Free school fined over exclusion

David Cameron meets children from Kings Science Academy, Bradford, during a visit in 2012.
David Cameron meets children from Kings Science Academy, Bradford, during a visit in 2012.
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A SCANDAL-hit free school in Bradford facing allegations of fraud has also been fined by an independent panel for refusing to reinstate a pupil it had excluded.

Labour’s Shadow Education Minister Kevin Brennan asked Michael Gove yesterday when he was going to tell the house that the Kings Science Academy in Bradford had been fined £4,000 by an independent review panel.

Bradford South MP Gerry Sutcliffe also referred to the fine when he asked the Education Secretary what he was going to do about the troubled free school during heated questions in the House of Commons yesterday.

Bradford Council said last night that the fine had been issued by an independent panel because of the school’s failure to follow procedures and reinstate a pupil it had excluded.

The spokesman added that it was highly unusual for the panel to make such a fine.

Yesterday was the first time Mr Gove had faced public questioning over the allegations facing Kings Science Academy which emerged last month.

The school was one of the first free schools to open in Yorkshire in 2011 and it moved into a new £10m building last year. A DfE report, which was only published after a draft had been leaked to the media, revealed that someone at the school had admitted that fabricated invoices had been submitted to the department to claim thousands of pounds of public money. West Yorkshire Police have now launched an investigation.

Mr Sutcliffe led the questions about the free school yesterday but Mr Gove hit back saying “the quality of education in Bradford has been for many years appalling”.

He added: “It is only the case when new providers come in to innovate that we hear from Members of Parliament on that side of the House, because they are prepared to turn a blind eye consistently to Labour local authorities that fail – and whenever there is any challenge to that complacency all they can do is talk cynically about those idealists who are trying to improve state education.”

Mr Gove also insisted that free schools and academies are held more rigorously to account than any other schools. He highlighted that these schools have to file accounts and appoint an accounting officer while local authority schools do not.

Backbench Labour MP John Cryer claimed scrutiny “hardly exists at all when it comes to free schools” and asked Mr Gove whether he was concerned that the recent scandal could be the “tip of iceberg” for free schools.

Mr Gove’s criticism of education standards in Bradford provoked an angry response from the council’s cabinet member for children’s services, Coun Ralph Berry, who urged the Education Secretary “to sort out the issues at the free school rather than throw insults around”.

He said there had been an improvement in school results since the authority took back control of services which had been put out to tender.

The progress year six children in Bradford made in writing was above the national average in 2013. Bradford students also produced the district’s best-ever GCSE results – narrowing the gap on the national performance with the benchmark 5 A*-Cs including English and maths, he said.

Coun Berry said the city’s approach to secondary school improvement, which saw high schools working together, had been “singled for praise” as a model to follow by Ofsted’s chief inspector. He also pointed out that the council had now been asked to help Kings Science Academy improve its governance arrangements.

Nobody from the academy was available for comment yesterday.