Academies and free schools hand our children’s education over to unaccountable private companies and there is no credible evidence that standards are higher than in local authority-run schools. They also place their senior managers on a pedestal and pay them bloated salaries.
Birmingham’s most famous ‘super-headteacher’ Liam Nolan is rarely out of the news but this latest scandal has proved the case with his firm, Perry Beeches Multi Academy Trust, which runs seven schools in the city.
Despite one of his chain’s free schools being placed in ‘special measures’ by Ofsted 20 months after opening he continued to be lauded by the Tories and wider political establishment as an educational crusader who single-handedly drives up standards.
Prime Minister David Cameron has praised him and in 2014 Birmingham Labour MP Jack Dromey described him on Twitter as “one of Britain’s finest heads”.
However following an investigation the Education Funding Agency has revealed the lengths to which Mr Nolan has gone in order to line his own pockets.
For his role as ‘Executive Headteacher’ Mr Nolan is paid £120,000 a year but he is also the Chief Executive Officer of the multi academy trust. Instead of drawing a salary for this role during the last two years the trust made payments totalling £160,000 to a company called ‘Nexus’ to supply a Chief Executive Officer. Nexus then subcontracted this ‘work’ to another company called ‘Liam Nolan Ltd’, whose sole director is… you guessed it!
It gets worse: the report goes on to reveal that despite the trust handing over £1.297m to Nexus over 2 years this was “without a written contract or a formal procurement exercise to demonstrate value for money.”
How can all this be explained? You need to ask the trust’s Accounting Officer. However this post is also held by the same Liam Nolan. How does he find the time to teach anything?
The stink continues as even the trust’s chair of governors had ‘joint business interests’ with a director of Nexus yet this was not disclosed in the register of interests.
Nexus donated £5000 to Labour MPs Jack Dromey and Gisela Stewart’s general election campaigns.
Mr Nolan defended himself by telling the BBC last week: “I’m a teacher not a businessman.” You’d be forgiven for thinking otherwise.
Yet he has stated in the past that he considers himself effectively underpaid for his work. “Compared to other industries whose bosses run similar budgets I would say the salary is low in comparison,” he said in 2014.
In a separate case the trust has been ordered to repay over £118,000 after wrongly claiming money for free school meals.
Perry Beeches is due to open two more schools by 2017.
This whole episode exposes the risks of handing over our schools to shadowy private companies. Our schools must be owned by and accountable to the local community and parents through democratically elected governors and oversight by local authorities. Both of these elements the Tories intend to scrap entirely by 2022.
UPDATE 29/03/16: Perry Beeches trust has been stripped of its schools and the chain is expevted to be taken over by another academy chain. Liam Nolan has stepped down from his role as Chief Executive.
Birmingham Labour council cabinet member Brigid Jones has attacked Liam Nolan over the behaviour of Perry Beeches and warns against the Tory government’s academisation programme. Yet we should take no lessons from Cllr Jones on the wrongs of academy schools: she recently publicly attacked the teachers at Small Heath school who took are in dispute with their employer over the victimisation of their union rep. Their campaign began in opposition to the threat of academisation of their school.