Sunday, May 13, 2012

Schools for Scandal

I WAS listening this weekend to teachers and others describing the relentless march of so-called academies and "free schools" across the country, taking educational provision away from public accountability and the remit of elected local authorities; opening the way for forms of selection (social as well as educational), and private ownership and profit.

Without forgetting the way New Labour supported the "academies" idea, delegates at the annual conference of trades union councils, meeting in Coventry, unanimously supported a resolution saying that schools were being "forced to become so-called 'academies' through a process of bullying, bribing and railroading". It called for opposition similar to that against the Con-Dem coalition's attack on the National Health Service.

During the debate a delegate from Wiltshire recounting how a private company taking over hospital services had refused to talk with the union about bullying and other abuses going on, warned that this company was moving into schools now and might similarly refuse union recognition. Another delegate told how a head teacher converted to the academy idea had decided to ignore opposition from teaching staff, how teachers who achieved good results were nevertheless removed because they were union members, and how the head had told staff: "This is my school, and if you choose to work here you do things my way".

Indeed the only thing "free" about "free schools" and academies seems to be the way the government and authorities who are supposedly strapped for cash for necessary repairs and things like asbestos removal, not to mention teachers' pensions, and public libraries, suddenly find lavish sums available for those who go along with their policies.

In Lincoln the authorities were so impressed with one man's apparent success. a Mr.Gilliland, they let him set up an academy from the technical college and then expand, taking on the junior and infant schools to form The Priory Academy LSST, The Priory Witham Academy and The Priory City of Lincoln Academy. The Department for Education gave £26.29 million for the complete rebuild of city school site and put £24,366 to the Witham Academy – a project which was heavily funded by Lincolnshire County Council.

A further £6.33 million of DfE cash was allocated to LSST. By August 2011, the Witham Academy build was complete and the building work at the Lincoln Academy will be finished by this September. The LSST has a planetarium, an all-weather running track and more recently, boarding facilities created for sixth formers, with priority for RAF families.

When this trust acquired a chateau in Bayeux, France, to establish the Centre des Etoiles, there was some bad feeling among other headteachers in Lincolnshire, who thought it was getting unfairly over-endowed with resources. But the trust said the decision to buy the £496,382 site was agreed when the federation was formed in 2008. Students visited the site to learn the 'Priory Way' – a cultural code of conduct cited as the reason for exceptional behaviour and results.

Also in 2009, the local authority again approached the federation. Two Grantham schools were failing and they were soaked up by the federation. The new Ruskin Academy was made possible through £13 million in funding from Government. The trust's latest acquisition is the £1.7million Laughton Manor equestrian centre, set in 90 acres of land in Folkingham, near Sleaford, which will be operational by September.

But other people were getting interested in what they learned about "the Priory Way". They wondered about contracts for work on that chateau, and about how much of the cost was for refurbishment of apartments for Mr.Gilliland and family. And that was not all.

As was reported in mid-April:
The boss of one of Britain's most lavishly funded academy schools has quit amid an investigation into its financial management.

Richard Gilliland, whose £200,000 salary meant he was earning more than the Prime Minister, resigned as chief executive of the Priory Federation of Academies following an investigation by the Department.

The Lincolnshire-based organisation, which is run by a trust, provides education for over 5,000 students between the ages of three and 18 on four sites in Lincoln and Grantham.

Read more:

Looking into the official report on the Priory Federation we learn:

4. The CEO has used the resources of the Federation to purchase training for his son, receive personal tax advice, purchase DVDs and other items using a Federation credit card and had items delivered to the academy address which were both personal and of an inappropriate nature. We were concerned that invoices appeared to have been altered to hinder identification of the recipient of the training that had been paid by the Federation, namely the CEO’s son.

5. The financial management of the Federation has not been of a standard necessary for an organisation of its current size. Regularity and transparency in the use of public funds has not been demonstrated. The desire to drive the ethos and branding of the organisation has not always been linked to the fact that they are in receipt of considerable levels of public funding....

8. The purchase of Laughton Manor included a manor house whose top floors were prepared and decorated to a standard that we consider met the requirements of the CEO and his wife’s intended occupation of the premises rather than the needs of the Federation. Due to tax implications the CEO never fully moved in and it is still not clear what this accommodation will be used for.

The report went on to mention the:
 Inappropriate nature of personal purchases using the Federation credit card and delivered to the Federation address.
 Use of a flat at the Manor House, Laughton Manor as a residential property and they costs in refurbishing this.
 The Federation may have paid removal costs in relation to the move to/from the Manor House, Laughton Manor.
 Establishment of a private apartment at French Centre and the costs of refurbishing.
 Use of the French Centre by family members for activities not related to Federation business.

22. As discussed below there has been extensive use of the Federation credit cards. A number of these purchases appeared to be for personal use and Mr Gilliland confirmed that he had purchased personal items that came out of the £2,000 “allowance” discussed above. In July and August 2011 Mr Gilliland made two payments to the Federation for £1,253.39 and £1,349.76 in relation to personal items he had purchased from Amazon between December 2009 and July 2011. Mr Gilliland stated that he had repaid these amounts as the new FD suggested that he should repay the Federation for any personal items purchased.

23. Mr Gilliland admitted that some of the personal items purchased using the Federation credit card and delivered to the Federation offices were of an inappropriate nature to be delivered to a school site (e.g. sex games and supplements). He stated that these would only be opened by him as staff did not open mail addressed to him.

Even as the Department of Education said it had handed the matter over to police, it appeared the approach of PC Plod was not yet near enough to persuade educational authorities either in Lincolnshire or London to pause in their policy of backing academies. As the Lincolnshire Echo reported this week. "Education bosses have given their support to the Priory Federation of Academies Trust in the wake of the Richard Gilliland scandal".

I'll leave the last word to a commentator today on the This is Lincolnshire discussion page:
“Hey JP 3157,
Do you remember the days when Headteachers, businessmen and politicians were pillars of the community to be looked up to and respected ? What the heck happened !!!!!!! This lot have brought great shame upon the education community and suspicion to the motives of any future school considering academy status.”

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At 12:37 PM, Anonymous s moorey said...

Dear Sir,

we are an equestrian centre near laughton manor(purchased by the Priory lsst for education solely)

we have had our business impacted by the accadamies use as a fully commercial equine centre. the centrwe has taken our trainers, customers and generally tried to run a fully commercial equine business.

this has been under the eyes of department of education allowing this to happen.

state aid rules do not allow state suport for commercial activities in a competative market. didthe department of education consider such rules when allowing an accadamy to use such facility in a commercial way.

does this open up a massive can of worms regarding colleges and commercial enterprises. what about normal busineses such as ours.

hope you can advise or help or take the comments in a benificial way.

elms farm lincolnshire


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