Joint NEU general secretaries Mary Bousted and Kevin Courtney have written to the Head of the Serious Fraud Office (SFO), Lisa Osofsky, calling for an inquiry into Collective Spirit Free School and Manchester Creative Studio School. The two schools were closed in 2017 and 2018 respectively following a series of educational, safeguarding and governance failings and allegations of financial malpractice at the schools. (1)

Although the Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA) published a report of its own inquiry into failings at the two schools in May 2019 (2), the NEU believes a further independent inquiry is needed. The ESFA itself admitted that it had been unable to reach any conclusion on some key aspects of its investigation; and further allegations against key personnel at the schools have emerged since the report was published.

Dr Mary Bousted, joint general secretary, said:

“Subsequent allegations and investigations by the press suggest that the scale of the alleged fraud at these schools could be far greater than the financial failings identified by the ESFA. These were publicly funded schools and the public has a right to know the full extent of what occurred and who was responsible.

When schools such as these fail and are closed, it is the children, their families and the staff who suffer the consequences. Local authorities are left to pick up the pieces by finding new schools for these pupils.”

Kevin Courtney, Joint General Secretary, added:

“The Government has established almost 10,000 state-funded academies, free schools, studio schools and university technical colleges that operate outside of local authority oversight and accountability. It is important that there are robust mechanisms in place to ensure that children and young people in these schools are receiving a high-quality education and that governance and financial arrangements are robust.

It is clear that there were failings on a grand scale at these schools yet the DfE’s own agency has been unable to uncover the full extent of these failings. It’s now time for a full and independent investigation.”

The NEU’s call for the SFA to step in follows a similar demand by Jim McMahon, Labour MP for Oldham West and Royton, who wrote to Ms Osofsky earlier this week asking for an SFA investigation into the schools.

Editor’s Note

  1. Joint general secretaries' letter to the Head of the Serious Fraud Office (SFO), Lisa Osofsky.
  2. Investigation report: Manchester Creative Studio & Collective Spirit Free School, Education and Skills Funding Agency (May 2019).