A Whistleblower, the EFA, and the the Spanish Bilingual Primary School

11 June 2014…..The EFA’s Internal Audit Investigation Team has looked at 10 allegations of financial impropriety, including allegations of fraud on the part of the Bilingual Primary School.  Last week the school, currently based at Falmer, was given planning consent (June 4th, 2014) to put a three-form entry new school into the Hove Park Gardeners’ Depot, and on Thursday, 12th June 2014 Policy & Resources are expected to award a 125 year lease to this school for that Hove Park land with the price tag kept secret from the public.  The committee report  gives very little indication of how the leasehold would work or how much the school could profit from having it to sell on.
The Bilingual Primary School Brighton and Hove investigation report” was published April 2014 and an online link to it was provided to each member of the Policy & Resources Committee (Jason Kitcat, Ollie Sykes, Bill Randall, Sue Shanks, Geoffrey Theobald, Ann Norman, Garry Peltzer Dunn, Warren Morgan, Leslie Hamilton, Jeane Lepper) over the weekend and to Hove Park Ward Cllrs Jayne Bennett and Vanessa Brown.  Deferment of the Thursday land leasing decision at Policy & Resources was requested pending the outcome of the EFA’s followup report in July (seeking financial compliance).  Only Cllr Bennett has acknowledged receipt.  Deafening silence from the rest. No deferment.
Surely within its conduct of due diligence, BHCC should not be entering into this 125 year land lease agreement while this outstanding investigation is ongoing/unresolved and the school has no formal staff position dealing with its finances or anyone to ensure Minutes are adequately available for Governors’ meetings. The bilingual school’s website as it stood a few days ago only advertises for a teacher, but nothing else.
The report says that “The academy was subject to an EFA visit to validate their Financial Management and Governance self-assessment in June 2013”.  Problems were identified and an action plan created.  On 23 January, 2014 the school informed the Education Funding Agency ((EFA) that they expected financial allegations to be made about them.  Later that day the whistleblower, whose identify is not published, did indeed then contact them with the 10 allegations listed in the report.  It is clear the EFA is unwilling to be especially critical but the report does uphold the gist of the whistleblower’s allegations and note a few issues of their own.  Such as non-compliance with the Action Plan agreed last year.  The EFA seems not to follow things up….to rely on whistleblowers if there is any issue.  Recently it has become clear the EFA may have bitten off more than it can chew where oversight and regulation of its free schools is concerned. 
These (essentially) DIY schools can put what they like into a curriculum, are not required to provide lunch facilities (or play space, we learned at Planning).  They are given accreditation without having premises or permanent finance staff.  Allowed to wing it a bit.  The report says “The Academies Financial Handbook is only being met in part” and it highlights “the lack of an experienced clerk to minute and report” on Governors’ meetings. So not allowed to wing it entirely….as long as there is a whistleblower to flag up non-compliance.  
You can read the EFA report for more details by clicking on the title link below:
The Bilingual Primary School Brighton and Hove investigation report April 2014

  THERE HAS NOT BEEN ANY OFSTED INSPECTION

Googling for more information, an interesting Local Schools Network blog entry by Janet Downs turned up, with informative comments from Per Nordstrom.  It is dated 29.4.14 with comments over some days which indicates this report has been in the public realm since then; and it is astonishing that there has been no local reporting of it in the media. Even more astonishing is the fact BHCC say this school performs well, yet, in this blog we learn there has not yet been an Ofsted Inspection to formally ajudge this!  On what basis does BHCC flag it up  as fab?
You can read the blog and comments by clicking on the link below:
Janet Downs’ Local Schools Network article and comment trail

THE WEIRD STUFF AT PLANNING

It was baffling to see planning consent given, for Cllr Ian Davey to airily decree that parents & staff could use the Goldstone Retail Park for parking and for other cllrs to commit Coral’s Greyhound Stadium and Waitrose to offering their parking facilities to parents and staff too.  There was nothing in writing offering parking space, please note! 
Cllr Dee Simson made a serious attempt at a probing question of substance.  She asked the woman speaker for the school how many kids would be using the on-site play space at any one time.  She never did get a straight answer.  She was left to make assumptions.  Cllr Theobald asked if they couldn’t do a two form entry instead of a three-form.  One of the three speakers for the application said funding would not be given for two-form entry.  But saveHOVE has a copy of an email provided to an associate indicating that this response may not have been entirely right.
It was astonishing to listen to cllrs dismiss any likelihood that 630 children using Hove Park for play space during all weathers could possibly create any kind of park use or maintenance problem.  Green Cllr Mike Jones was especially dismissive on this.  And yet only a few months ago, BHCC cllrs voted to start charging fitness clubs, etc. for their use of seafront lawns and park spaces because of costs incurred from damage to grass which they have to re-turf (at taxpayer expense).  For many years the Brunswick Town resident groups have wailed mightily about sports use of Hove Lawns and the damage inflicted there.  But the rank and file councillor is oblivious.  Not plugged into this issue.  Not very Green.  10 mature trees will also be felled to widen the entrance to the school.  Sounding like her partner Tom Druitt needed to be appeased, (he who famously climbed the Seven-Dials tree to save it after she took a committee decision to fell it), Green Cllr Alex Phillips trotted out a few words of “concern” about the loss of trees but no reat objection and she voted with the others (unanimous) to build this school on what is currently and legally Hove Park land.
You can read the report (and Conditions of consent) by clicking on the link below:
The Planning Committee Report of 4.6.14 for BH2014/00922

To read the report to Policy & Resources Committee please click the link below:
Policy and Resources Agenda Item 15
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About saveHOVE

Concerned with planning, development and the conservation of historic Hove, we actively seek to prevent inappropriate, negligent and abusive redevelopments!
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