MPS have been urged to look into the Government’s failure to ensure police investigated alleged fraud at the Kings Science Academy free school until the matter was leaked to the public.
Kevin Courtney, the deputy general secretary of the National Union of Teachers also told the Education Select Committee today that they should look at why a vice chairman of the Conservative Party had been described as the free school’s chair of governors but now it was said that Kings had no chairman in place in its first year.
The secondary school in Bradford has been at the centre of controversy since it emerged that a Department for Education (DfE) investigation alleged that fabricated invoices had been submitted to claim public money.
A police investigation was launched last year only after the allegations were leaked to the media.
There has also separate questions over who if anyone was chairing the governing body of the school in its first year.
Mr Courtney raised concerns about the case this morning when asked what lessons the Government should learn from the academies programme as it moves towards all schools becoming academies.
Mr Courtney said the DfE should ensure they had mechanisms in place to properly exercise oversight.
He told MPs that problems at the Kings Science Academy had only come to light because of a whistleblower.
He added: “Look particularly at the Kings Science Academy, which I think you should be looking at in some detail, because even when the Government became aware of allegations of fraud they took no real steps. They went to the fraud authority were told its not being reported to the police and so they let it lie. It only went to the police after a whistleblower made it public. This is a serious matter and shows a real lack of oversight.”
The Yorkshire Post has run a series of exclusives into why the DfE failed to secure a police investigation until the matter was leaked.
The DfE reported the case to Action Fraud - a call centre which deals with financial crime and passes them to the police - in April of last year.
The Kings Science Academy case was wrongly recorded as an information report by Action Fraud. The DfE has blamed this mistake for the case not being investigated sooner. The mistake was said to have only come to light after allegations against the school were leaked in October last year.
However the Yorkshire Post has revealed that the DfE were actually told in September that the matter had only been dealt with as an information report. When the DfE asked for an update Action Fraud emailed to say the case had been dealt with as an information report and would not be looked at for criminal investigation unless it was reported as a crime. The DfE did nothing to rectify this until after the allegations were leaked to Newsnight. At that point West Yorkshire Police were passed the case. The school’s former principal Sajid Raza has since been arrested and bailed over allegations of fraud and a file is currently with the Crown Prosecution Service.
Mr Courtney also raised the question of who was chairing the school’s governing body.
The DfE has said it wrongly believed that Alan Lewis, aleading businessman who was appointed vice chairman of the Conservative Party in 2010, had been Kings Science Academy’s chairman of governors. The department were said to have been told by the school that Mr Lewis was the chairman in September 2011 but were told 12 months later this had not been the case.
The DfE says the school did not have a chairman in its first year and Mr Lewis has consistently denied ever being the school’s chairman of governors.
Last month Bradford MP David Ward put down a parliamentary motion which raised questions about why Mr Lewis had been described as chair. It said Mr 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.”
In the motion Mr Ward said the conflicting version of events at the school demonstrate a lack of accountability in the Government’s free school programme and he called on Education Secretary Nicky Morgan to make a statement clarifying the situation.
Now Mr Courtney has urged MPs to look into events at the school at today’s Education Select Committee hearing into academies and free schools.
He said: “We think you should look in some particular detail around the fact that a vice chair of the Conservative Party was supposedly the chair of governors at the school according to the Conservative Party website, according to the school’s prospectus during this period when the fraud is alleged to have happened and yet now we are told that he wasn’t and infact the school had no chair of governors for a year. There are matters here about public oversight of public money that show there are problems and those things have to addressed before you have a radical expansion of the academies programme.” Previously a spokesman for Mr Lewis has said 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.
Mr Lewis has been described as an executive patron of the school. The Kings Science Academy has been built on his company’s land in deal worth £295,000 a year in rent over a 20 year lease.