REVEALED: Secret report into alleged conflict of interest at King Charles School (From This is The West Country)
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REVEALED: Secret report into alleged conflict of interest at King Charles School
THE Department for Education has accused Cornwall Council and the former headteacher at King Charles, Heather Taylor, of “failing” in their duty to prevent the school from going into special measures.
Parents with children at King Charles School wrote to Education Secretary Michael Gove in 2011 expressing concerns about the management of the school, the Packet can reveal this week.
The letter claimed that without his intervention the school was “likely to go from bad to worse”. But Mr Gove’s department would not be drawn into the dispute and referred them back to the governing body.
Yesterday Michael Gove’s department issued a statement saying it was ‘ludicrous’ to suggest the secretary of state is to blame for the school failing.
“The headteacher and council have responsibility for the school and have failed in their duty, with a recent Ofsted inspection placing the school in special measures,” it said.
“The government is taking action to turn this school round. We are working closely with the governors, council and the Diocese to explore the option of becoming a sponsored academy.
“Ministers are clear we will not stand by when a school is failing its pupils, and that the strong support of a proven sponsor is the best way to see rapid and sustainable improvements.”
The statement comes two weeks after the school was put into special measures by Ofsted following a highly critical inspection report.
In their original letter to Mr Gove the parents said: “We are aware that contacting your high office has to be an absolutely last step. We sincerely hope that involvement from your office will ensure that all of these matters are quickly, comprehensively and, most importantly, transparently resolved.”
But in a reply to the parents on October 6, 2011, Peter Windram, from Mr Gove’s department, said he appreciated that the parents had strong concerns over events that had taken place at King Charles School but the Secretary of State was unable to intervene.
At the heart of the controversy is the decision in 2009 by head teacher Heather Taylor to hire teachers from a private company, SupplyNet Ltd, which is wholly-owned by her husband, Ian. Mrs Taylor herself was a director of the company at the time.
She broke no rules and declared this interest at a meeting of school governors. But the following month, a group of parents contacted Cornwall Council expressing their concern over what they saw as a potential conflict of interest.
A year later, 72 parents wrote a letter to the school governing body questioning Mrs Taylor’s judgment. The council commissioned an investigation into the use of SupplyNet Ltd from consultant Hugh McCreadie, who concluded that Mrs Taylor had not acted “in any underhand or inappropriate manner” because she had declared her interest in SupplyNet Ltd and had “been open about the whole situation.”
However in his report, also revealed here for the first time by the Packet, Mr McCreadie said Mrs Taylor had underestimated “the negative reaction to the situation” and accused her of being “naive to encourage the use of her husband’s company, as there is a clear, albeit indirect, financial benefit to her.”
SupplyNet Ltd did not provide teachers for Mrs Taylor’s school alone – it also hired out teachers to other schools in Cornwall.
Mr McCreadie’s report makes it clear that as far as the school governors were concerned, they felt they were getting good value and that SupplyNet outperformed the only two rival supply companies they had considered.
Cornwall Council did not ask Mr McCreadie to investigate teaching standards at King Charles.
Parents were never told the contents of the report, but a letter from the school’s former chair of governors, Colin Watts, and Cornwall Council education official David Wood said: “We are delighted to report that the findings of the independent panel concluded there has been no gross professional misconduct in relation to the recruitment of supply teachers, and that the head teacher at King Charles School has no case to answer. As a result, the Governors of King Charles School now consider this matter to be closed.”
In its separate report on standards, Ofsted is highly critical of teaching at King Charles school, but it makes no suggestion that the services from SupplyNet played any part in the school’s problems.
When the Packet called SupplyNet, of which Mrs Taylor is once again a director, to ask if the company accepted the conclusions in McCreadie’s report, it got no reply. Mrs Taylor’s solicitor said there was “absolutely no connection” between the Ofsted report and her decision to hire staff from her husband. “It is irrelevant,” he said. “The McCreadie report is also a confidential report.”
The council continues to refuse to publish Mr McCreadie’s report, claiming it concerns confidential material relating to staffing. Even the former Cornwall Council cabinet member responsible for education, councillor Neil Burden, was not told by his own officials about the investigation they were conducting at King Charles school. He knew nothing about it until contacted by the Packet this week.
One parent, Mark Laundon, said the questions first raised three years ago had still not been answered.
In a letter to the Packet he said: “There have been so many events, stories and rumours. Over the last few years there has been a growing number of parents removing their children, when previously you couldn’t get your child into the school.
“I must ask: why has it taken so long for this to all to come to a head?”