In September 2011, the first 24 free schools had opened. Michael Gove, then Education Secretary, was determined to show these were led by pioneering ‘crusaders for social justice’. He wrote an article in the Evening Standard naming three of them.
But one crusader has been dismissed and another leads a troubled academy chain. Just one, Tania Sidney-Roberts, head of the Norwich Free School, has emerged unscathed.
The sacked crusader is Sajid Husain Raza who opened the Kings Science Academy in Bradford. A highly-critical report about misuse of public money at the academy remained unpublished until Newsnight ran the story in October 2013. Raza has been arrested twice over the fraud allegations and was eventually dismissed in August 2014. Kevin Courtney, Deputy General Secretary of the National Union of Teachers, urged the Education Select Committee to ask why the Department for Education failed to ensure the police investigated the alleged fraud until the matter was leaked.
The most highly-praised of Gove’s crusaders was Patricia Sowter CBE, head of Cuckoo Hall Primary Academy, later named as one of his ‘Magnificent Seven’. Sowter’s academy chain, CHAT, is now in trouble. Gove wrote in the Standard:
‘Patricia Sowter took over her first school, Cuckoo Hall, when it was in special measures and risked closure because it was so bad.’
But, as we’ve said several times before, this was untrue. Cuckoo Hall Primary School came out of special measures in 1999 three years before Sowter arrived. An Ofsted inspection of Cuckoo Hall in January 2001 said:
‘This is a very effective school….Teaching is good and leadership and management are very good. Pupils make good progress. The school is providing good value for money.’
This is not a description of a school which was so inadequate that it faced closure.
This is not a description of a school in special measures.
Perhaps an apology is due to the previous head, Mr R Allen, and his team who were really responsible for turning Cuckoo Hall around. A question hangs over why it was thought necessary to rewrite history.
Sowter and Raza are two teachers, highly-praised by Gove, who are now affected by scandal. There are others. Sir Peter Birkett, knighted for services to education and another of the Magnificent Seven, was head of a Federation which charged £1m for non-existent pupils. Greg Wallace, also one of Gove’s Seven, left under a cloud. Sir Greg Martin, another Gove favourite, runs the Durand Academy Trust which has attracted nationwide notoriety. The chair of the Public Accounts Committee has expressed deep concern about ‘governance and oversight’ at the Trust.
Two of the three crusaders for social justice and three of the Magnificent Seven have been, or are, at the centre of controversy. The police are involved in one case. These raise serious questions about Michael Gove’s judgement.
UPDATE: 7 MARCH 08.57. Sajid Hussain Raza, former principal of Kings Science Academy, has been charged with fraud.
UPDATE: 13 March 2015 14.51. Two more former members of staff at Kings Science Academy have been charged with fraud.
EDIT: 1 October 2019: Formatting issues put right