Glemsford Primary: Head and Governors suspended in laptop fraud case
Headteacher Elizabeth Steele has been suspended since January.
IT Technician James Loker-Steele who was the staff member who negotiated the contract for the supply of the "free" laptops wrote a post on his blog back in March 2011 entitled Microsoft, expensive and doesn’t work where he says:
At work, we have been given 100 laptops as part of a promotion for olivetti. Great, how cool you might be thinking. It would be but I am the one who has to deploy the laptops and maintain them along with the fixing the problems of the current infrastructure.In February he used Twitter to send this:
How can it be right to be left so much in the dark about things that affect you?It is clear that the school's Governors and Head feel unsupported by the County Council, In the EADT article Chair of Governors Duncan Grafen is quoted as saying:
— James Loker-Steele (@jamesloker) February 24, 2012
We can find no justifiable reason for this perceived lack of support and we believe that at all times we have acted in the best interests of the school, and in accordance with our duties, to ensure proper accountability for, and control over, the use of public funds.
The governing body responded to that warning notice with a detailed monitoring and action plan proposal that addressed all the points raised by the council. We requested guidance and advice from council officers in preparing the final proposal, but those requests were refused.And the Headteacher Elizabeth Steele said:
I was very shocked to receive a copy of the letter sent to my governors. They are all very hard working and loyal members of the public and have put the school first in every way
My main aim was, and still is, to return to work at the school that I love. The school is not under investigation by the police – we are merely victims.I do have sympathy for the School and its Head and Governors but there are two things in the comments above that concern me and might be the reasons the County have decided they need to act to replace the Governors. Firstly it seems bizarre the Governors expect to be given help from the LA responding to a notice that they are to be replaced. The whole issue is that the Council is concerned about the competency of the Governing Body and this only seems to re-enforce that.
Secondly whilst the school is clearly the victim of a fraud I don't think they are merely victims and also they have clearly not always acted in the best interests of the school. They might have intended to but that is not the point. They could have acted in a different way and that would have prevented the fraud. That is of course easy to say after the event but the fact that even after this has happened they still do not seem to realise and admit this is a serious cause for concern.
In this case I am not sure the Council is left with many options but to replace the Governors. This is just the sort of case (rather than forcing Schools to become academies) that these provisions were designed for. The Interim Executive Board can come in and sort the leasing issue out and get the school back to normal governance arrangements as soon as possible.
It is a hard lesson for the school and its staff and governors and a cautionary tale for other schools to ensure due diligence and obtain appropriate professional advice before signing this kind of a contract and for Governors to ensure this happens.