Exclusive: Inquiry call over Bradford academy chairman mystery

Alan Lewis
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MPS and a teaching union have called for an independent inquiry into why a scandal-hit Bradford free school had repeatedly described a leading figure in the Conservative Party as being its chairman of governors.

Alan Lewis, who was appointed as vice chairman for business for the Tory Party by David Cameron, has consistently denied ever being chair of the governing body at the Kings Science Academy - a school which has been built on his company’s land in a deal worth around £295,000-a-year in rent over a 20 year lease.

But an MP has demanded answers after more documents emerged which name him as being in that role or as a chairman of the school’s trust.

The school has been at the centre of controversy since it emerged that a Department for Education audit investigation made allegations that the school submitted fabricated invoices to claim public money. It is now being investigated over alleged fraud by West Yorkshire Police.

There has also been separate questions over conflicting versions of events as to who if anyone was leading the school’s governing body in its opening year.

An Early Day motion published yesterday notes that in a document bidding to open another Kings Science Academy free school in Sheffield, Mr Lewis is referred to as chairman of governors or of the academy trust on ten separate occasions.

The Yorkshire Post can also reveal that a profile on the Conservative Party’s own website in November and December of 2012 and January of last year had also described Mr Lewis as the Kings Science Academy’s chair of governors but by May of last year this had been changed to say he was executive patron of the free school.

The Department for Education (DfE) has previously said it was told by the Kings Science Academy that Mr Lewis was the chairman of governors but discovered 12 months later that it had been misinformed. The DfE has also said it appears nobody was chairing the governing body in the school’s first year.

Mr Lewis has consistently denied ever being chair of governors at the school and said reference to him on the school’s website in that role had been a mistake which was rectified when it was brought to his attention.

A spokesman for Mr Lewis yesterday reiterated that if he had been a governor or chairman of governors at the school he would have been registered as a governor or director at Companies House and records show he has not been.

However a Bradford MP is calling for an independent inquiry and statement from Education Secretary Nicky Morgan as more documents emerged suggesting Mr Lewis was the chairman.

The National Union of Teachers and Labour’s shadow education minister Kevin Brennan have also called for an inquiry to get to the bottom of what happened inside the school.

An early day motion put down by Bradford East MP David Ward says that Mr Lewis’ name appears beneath an executive summary, a mission statement and a conclusion in an application to open another Kings Science Academy free school in Sheffield as chair or chairman of the King’s Trust.

This application document has been seen by The Yorkshire Post. The Kings Science Academy submitted applications to open two more free schools in Bradford and Sheffield two years ago - before it became engulfed in financial scandal - but neither bid was successful.

The school is currently under investigation over allegations of fraud contained in a Department for Education audit investigation report which were only passed to the police for criminal investigation after the matter was leaked to the public.

There has also been controversy over the separate issue of the land deal and the level of rent being paid to Mr Lewis’ company, the Hartley Group, which has helped to make it the most expensive free school to taxpayers in the country, according to the latest DfE figures.

Mr Ward’s Early Day Motion says that in bid document to open another Kings Science Academy in Sheffield there are ten mentions of Mr Lewis as chairman of governors or chair or chairman of the academy’s trust.

It says Mr Lewis is also listed as a main contact for the application and his name is given as the chairman of the governing body of the proposed new schools in Sheffield. It also says Mr Lewis is listed as a member of KIFSA, the academy trust which runs the Kings Science Academy and it notes that KIFSA’s address on the application was the same as Mr Lewis’s company.

It is one of two motions about the chair of governors issue which Mr Ward has submitted. It calls for an independent inquiry to be established to examine events at Kings Science Academy.

In the other motion the Liberal Democrat MP says: “This House notes that Mr Alan Lewis has been described as being Chairman of Governors at the Kings Science Academy free school in Bradford during its opening year on the school’s website, in the school’s prospectus, in an email from the school to the Department for Education, in an application to open a second Kings Science Academy in Sheffield, on the Conservative Party’s website and in a draft investigation report by the Department for Education into the school’s finances, further notes that the Department of Education said that it previously believed that Mr Lewis was the Chairman of Governors between October 2011 and 2012 but now says this was not the case and in fact no Chairman appears to have been in place; raises concerns that the Department’s position that the school had no Chairman of Governors is contradicted by its own investigation report into the school which says it believes there was a Chairman in place; further notes that the Department believed Mr Lewis was the Chairman of Governors at the school when it approved plans to build the Kings Science Academy on Mr Lewis’s company’s land in a deal worth close to £6m over 20 years; believes that the conflicting version of events at the school demonstrate a lack of accountability in the Government’s free school programme and calls on the Secretary of State to make a statement clarifying the situation.”

additional reporting by Tam Hussein.