Could it be the end for Copland?
IT's almost a year since I went to a quiz night in Wembley, and teamed up with a trio of teachers. While we didn't win, I learned from them an interesting piece of information, namely that the former head of Copland School where they taught was to appear in court with five associates on charges of fraud and money-laundering.
Since the long-running affair at Copland had at one stage seen the suspension of the teachers held responsible for whistleblowing, and the school and its pupils are suffering from lack of funds, one could hardly accuse my informants of being vindictive when they nodded satisfaction that the head and his team looked like facing custodial sentences.
But this month, as teachers throughout the country joined action to defend their pensions, the news from the court and from Copland school was a bit of an education.
First, the knighted "superhead” Sir Alan Davies and five former colleagues walked free from court on October 3, when prosecutors dropped charges that they had plotted to defraud Brent Council of £2.7m in bonuses.
Davies, 65, had been accused of authorising illegal payments over six years while he was headmaster of Copland School in Wembley. He was said to have received more than £900,000 in “inappropriate payments” himself.
But the conspiracy charge against him and five other senior figures was dropped. Instead he pleaded guilty to six counts of false accounting between April 2007 and June 2009.
Judge Deborah Taylor sentenced him to 12 months imprisonment suspended for two years.
“I take into account your achievements but your dishonesty represents a very great fall from grace,” she said. He had failed to ensure transparent management at the school and had lied to protect himself. “What sort of message does that send out as head of a school when you resorted to lies?”
Davies has admitted tampering with dates on payroll forms but insisted the cash was honestly paid to and received by him. He was also acquitted of a further count of money laundering for allegedly flushing more than £270,000 of dirty money raked in from the scam from a NatWest bank account into a Spanish account in May 2008.
Davies’ alleged co-conspirators were formally cleared.They included Dr Richard Evans, 55, a former deputy head and education advisor to PM David Cameron, who had been accused of pocketing £600,000.
Also in the dock were the former chair of governors, Dr Indravadan Patel, 73, the former school bursar, Columbus Udokoro, 62, HR manager Michelle McKenzie, 53, and ex-vice chair of governors, Martin Day, were also accused of being involved in the alleged fraud on Brent Council.
Brent Council may now seek compensation through the civil courts.
Copland school was placed under "special measures" this year after an Ofsted report said it was inadequate in almost all areas. Headmaster Graeme Plunkett who took over in September 2010was reportedly told he would have to go.
Teachers and students at Copland may have wondered whether Mr. Plunkett was taking blame for problems not of his making. Among the criticisms outlined by Ofsted was the state of the school building which it said provided an “unacceptable environment for learning.”
A Copland school student directly confronted David Cameron on the neglected state of the school buildings.
Dilapidated classrooms at Copland were due to be rebuilt with money from the Building Schools for the Future fund, but Tory Education minister Michael Gove scrapped that programme. Copland was the only local authority controlled secondary school in the borough but within weeks it was announced it would be converted to an academy.
Many fear Copland's future has been settled, and it hasn't any.
Now a correspondent calling theirself 'Mistleflower' has written in the blog Wembley Matters on October 16 drawing attention to further developments:
The cull in the summer resulted in the end in Copland losing around 60 staff, most taking ‘voluntary’ redundancy either because they were desperate to get away from the last regime’s shambolic mismanagement or they saw the way the wind was blowing with the new one (cut Copland to the bone, close it down, flog it off). Many of the teachers who left were happy, like myself, to do supply teaching rather than stay.I don't know how much it will cost Brent to try and recover some of its money. Maybe I will meet up again with my teacher friends on Monday when I go to another quiz match - one of a series being held by the Save Preston Library campaigners, who fought Brent council over the closure of their local library, another affect of government austerity and the council's cuts.
I now hear that Phase 2 of the process has begun. Around 50 support staff have been informed that 32 of them are to be made redundant. These include such people as library staff, pastoral support workers, science technicians, mentoring staff, caretakers, ICT technicians and, ( in the week that ex-Copland footballer Raheem Sterling was included in Roy Hodgson’s England squad for the World Cup qualifier), the football coach. Apart from the obviously essential nature of their work, people like these liaise with parents at difficult times, help motivate students, keep them on track and generally promote the social cohesion which is at the heart of any school community. ( Those wielding the axe might need to look up those two words ‘heart’ and ‘community’).
As in July, in all of this, agreed procedures are being ignored, possibly illegally.
Phase 3, it has apparently already been announced, will take the axe to the Teaching Assistants, the staff who provide in-class support for children with special learning, language or emotional needs, ( Every Child Matters is soooo last century).
After that? Well, what remains of the place is still sitting in a very nice location and the few staff who remain can maybe get jobs helping to clear the site for the next Carpet Warehouse. One way or another, it looks like it will be an Absolute Return for someone, but clearly not for the current kids and staff at Copland.
If not there, then maybe some teachers will come to the public meeting which Brent Trade Union Council is holding on Thursday evening at the Methodist Church in Harlesden. Guest speaker is Kingsley Abrams, a member of the Unite union national executive, speaking on the fight against Austerity. Kingsley made his name as a Labour councillor in Lambeth, by refusing to vote for cuts. That lost him the Labour whip. But it could win him the Labour nomination for the Brent Central parliamentary constituency. And if Brent Labour party has the sense and spirit to nominate him he could get in. But that's a big if, mind.
Wednesday 23rd October
The Fight Against Austerity
Speaker: Kingsley Abrams National Executive member, Unite the union, and Lambeth Labour Councillor
7.30 p.m., Harlesden Methodist Church Hall, 25 High Street Harlesden, London, NW10 4NE