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Calling time on academies: education is too important to be at the mercy of profiteers

HANK ROBERTS writes that his own experience of exposing a headteacher who had misappropriated millions in school funds and then spending almost a decade trying to bring him to justice shows how inherently corrupt the academies system is

THE private takeover of state education is a longstanding concern of the NASUWT, other education unions, the TUC and education pressure groups.

The majority of this country supports the NHS: run by the state for the people, not the privateers. The majority also support this for state education. We need to say unequivocally academies and “free schools” should be returned to local authority control.

Margaret Thatcher started the mass privatisation of Britain, but even she did not dare try it on state education. That was left to Blair’s New Labour.

One of the first academies was nearby to me — Willesden High School was slated to be demolished and a brand spanking new academy built on the site.

Staff opposed it and voted to strike. Their answer — an injunction stopping the strike. The millionaire so-called “sponsor” Sir Frank Lowe was a convicted tax fraudster.

This says it all about the type of people who were interested in taking over and running state education assets. The real “sponsors” are the taxpayers, not the tax evaders.

I produced a document, Willesden High School — the Start of the Privatisation of State Education. In it I predicted that the “proposal is clearly part of a national, indeed international, policy of opening up public education to big business. Big business may espouse altruistic motives, especially at first to get their foot in the door, but their ultimate purpose is to profit.”

It was obvious what they were up to and why. No wonder when Thatcher was asked what her greatest legacy was, she answered “Tony Blair.”

We should protest and call for action over the lack of oversight and scrutiny in the academy system. But more is needed.

My ex-headteacher Alan Davies — formerly “Sir Alan Davies” — tried to turn our school into a trust school so he could set up two academies. Motivation? Lining his own pocket.

We blew the whistle. He and others including the chair of governors had masterminded the taking of £2.7m of school funds. This included Davies paying himself a salary of £400,000 in one year (worth over half a million now).

For our pains, myself and two other union reps were suspended and dismissal was imminent. But before we could be sacked, those behind the scam were themselves suspended — and we were reinstated.

They faced criminal charges and Davies himself received a suspended prison sentence — less than he deserved but still devastating.

I wrote to the Queen: surely, I said someone like this who received his knighthood for “services to education,” having stolen from state education, no longer deserves the honour you gave him? She agreed. He was stripped of his knighthood.

However, he wasn’t ordered to pay the money back so we campaigned to get Brent Council to take them to the High Court. After a near 10-year struggle, we got justice and he was finally ordered to pay the money back. I’m informed he went bankrupt.

We learnt in the High Court that even after being first exposed, they carried on trying to get a 12-storey tower block built on the school premises. He and other cronies were directors in their company — Davies was “project manager,” despite never having project-managed anything in his life.

But they are the exception: only a minority of the crooks get caught. The majority don’t. Most who are caught, get away with little or no punishment. The richer you are, the more you can get away with. The whole system is predicated on this. The academies and “free schools” system, as with other privatisations and the Private Finance Initiative, are corrupt by their very nature.

As well as exposing particular crimes, we must call for the whole rotten edifice to be brought down. The children of England, where uniquely this particular scam operates, deserve better. Our job is to unite all who can be united to end this robbery.

Adapted from a speech Hank Roberts, NASUWT Brent delegate, was scheduled to read to the union’s conference.

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