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Tuesday 29 March 2016

Another Free School Scandal

Today, the loathsome Toby Young, champion of anything calling itself a Free School, is for some reason experiencing a partial disconnect from happenings in the education world because - not for the first time - that world is beset by bad news. An academy chain is to be stripped of its schools. And it’s an academy chain which received the endorsement of both Young Dave and Michael “Oiky” Gove, as well as Tobes’ endorsement.
Dave thought it was jolly good ...

As the Guardian has reported, “The Perry Beeches academy trust is to have its five academies and free schools in Birmingham handed over to a new academy trust following a critical financial investigation”. Do go on. “A report by the Education Funding Agency (EFA), published before Easter, showed financial shortcomings at Perry Beeches, including third-party payments made to the chief executive, Liam Nolan, on top of his £120,000 salary as executive headteacher”. Nolan trousered an extra £160k in salary.

But it was over two years, so perhaps that’s all right, then. The Government was not impressed, though: “The EFA’s call for urgent action triggered an official notice from the DfE, which detailed ‘serious concerns about financial management, control and governance’ at the trust”. And it’s doubly embarrassing for the Tories and their pals.
... as did his pal "Oiky" Gove ...

That’s because the eponymously named third school in the Perry Beeches chain, Perry Beeches III, after being opened with appropriate ceremony by Cameron and Gove, was last year plunged into Special Measures after an Ofsted report branded its teaching “Dull”. The lead inspector added “It fails to engage students, who become bored and start to fidget because they do not have enough to do or work that makes them think harder”.

This was last July. So what was done about it? Schools Week had the answer: “An academy trust funnelled more than £1m to a private company which then paid a ‘second salary’ to the trust’s ‘superhead’, a government investigation has revealed today". A “private company”? It certainly is: “the trust paid a private firm called Nexus for providing chief executive services … Nexus then sub-contracted the role to another company called Liam Nolan Ltd, whose sole director is Liam Nolan, the … accounting officer at the trust”.
... and so did their chief schools cheerleader

And you’ll love this bit: “The arrangement was found to breach Treasury guidance on tax avoidance”. You don’t say? It gets worse: “The trust had spent nearly £1.3m with Nexus over two years, ‘without a written contract or formal procurement’ … The trust’s chair of governors had ‘joint business interests’ with a director of Nexus – which were not disclosed in a register of interests … The trust’s 2013/14 financial statements did not disclose the Nexus payments”. That’s what independence from local Government control means.

Small wonder Birmingham City Council’s education chief has saidThe scale of the issues uncovered in this report is staggering, and raises very serious questions about both the leadership at Perry Beeches and about ministers’ oversight of academies”, and likened the Tories’ fawning over Free Schools to the Kids Company débâcle.

Perhaps Tobes would like to tell us all how this reflects rather well on his pal Gove.


Malcolm Redfellow said...

Can someone explain how £280k p.a. scary for Nolan, plus £1.3m for the commercial operation behind Perry beaches, can be alienated from monies for teaching, without resourcing for students suffering?

And local authorities, publicly-answerable, have to be written out of the equation!

And parent governors and local connections suppressed!

The good news here is an almighty scandal is building for academies and "free schools" which will blow the whole conceit to buggery.

Anonymous said...

There is an interesting contradiction brewing. Free Schools, apparently, are set up and run by parents. The government is now saying that there should be no parent governors at other types of schools, because parents do not have the skills to be governors. However Free Schools continue to be part of government policy. So are Free Schools still schools that are set up and run by parents? Do those parents have the skills to run schools.

My own view is that there is a lot to be said for parent governors (and at my children's primary school they rapidly got an unsuitable head teacher removed). It is difficult to see how parents on their own can run a school (which is supposedly what Free Schools are about); I once examined the feasibility of parents setting up a school and the risks are high.


J said...

Then there's:

Well this whole “academy trust” thing is looking better and better; all hunky-dory; a wonderful example of how private enterprise can do better than the state(1); soooooperrr-dooooper, jolly good show, what what, spiffing. *snark*

(1) at ripping the customers off, left, right, centre, top, and bottom.

And then there is AET.


Which seems to have “improved” the schools within its trust only by dumping the failing schools… not by actually, you know, improving or anything. (And, as an added bonus, it only cost the “hard-working tax payer” a calculated 1.5 million; based on the 8 schools it dumped, based on similar “transfers” of other schools)

And it has improved [reduced] the gap between “disadvantaged” pupils and not…. not by improving the chances of the disadvantaged children, that would be far to troublesome and expensive, but by reducing the attainment of the non-disadvantaged pupils to such a point that the poor kids look better – statistically, on a spreadsheet. Bazinga!

Oh, then you can also add a new problem emerging… that of sixth forms being jettisoned by Academies.

(my local school, no warning, no consultation, and no ability to get information post jettison some months back)

My impression from talking to parents was that even the school didn’t know it was going to happen and the decision was with the MAT (Multi Academy Trust) and was handed down from on high, with the school told to only give the official statement.

The result was that the kids were told, "you can stay on for the rest of the year and we’ll try to get some form of qualification, or sod off – your choice". (The kids were told before the parents had been informed, in an assembly!) To make matters worse, the teachers who would have taught the kids were jumping ship, so kids that stayed would have no one to actually, you know, teach, and the school was offering no help to the pupils as it was outside of their remit!

Trying to get any information was like the proverbial "blood out of a stone"...
The school just repeats its official statement.
The MAT refuses to answer any questions.
The LA says “nothing to do with us”
The DfE says, its down to the trust.
Ofsted says… Who knows, everyone had given up by this point.

(Liverpool, no warning, no… well you know the rest, a few days ago)

The reporter could get no information, at all!

I can see more and more of this happening as central government reduce the funding for sixth form, probably to balance the books as its spending millions on conversions and extra funding to academies.

Its just one farce after another!

Anonymous said...

we are yet to have a full accounting of the monies spent supporting free schools capital spending. Why are we gifting men like Toby Young millions in tax payers money to purchase buildings in areas without need? this smacks of being the biggest transfer of property value from the tax payer to Conservative party favourites since William Hague sold service housing to a company he had recently been a director of

Malcolm Redfellow said...

Perhaps we should note this episode marks the start of new career prospects:

The five Perry Beeches schools are expected be “rebrokered” by the DfE and pass to a new chain, the West Midlands academies trust, which is headed by David Kershaw, a Labour cabinet member of Coventry council.

A Whitehall source said: “This shows the academy system is working, with the EFA identifying issues and regional schools commissioners intervening and rebrokering effectively, as part of a robust system of oversight.”

Perry Beeches declined to respond to requests for comment through its PR agency. However, the agency forwarded a comment from Nolan, who said: “I do not know who is brokering this deal. This would be done by the directors of the academy trust. I am an employee and won’t be involved in that brokering.”

How do I apply to be an Academy-broker? Looks like a promising and profitable line!

Anonymous said...

But a whistleblower alerted the authorities so the system did not work

Anonymous said...

Of course the whole point of "free" schools and "academies" is to remove them from elected local authorities. And thus beyond local democracy.

The step after that is to move them gradually nearer to commercial "sponsorship" - that is, undemocratic "influence" of profiteering companies. All of it be controlled by place men and women in trusts and head teacher roles.

Give or take a tweak or two, it is the same salami process employed in NHS Trusts. Corruption follows as sure as night follows day. A bastardised version of Yankified Friedmanite economic thuggery.

The Romans had a phrase for it: Divide et impera.

It will get worse unless the Labour Party finds the guts to denounce it and attack it and the Bullingdon pig's head gang at every available opportunity. But of course they can expect no help from mainstream media.

Meanwhile the Bullingdon pig's head boy continues to adopt Blair's public relations bullshit of waving his hands at the air and leaving the bottom button of his jacket open, thus denoting "dynamism." Too funny for words.

All of the tragic farce well suited for soft shite Toby jug.

Anonymous said...

So this school also employ a PR agency. WTF is going on? Talk about money for pet projects, this Govt are masters at it. If it means no local accountability just ask us how much you want.

I wonder how the PR comlany picked up that gig? Proper tender or mates doing a deal over a cosy dinner?

I know of at least one school which has been 'academised' for the last two years. The problem is no academy chain will touch it with a bargepole, now what HM Govt?

Anonymous said...

The Perry Beeches academy trust is to have its five academies and free schools in Birmingham handed over to a new academy trust following a critical financial investigation...A report by the Education Funding Agency (EFA), published before Easter, showed financial shortcomings at Perry Beeches"

I get the whole Academy thing (yet another means of robbing from the poor and giving to the rich). And yet... is it only I who think that the reporting here shows that the world has gone barking mad?

What the HELL does the financial state of a school matter, set against the need for the school to provide education - not the ability to rattle off rote-learning (well, kinda sorta), but to provide character, to instill a love of learning, to produce citizens who know the balance of rights and duties? Why are the bureaucrats straining at gnats and swallowing camels?