Free school head guilty of fraud tried to hide behind Michael Gove

Janet Downs's picture

Sajid Raza, founder and former head of Kings Science Academy, Bradford, and two other staff members including his sister have been found guilty of fraud.

The Court heard the fraud commenced as early as 2010 during the period Raza was gaining approval to open one of the first flagship free schools.  Civil servants expressed concern about Raza’s competence for leadership and financial management but Raza fended off challenges by threatening to call the then Education Secretary Michael Gove.  It appears Raza thought Gove’s patronage earned him special privileges – in this case avoidance of proper scrutiny.

Raza was one of Gove’s favourites.   In an Evening Standard article (September 2011), Gove described Raza as an ‘inspirational’ teacher who’d returned to Bradford to open a free school ‘for underprivileged children ambitious to follow in his footsteps’.  Prime Minister David Cameron made a high-profile visit during the free school’s first year and said how ‘impressed’ he’d been.

When the first 24 free schools opened, the Department for Education said each of them had had to ‘develop robust plans for how the school planned to run its finances (which then were scrutinised to make sure the school would be financially viable)’.   But Raza already had one court judgement against him for debt and had made false claims for mortgage applications for buy-to-let properties, the Court heard.  Nevertheless, Raza received his first DfE grants towards the proposed free school within just two months of his initial application.

This raises serious questions about the robustness of the scrutiny into the first free schools and whether the haste to open as many as possible in 2011 overrode prudence.  It also raises the question about the role of Michael Gove in pushing through these early applications in order to trumpet the free schools programme.  Gove was later accused of sitting on the negative report on Kings Science Academy for over three months until Newsnight threatened to expose it.

The free school application process has now been tightened up.  But the Government is committed to opening 500 more free schools during this Parliament.  It’s to be hoped that standards of scrutiny don’t slip so the Government can meet its target.

ADDENDUM  My next article will consider the history of the first 24 free schools.






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agov's picture
Wed, 03/08/2016 - 11:20

Yes, but most of these 500 new free schools will really be academies (what with free schools legally being academies anyway) but will be called free schools rather than academies only so that the Government can pretend to meet its free school target. In reality many of them will quite possibly be snapped up by existing MATs.

Janet Downs's picture
Wed, 03/08/2016 - 11:39

agov - you're right that the new 'free schools' are likely to be proposed by existing chains.  Very few will be proposed by parent groups and even those that are will likely find an academy chain to support them (this happened in Stamford when the parent group behind the Stamford Secondary free school bid enlisted the help of CMAT - the proposal was turned down but CMAT was allowed to take over an existing academy, Stamford Queen Eleanor School, in compensation).

trevor fisher's picture
Wed, 03/08/2016 - 12:21

the sad fact is that the system is set up to fail. The flagships sink, but the politicians are too committed to the academisation programme to make the admission that a system which is lightly regulated and not open to local scrutiny is going to be corruptible. And is being corrupted.

The drivers of policy are not autonomy and parent power, that is political rhetoric. It is a privatization and money making project, and always has been. The scandals will continue, the DfE cannot control a system from London. only local democracy can do that.

But the paradigm is resistant to evidence, as it has been from the start. And when was the start? Look out for the joint SOSS-Ruskin conference on October 15th when the conference on PRime MInister Callaghan's Ruskin speech takes place in Oxford. Callaghan, of course, had no idea that what he was triggering was this massive transfer of money and power into the hands of the sticky fingers of a new political clique, but it is a sad case of the law of unintended consequences.

Once central politicians take over, the systems corrode. Any government which wanted an incorruptible system would not want academies and free schools. But it is Tory dogma - not that it was in the last Tory manifesto - that this must happen. As Kuhn said about scientific paradigms, evidence does not shake them. Its the wider context - the paradigm shift - that matters.

Trevor Fisher.

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