When a school or, more significantly, a chain of schools feels that it is necessary to appoint a Director of Corporate Development, you might be forgiven for wondering how such a post might improve teaching and learning.
Grace Academy Darlaston is a Specialist Business and Enterprise Academy and seems to have been specialising in diverting government funding into the pockets, wallets, purses and bank accounts of the enterprising business folk that recognise a money tree when they see one. Usually, newspapers tend to employ Freedom of Information requests as an alternative to actual journalism in order to fill columns with faux outrage, but the Guardian has managed to dig up some dirt that a lot of vested interests would prefer to remain buried. Academies, it seems, and especially Academy chains might not have the interests of pupils as the number one priority and instead might be more focussed on corporately developing the financial wellbeing of sponsors and trustees. The actual definition of the words “sponsor” and “trustee” at Grace Academy might be challenging for even the brightest A Star English student. The article in the Guardian
sets out the sordid detail of how the perfectly legal scam works. Money goes in over the heads of pupils and money goes out from under their noses in the form of “consultancy” and other shady expenses and dodgy services provided by the sponsor`s cronies and relatives. According to the Department for Education, all this is absolutely fine because the funding accounts for Academies are fully audited, honest, transparent and completely above board. Strange then that it requires an FOI request from a national newspaper to uncover that the Grace Foundation run by Robert now Lord Edmiston bunged more than a million quid of government funding allocated to educating the young people of Darlaston to his own companies, his dubious charities and even his own brother-in-law. There but for fortune go you or I.
Exactly four years ago today, on the 16th day of January in the year of our Lord 2010, some drink addled internet troll published a clumsy, vitriolic rant
questioning the suitability of Edmiston as a sponsor of what was once a school specialising in science. Four years on and the drink addled troll is still ranting and my Lord Edmiston has finally bought his peerage by donating pots of money to the Conservative Party. His first appearance in the other place denounced same sex marriage as being akin to incest. Thank goodness the flock of Darlaston lambs and the good Christian children of central Africa indoctrinated into religious bigotry are under the watchful eye of this honest and wise shepherd.
It would be churlish to suggest that any system that might improve the education and aspiration of young people should be dismissed on the grounds of political or faith based dogma and any “entrepreneur” willing to put his or her money into teaching life skills should be welcomed with open almsgiving. Sadly, Edmiston and his Academies are not coming up with the goods. The bizarre Michael Gove has already exceeded the budget for the Academies programme by one billion quid. One billion quid is not the budget for Gove`s strange obsession; one billion quid is the overspend on his strange obsession and more than a million of that is in Edmiston`s pocket. For those of a nervous disposition, please disregarding the NHS carnage, the utility companies, the banks, the railways and the fraudsters in charge of Gove`s other dirty little secret, Free Schools.
If Edmiston and his disciples were actually improving education, then the odd little sweetener would be just reward. Unfortunately, Grace Academy Darlaston is going down the pan. Parents, teachers and pupils who opposed the evangelical zeal of Uncle Bob, Serco (remember them and their scrupulous honesty?), Walsall MBC Cabinet (yeah, right), Mike Bird (who made sure Edmiston got half the park) and the Andrews Sisters (congratulations) who said everything would get better with grace, might wish to forget about the lies they were told.
Grace Academy Dalaston is at the bottom of the heap. The students in that school are being deliberately disadvantaged by people who know nothing about education. Recently, Ofsted under the benign good shepherd eye of Evangelical Christian Sir Michael Wilshaw judged that Dalaston was no longer “inadequate” but merely “required improvement”. Sadly, the Department for Education disagreed with Ofsted and the bizarre Michael Gove ordered his underling Lord Nash, the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Schools, to fire a warning shot across the bows of Edmiston`s failing school. The “pre-warning” letter to Grace is quite revealing.
The letter to Grace in October 2013 pulls no punches. Lord Nash states:
“The Secretary of State and I are therefore satisfied that the standards of performance at the Grace Academy, Dalaston are unacceptably low, and are likely to remain low unless he intervenes,”
This is interesting on many levels. Firstly, the school is obviously failing under the good Lord Edmiston. Secondly it confirms that Ofsted judges Academies more favourably than the state schools it wishes to downgrade to justify converting them to Academies (oh do keep up at the back, have you ever been to A and E?). Thirdly, Gove will override Ofsted when it becomes too much of an embarrassment that might expose his disturbing fetish that fills him with a desire to harm children. Add to this a completely useless opposition that started the divisive Academy experiment in the first place and imposed the criminal Serco on Walsall (Ed Balls) and we find ourselves in a situation where nobody gives a flying intercourse about the young people who will have to pay the bill for our generation`s breathtaking mistakes. Somewhere, a Guardian reading Radio 4 listener raises an eyebrow in reaction to a report that young people are feeling depressed and possibly disenfranchised.
English prebendary, reformer and ultimately martyr John Bradford found himself on the wrong side of religion in the 16th century. Banged up in the Tower of London he noticed some other prisoners being led away to meet the executioner. Bradford was allegedly reported as saying;
“There, but for the grace of God, goes John Bradford.”
Tragically, the grace of God was absent when John Bradford was burnt at the stake on the 31st of January 1555. Years and years and years later, Sir Winston Churchill paraphrased Bradford`s most famous quotation to chide the seemingly odious Sir Stafford Cripps. Now, in these enlightened times, Winnie`s misquote could apply to Walsall Councillor Q, Edmiston, Mike Bird, Gove, Michael Wilshaw and Councillor Adrian Andrew, Deputy Leader of the Council and the man who is doing ever so well at regenerating Walsall and just happens to be, by mere chance of course, a “trustee” governor at Grace Academy Dalaston. Churchill`s aside went like this: “There but for the grace of God, goes God.”
I might be wrong, but I don`t think God ever imagined this state of affairs.