants’ report—by now six months old—and identified fraudulent claims for Department for Education funding;the appointment, without interview, of the principal’s mother, father and sister as school staff; payments to the principal of pension contributions due to the Teachers’ Pensions agency, claimed from the DFE; and much more.Yet the principal was not suspended. Is that acceptable to the Minister?Thanks to John Roberts at the Yorkshire Post, we know that the DFE is blaming an administrative error for the failure of the police to investigate, when only a week before the Department had claimed that the police had decided not to investigate. Is that acceptable?When told by the police that they did not have enough information to proceed with an investigation, the DFE failed to send them the full and damning audit report. Is that acceptable?We were told that the police did not get the audit report, because they did not ask for it. The audit report, available in May 2013, was not published until 25 October, just before the broadcasting of a critical “Newsnight” investigation into the school. Is that acceptable?When the DFE was questioned about what action it intended to take following the publication of the report, the Department replied that—wait for it—the school had launched its own investigation and that any disciplinary action was a matter for the school. Is that acceptable?In answering that particular question, will the Minister bear in mind that the principal’s brother is on the disciplinary committee?My questions are not rhetorical; they require answers. Are those things acceptable? Is that the level we have fallen to in terms of accountability?Finally, if all those things are acceptable in the name of freedom, will the Minister tell me just how corrupt a free school has to be to be unacceptable?How many more schools are like the one I have been talking about? Are we talking about the tip of an iceberg?Earlier, the hon. Member for Hendon (Dr Offord) talked about a wonderful school with great governance arrangements, but, in truth, how do we know?We know clearly from the Kings science academy that when matters were wrong and wrongdoing was taking place day in, day out, they did not come to public attention.We simply do not know the answer to the question of how many more such schools there are, but it makes you think, doesn’t it?"David Ward, Bradford East, Lib Dem
Source: Hansard, 19 November 2013, 10.17am
Note: The DfE now claims
that, although Alan Lewis (Vice-chairman of the Conservative Party nationally) was listed on the school web site as Chair of Governors for over a year, he never in fact held that position. It is unclear if anybody else did.
David Ward refers to the reporting of John Roberts, who has done a remarkably determined job writing for the Yorkshire Post. Some of his articles:
2/12/2013: Exclusive: Ministry ‘misled MPs’ over inquiry at Bradford free school4/1/2014: Exclusive: Mystery of scandal-hit Bradford academy’s leadership deepens
9/1/2014: Exclusive: Head teacher arrested in fraud probe at Bradford free school