EDUCATION Secretary Michael Gove was facing calls for answers after a Yorkshire Post investigation revealed two separate reports from his department give differing accounts as to who – if anyone – was leading the governing body of a scandal-hit free school in Bradford
The Department for Education (DfE) said last night it had been wrongly informed by Kings Science Academy, in October 2011, that the vice chairman of the Conservative Party, Alan Lewis, was the school’s chairman of governors but discovered this was not the case 12 months later in 2012.
Mr Lewis himself also said yesterday he was never the chairman.
The DfE has told the Yorkshire Post the school did not have a chairman for its first 12 months.
However a draft of a DfE internal audit investigation report into the school, produced last year, says it understood Mr Lewis was chairman of governors between September 2011 and October 2012.
The final published version of this report has the name of the person thought to be the chairman redacted.
This report conflicts with the latest DfE statement and with a separate document, also produced by Mr Gove’s department, reviewing the school’s financial management and governance which says the Kings Science Academy did not appear to have any chairman in place during this 13-month period.
The review by the Education Funding Agency warns that having no chairman raises concerns over whether there was a properly constituted governing body in place and over the legitimacy of its decisions. The Kings Science Academy has been at the centre of controversy after the DfE’s internal audit investigation team found it had submitted fabricated invoices to claim thousand of pounds of public money.
Mr Lewis is the school’s executive patron and it has been built on land belonging to the Hartley Group, of which he is the chairman, in a deal worth almost £6m in rent over 20 years.
A spokesman for his company denied any suggestion that he had been chairman of governors or responsible for financial management or governance at the school.
He said: “Alan Lewis was never chair of the governing board of the Kings Science Academy. I can only presume that erroneous references to Mr Lewis as chair originated from a historic error on the academy website, which, however, was rectified immediately when it was brought to Mr Lewis’s attention.”
The draft of the internal audit investigation report, obtained by the Yorkshire Post, says minutes from a governing body meeting in 2012 say: “Executive patron is someone who provides strategic advice, who is a benefactor and advisor. Alan Lewis will oversee governance.” The report says it has concerns how this role can oversee governance, “which is the responsibility of the chairman of governors and other directors”.
Mr Lewis’s spokesman said: “His contribution to the academy has been that of a benefactor. At no time has Mr Lewis had responsibility for the financial management or governance of the Academy... He however offered in August 2012 to assist the Academy in addressing issues of governance and finance, and in that context recommended the appointment of the auditors Crowe Clark Whitehill (CCW).
“Our understanding is that since that time the financial management systems and controls put in place at the academy have been acknowledged to be entirely satisfactory.”
CCW carried out a review of the school’s finances in late 2012. It was followed by the EFA review of financial management and governance at the school.
This saw officials validate the school’s own self assessment.
The EFA report shows that while Kings rated itself as being good in every category including financial oversight and proper use of public money the EFA found it to be inadequate across the board.
The EFA report is dated in February of 2013 but was only published late last year.
The department’s separate internal audit investigation team report is dated May of last year but was only published in October after a draft had been leaked to media.
A DfE statement issued last night said that there was no chair of governors in place at the free school between September 2011 and October 2012.
However, it did not explain why the department’s own internal audit investigation team report suggests that there had been someone in the post.
A spokesman said: “The department was explicitly informed by email from Kings Science Academy that Alan Lewis took over as chair from 1 October 2011. We learnt in October 2012 that we had been misinformed.
“This was looked at by the EFA as part of their wider investigation into financial management and governance at King Science Academy in December 2012, which confirmed there had been no chair in place for the first year of the school’s operation.
“Following this investigation we required Kings Science Academy to address their management failings urgently and we are confident they are doing so. As with all free schools, they continue to be held rigorously to account.
“Where there is failure we will not hesitate to intervene.”
Labour’s Shadow Education Minister Kevin Brennan said the two conflicting reports published by the department as to whether there was a chairman of governors at the school between September 2011 and October 2012 highlighted the need for Education Secretary Michael Gove to publish all records relating to Kings.
The Yorkshire Post was unable to contact anyone from the Kings Science Academy yesterday.
When the DfE first published its investigation report the school released a statement which said financial and governance systems were initially very weak due to the “unprecedented pace of opening the school within two to three months from approval.”
It also said there had been no misappropriation of funds and all expenditure had been academy related.