Schools for Scandal
IF Prime Minister David Cameron and Education Secretary Michael Gove were sitting a difficult examination it's easy to see how they would tackle it. Just ignore the questions, set down what you know as the answers, and expect to pass with flying colours since you are in charge.
That might not work for students, but it's the way with politicians, and to be fair, when it comes to Education, to imagine a big difference between New Labour and Tory you would need a deficient memory. It was after all while Labour was in office that many state schools were enabled to become Foundation schools, giving them relative autonomy in spending and admissions, and that business and religious bodies were invited to run so-called Academies - a Tory idea, just like the Private Finance Initiatives for which we are now paying in the NHS, but Labour brought it in.
Giving heads and administrators in schools and colleges more freedom with their chequebooks is one way of softening up resistance to privatisation, just as the pretence that GPs are to be given the running of the NHS (when most can barely spare ten minutes to see a patient) is a cover for letting more private middlemen in, away from public gaze.
It reminds me of the big-time crook who enlists the acquiescence of someone within an establishment by promising a share of the spoils. Even a modest bribe - sorry, inducement - can be a good investment by giving the recipient a taste.
All the more credit therefore to those heads and members of the professions who are telling the government where to stick its plans.
Not all have such integrity.
A friend of mine who taught in a north London school was wondering how far the intake of pupils reflected the local demography. This led to more sensitive questions, like how the head found time and resources to run a business on the side, Part of the answer to that came from the school secretary saying she was fed up of being given extra work which was not for the school. Then as my friend and his colleagues found enough information to present to the local authority and the press, lo, the head flew off for a job with OFSTED, which inspects schools,
A few months ago I went to a quiz night in a Wembley pub, in aid of the campaign against local libraries closing, and as my normal team-mates from the trades council weren't available I teamed up with a geography teacher I knew and two of his colleagues. We didn't do too bad, but more to the point in between rounds I learned from their conversation how a bit of whistleblowing by staff at their school would be landing their head and his deputy in the law courts. The pair have now been remanded on bail to appear in court next September.
A Wembley head and deputy head are due to face fraud charges
The Copland Community School had been a foundation school, meaning its governors had relative autonomy, until news of its shenanigans caused the Brent council to take it back in hand. Depending which paper you read the school has had problems of falling standards and discipline, or collapsing buildings.
A school student confronted David Cameron about the state of her school.
Tackled by an articulate schoolgirl Cameron promised to "look into your borough" - perhaps nobody had told him about arms-length foundations - but the government is still witholding funds for repairs, and of course it cancelled Labour's schools rebuiding programme, replacing it with a scheme that is now held up waiting for private capital.
However it has placed Copland under
and is taking on the teachers who exposed wrongdoing by proposing to take the school out of reach of accountable, elected local government, to
Turn it into an Academy!
Meanwhile in the journal of the Anti-Academies Alliance, Alisdair Smith has the tale of another
enterprising school head, one who has been identified with the rush for Academies:
'In 2002 Jo Shuter took over Quintin Kynaston School in St John’s Wood, north London. Her appointment wasn’t popular with everyone – 100 staff left in her first year, 70 in the first term – but despite such a high staff turnover (which might have raised eyebrows elsewhere) she soon acquired the unofficial title of ‘superhead’ and the approving eye of Tony Blair, who used the school to launch his Children’s Services Green Paper in 2003.
'In 2005 a BBC documentary ‘Head on the Block’, billed as an “inspirational tale about an inspirational teacher”, was due to be broadcast but it had to be pulled after it was discovered that film had been produced by her sister, Debbie Shuter, and directed by her sister’s partner.
Debbie Shuter told the Telegraph: “I am gutted about the disappointment of all those children. The fact that it is my sister is totally irrelevant…I can absolutely hand on heart tell you that the film is objective. I have reported the truth.”
'In 2007 this inspirational superhead was deemed to be just what Pimlico School needed. Pimlico had recently been failed by Ofsted and, despite vociferous opposition from staff and parents, plans had been raised to turn it into an academy.
'“I’m never frightened to say what I think,” she told the Times Educational Supplement at the time. “I’ve never doubted myself. I will not be the head of a failing school.” “Leadership is my strength and if I can make a difference to other schools then I am keen to do so.”
A few months later Shuter was named Head Teacher of the Year. Ann Barton from SOL Consulting commented on the Teaching Awards website “The girl done good… A fantastic achievement Jo Jo, and richly deserved. Onward and upward!”
'In September 2008 Pimlico School was duly re-opened as an academy and handed over to hedge fund manager John Nash (now Baron Nash and an unelected schools minister) and in 2010 Shuter was awarded a CBE for “services to education”.
'Fast forward to September 2012 and the revelation that Shuter had been suspended from Quintin Kynaston after what Patrick Lees, Chair of Governors called “serious allegations relating to the management of the school” were referred to police.
'By this time Quintin Kynaston had also become an academy so the local authority, Westminster, was left unable to intervene. Students and parents were left in limbo as the Department for Education refused to get involved saying “The suspension of the head teacher is a matter for the Quintin Kynaston Trust.”
'So what were these allegations that were so serious that a woman with a CBE for services to education had to be suspended from her job? After an eight month suspension the governors announced that Jo Shuter had received “a formal final written warning” following “a long and robust disciplinary process”. But the reasons for the written warning or remained shrouded in mystery.
That is until the BBC reported that one of Shuter’s alleged misdemeanours had been using £7000 of the school’s money to pay for her 50th birthday party.
'The full findings of the DfE internal report into the goings on at Quintin Kynaston appear damning. They include:
• Evidence that since November 2011 the Academy has spent £17,293.75 on taxi accounts including trips to some of London’s leading restaurants such as the Savoy, the Ivy, and the Wolsey,
• Overnight meetings by the Senior Leadership Team of the school were held at the five-star Landmark Hotel at a cost of thousands.
• Shuter was paid tens of thousands of pounds for consultancy work completed in school time.
• Shuter’s PA, whose salary was paid by the Academy, was used to book family holidays, schedule consultancy work, and organise the rental of her Turkish holiday villa
• Expenses were claimed more than once from different organisations
• A number of issues related to the employment of family members are still being investigated
The report notes that, as an Academy, the school was allowed to assess itself for Financial Management and Governance. Shuter as Head Teacher and Accounting Officer was ultimately responsible for the fiscal well-being of the school. The report notes that the rating the school gave itself for Financial Management was ‘Good’. The DfE report downgrades this self-assessed rating to ‘Inadequate’.'
Shuter remained Head Teacher of Quintin Kynaston, though following the publication of the DfE’s report, it seems unlikely she can remain in place for long.
Smith says part of the problem is the cult of the personality in school leadership. Our schools are among the best in the world but they have been denigrated and our teaching standards have been besmirched. Jo Shuter was one of a number of school leaders lauded as being the new broom needed to sweep away all of the detritus and make us all shiny and new. Perhaps they felt invincible?
"But the main culprit is Gove and his obsession with privatisation and deregulation. Schools are being encouraged to run themselves on business models. Head teachers are ‘CEOs’, or “public sector entrepreneurs” who are “saving” education and “raising standards”.
In reality, academy status and autonomy for heads isn’t about raising standards, it’s about breaking up state education allowing individual heads to build small business franchises and large chains to take tens, if not hundreds of schools. This is what Gove meant when he wrote in the 2009 Tory election manifesto about a ‘supply side revolution. The next stage is running schools ‘for-profit’.
"Some are suggesting Shuter has done nothing wrong and is the victim of a media witch hunt. Well, I suggest you read the DfE report in full."
Copland school teachers intend to strike tomorrow against the Academy scheme. All three teaching unions are in support of their members' anti-Academy stand and demand for decent funding. Brent's Labour council has urged the teachers to work as normal. It is wrong. It ought to take its responsibility as seriously as Copland teachers have done and support them against Michael Gove.