YP Comment: Academies and their integrity – calls for Kings Science inquiry

David Cameron during a visit to Kings Science Academy in 2012.
David Cameron during a visit to Kings Science Academy in 2012.
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THANKS TO the persistence of this newspaper’s education correspondent John Roberts and others, the Kings Science Academy scandal leaves the Government with many difficult questions to answer. Three former staff members of the troubled Bradford free school are in jail for fraud – including its founder and former principal Sajid Hussain Raza whose work and vision was lauded by David Cameron amongst others.

Three former staff members of the troubled Bradford free school are in jail for fraud – including its founder and former principal Sajid Hussain Raza whose work and vision was lauded by David Cameron amongst others.

Yet, while the successful prosecutions brought the criminal inquiry to an end, the Government still has questions to answer about its handling of this scandal – and this newspaper totally supports today’s call by the National Union of Teachers for the fullest possible Parliamentary scrutiny.

This matters. Free schools and academies independent of LEA control were a key plank of Mr Cameron’s 2010 general election campaign – and both he, and subsequent Education Secretary Michael Gove who presided over the formative years of this flagship policy, campaigned on this very issue in West Yorkshire when they gave their support to parents.

However it is clear in the case of Kings that there were fundamental failings of governance and probity when the school – now Dixons Kings Academy – was launched and it needs to be established whether there was any laxness on the part of the protocols set out by the Department for Education and Skills, why there were delays to official investigations once the initial fraud allegation was lodged and why there still remains confusion about who was chairman of the governors at the time.

Even though Parliamentary scrutiny could prove to be embarrassing for Mr Cameron who gave Kings his personal blessing during a visit for 2012 before signing a note in praise of the academy’s now disgraced former principal, an inquiry is essential to ensure that the governance of all such schools is sufficiently robust – and that there can be no misuse of public funds in the future. Those who uphold the highest standards of integrity should have nothing to fear.

Flooding farce

EVEN though Britain’s housing crisis is being exacerbated by a shortage of land available for development, it does not excuse those local authorities which have defied – and continue to ignore – the expert advice of the Environment Agency and allowed new homes to be built on flood-risk land.

According to newly-released figures from the EA, the body responsible for flood defences and preventative measures, more than 1,200 residential properties have been given the green light in the past five years on land deemed to be unsuitable for such use.

A false economy if the properties in question are then subjected to the scale of damage and destruction witnessed across Yorkshire last winter, the question for Ministers now is whether this body should continue to have an advisory role – or a formal right of veto.

Either way, there needs to be a sea-change in how planning applications are handled in future.

Unless more credence is given to flood plains, which exist to protect downstream towns and villages from being flooded, and issues like surface water drainage, before proposed schemes are given the go-ahead, future homes will be at risk from rapidly rising water.

At a time when the Government’s flood defence budget remains woefully inadequate, this short-sightedness is only intensifying the pressure on the EA’s scarce financial resources.

As The Yorkshire Post made clear in its own submission to the Government earlier this year, all new developments need to be flood-proofed from the outset.

Simply hoping for the best is not a water-tight policy.

Library illiteracy

IF THE Government is so committed to libraries and high street bookshops, why are they closing at such an alarming rate?

The rose-tinted and illiterate view of Tory peer Thomas Ashton, a junior culture minister, is at odds with the impassioned speech made in the House of Lords by John Bird, the social entrepreneur who founded The Big Issue 25 years ago after learning to read and write in prison.

Lord Bird’s intervention on the subject of social literacy, and set out on the opposite page, reveals how society will be all the poorer if libraries continue to close and if book shops are undermined by Amazon.

Let’s hope that Theresa May economic interventionism is now applied to books.

A love of words can – literally – change lives, as Lord Bird is the first to testify.