Inquiry urged into early days of free schools

SHADOW education Minister Kevin Brennan has said a public inquiry should look at “everything that happened in the early days of free schools” after more questions emerged surrounding the Kings Science Academy.

King's Science Academy, Bradford.

Parliamentary motions tabled about the Bradford free school yesterday called for an independent inquiry and a statement from Education Secretary Nicky Morgan to establish why there is conflicting version of events as to who, if anyone, was chairing the school’s governing body in its first year.

These calls have been backed by both the National Union of Teachers and Labour front bencher Mr Brennan who called for a more wide-ranging enquiry to examine how the first wave of free schools were set up and monitored.

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The Kings Science Academy, which was one of the first free schools to be set up in the country in 2011, has been engulfed in a scandal surrounding alleged fraud and also separate questions over its governance.

The Yorkshire Post revealed earlier this year that the Department for Education (DfE) were told that Alan Lewis, a prominent businessman and senior figure within the Conservative Party, was chairman of governors at the school but were then told by the school 12 months later that this was not the case. The DfE has said in fact the school had no chairman in place in its first year.

Mr Lewis has always denied being the chairman. When contacted by The Yorkshire Post yesterday a spokesman for him said records at Companies House proved that he never been a director of the academy’s trust and therefore can never have been a governor or chairman.

Early day motions put down by David Ward, a Liberal Democrat MP in the city, have question why there are conflicting versions of events surrounding this question. One motion says Mr Lewis had been described as chairman of governors at Kings “on the school’s website, in the school’s prospectus, in an email from the school to the DfE, 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 DfE into the school’s finances,”

The other motion says that Mr Lewis’ name appears ten times in an application to open a second Kings Science Academy in Sheffield as either chairman of governors or chair or chairman of the school’s academy trust.

Mr Ward said: “This should not be an ambiguous question but the longer this drags on the more difficult it will be to get answers.”

Christine Blower the general secretary of the NUT said: “There must be a full and independent inquiry into the goings on at Kings Science Academy and the role of all those holding responsible positions at the school.”

The Kings Science Academy’s current chairman of governors John Bowers said he was unable to comment on events at the school before his arrival in 2013.

The school is currently under investigation over allegations of fraud dating back to 2011 contained in a DfE audit investigation report in May 2013 which were only passed to the police for criminal investigation after the matter was leaked to the public.

The Yorkshire Post has previously revealed that after the DfE reported its allegations about the school to Action Fraud – a call centre which deals with financial crimes – it was later told that there would be no police investigation as the matter had only been dealt with as an information report.

Action Fraud told the DfE more information and a crime report would be needed in order for police to investigate and the DfE apparently did not respond.

The allegations only came into the public domain when the DfE’s own investigation report was leaked to Newsnight.