This is the latest post about Cuckoo Hall Academy Trust. The previous post is here
Criticism of Cuckoo Hall and the very particular management style of Patricia Sowter CBE which has included her telling falsehoods about her achievements, has been mounting for some time. See, for example Janet Downs' post here
THE EDUCATION FUNDING AGENCY INVESTIGATES CUCKOO HALL ACADEMIES TRUST
Things were subsequently brought to a head by an EFA report. It found that at Cuckoo Hall Academies Trust ( CHAT ) there had been falsification of safeguarding records, spending of money without proper records kept, nepotism and cronyism, an allegation of falsification of key stage 2 SATS (still under investigation), and allegations of bullying which the Trust was instructed to investigate. This last detail betrays that the authors of the report anticipated the senior management team at the Trust would be changed upon the report delivery, as expecting the people against whom the accusations of bullying were made to investigate themselves is obviously absurd.
(For coverage of the report see a detailed summary in Schools Week
and Janet Downs' coverage
of the report on LSN.)
- THE SECRETARY OF STATE DOES NOT ACT.
Brought to a head? Well not really. The two key things to note about the report is that the Senior Management of CHAT stand condemned by it under a number of headings, and the Secretary of State has taken no action.
We are where we are. And Patricia Sowter CBE and her colleagues, and indeed various members of her family, are where they remain. Consequently revealing further information about how Cuckoo Hall Academies Trust is actually (mis)managed is fully justified. And following the previous postings on LSN further information has indeed come in from various sources including former and current employees of the Trust, whose identities cannot be disclosed for obvious reasons.
Out of the range of material now available, for this post I shall concentrate on nepotism.
THE STARTING POINT:THE EFA REPORT
The EFA report has quite a lot to say about it. The full text of the report is here
but for the purpose of this post I will quote the most immediately relevant bits:-
"35. The investigation found evidence that the Trust’s policies were not complied with in some key cases, and that the process set out in the Articles related to conflicts of interest was not followed. The investigation has seen evidence of at least 3 failures to follow the proper procedures in managing conflict of interest in appointments....
37. There is also evidence that there has been a failure to follow process in pay rises and promotions. These failures are particularly in relation to the consideration and agreement by the Board of Trustees of pay rises and promotions where there is a potential conflict of interest.
38. The concept that trustees or their relatives do not gain financially from their position as trustees is central to the status of the Trust as a charity, to obtaining value for money, and to the exercise of regularity, probity and propriety the use of public funds. All of these are general requirements of the Academies Financial Handbook and the HM Treasury publication ‘Managing Public Money’. The investigation obtained no evidence that the process on managing conflicts of interests (as set out at (i)-(v) above) had been carried out in the recruitment of family members, which is a clear breach of the Articles and the Academies Financial Handbook."
Thus the EFA report establishes that improper appointment processes occurred. This are NOT allegations but are established facts. Established by the EFA. Consequently if any one would wish to quarrel with that conclusion, their quarrel is with the EFA, and not with the Local Schools Network.
The EFA report does not generally name names. (Although it does give Phil Sowter, Patricia Sowter's husband, a special mention). The authors would no doubt have seen no reason to name individuals as their report concluded:
"50. In the EFA’s view..... there was a serious breakdown in management and governance, to a degree which would entitle the Secretary of State to intervene in accordance with the funding agreement."
They expected the Secretary of State to step in, impose an Interim Executive Board, which would among all the other tasks involved in turning the Trust around, (such as proper accounting for money spent) have dealt with the issues both of the improper appointments and the allegations of bullying.
THE NAMES ARE KNOWN
Of course they are. Everyone in the Trust knows what appointments they were, and who fills them. For my part I will now publish the information I have, subject to a health warning or disclaimer.
To the best of my knowledge all the information is accurate, in particular the various relationships. However the fact that someone is closely related to, for example, Patricia Sowter does not, in itself, demonstrate that the appointment they hold is improper. However as we have it as an established fact that improper appointments were made, we can say that a shadow of suspicion must fall on anyone in that position. It is for them, when they see their names listed here, to come forward and rebut the suspicion, by for example, giving evidence of how the post was advertised, how many people applied for it, who sat on the appointments panel, and what concrete steps were taken to avoid conflicts of interest. I repeat that the reason the onus is on them to show they were properly appointed is the finding of the EFA report that improper appointments occurred.
Husband to Patricia Sowter, Trustee at Cuckoo Hall Academy Trust and particularly named by the EFA. They were particularly damning about him. Although the Chair of CHAT stressed in public statements that Phil Sowter need not resign and his resignation would be regretted, he chose to resign from the CHAT board. Result?
He is STILL Chair of Governors at Heron Hall and Chair of Governors at Enfield heights. He is reliably reported to be on site on an almost daily basis, takes part in internal meetings. In short his resignation from the main Board has the look of being largely cosmetic. Severe conflicts of interest established by the EFA remain. (He was described in evidence to the EFA they found credible as being in an "informal job share" with Patricia Sowter, and this behaviour is reported to continue)
Son to Mrs Sowter from a previous marriage. (Hence the difference in surname) Originally appointed to a newly created job as an ICT technician, then last year appointed as ICT curriculum co ordinator, being the only candidate for the post. He is employed as an unqualified teacher. What his qualifications are in ICT is unknown.
Son to Patricia Sowter and Phil Sowter.
Applied for a job as a Senior Teacher with the Trust in May 2014, but when he started in September 2014 he was introduced as the new deputy Headteacher at Kingfisher Hall. Matthew Laban has now resigned as Head. Jack Sowter is regarded as being in a strong position to replace Matthew Laban, as after all he IS the current deputy. It is obviously possible that there may be a shortage of other candidates in current circumstances.
Jack Sowter's partner. Originally started as a Teaching Assistant but is now employed as an unqualified teacher at Kingfisher Hall, where her partner is therefore also her boss. She teachs year 1 children.
She is daughter in law to Sharon Ahmet, who, it will be recalled is the current Headteacher at Cuckoo Hall. Sherin is currently early years coordinator, Woodpecker Hall. Sharon Ahmet was the Head at Woodpecker Hall before moving to be Head at Cuckoo Hall.
I have received other information which I have been unable to verify, relating, for example, to at least one other individual whose progress from NQT to senior rank, has been, to say the least meteoric. Its not surprising in the climate at CHAT that this should raise suspicions, but it could be they are just exceptionally able. That's the problem with nepotism, once it sets in, as the EFA found it had, the innocent suffer with the guilty.
Anyone named by me in this post who feels traduced by the implications of the EFA finding of nepotism in Cuckoo Hall Academies Trust, are welcome to submit evidence of how their appointment was entirely proper, care of the Local Schools Network and I will be happy to publish the information. Or they could add it directly themselves as a comment. In fact this is their opportunity to escape from the shadow cast over CHAT by the EFA report.
I am grateful for those who have had the courage to come forward with this information as things are really difficult at the Trust at present. I hope to be in a position to expand on this point later.
I would also like to thank Cara Jenkinson, who is the Liberal Democrat candidate for Enfield North for allowing me to use a quote from the email she sent me about CHAT in the title for this piece. It was she who described what is going on at Cuckoo Hall as "mismanagement by crony governance". Apt enough.
Joan Ryan, the Labour Candidate has also emailed me to the effect that a Labour administration would act.
So there we have it. In Enfield North there is agreement between Conservative (Nick de Bois) Labour (Joan Ryan) and Liberal Democrat (Cara Jenkinson) . With tri partisan support, could, perhaps, the Secretary of State consider doing SOMETHING? The children are waiting.
I thought I would leave the last word to Wikipedia
and its entry on "Cronyism"
"Cronyism is partiality to long-standing friends, especially by appointing them to positions of authority, regardless of their qualifications. Hence, cronyism is contrary in practice and principle to meritocracy."
"Cronyism exists when the appointer and the beneficiary are in social contact. Often, the appointer is inadequate to hold his or her own job or position of authority, and for this reason the appointer appoints individuals who will not try to weaken him or her, or express views contrary to those of the appointer."