IES Breckland governors "keep it in the family" as serious questions about the school's governance are asked

SABRES Trust members including Chair Kate Curtis, her
father Cllr Bill Bishop and friend and Vice-Chair Linda Challis
The husbands of Curtis and Challis later joined the Board
Note, several people pictured here are no longer
members of SABRES
This Blog has detailed the recent management problems at IES Breckland who are the first profit making free school in the country. IES Breckland still has its own Governors who are also known as the SABRES Educational Trust. SABRES was somewhat ironically the organisation set up to try and Save Breckland Middle School. In fact they have ended up completely losing control of the school to the DfE and a Swedish company owned by an American hedge fund (IES).

SABRES have remained largely silent as IES came in and failed to employ a single one of the middle school teachers in the school they had apparently set out to "save". They then allowed the Principal of the school to fire six staff she had only appointed weeks earlier. In the end the Principal of the school Sherry Zand quit and was immediately replaced by IES's Chief Operating Officer. The announcement of Ms Zand's departure and of the new Interim Principal was made not by SABRES but IES themselves.

Those of us who criticised the governance model at IES when it was set up suggested that the schools Governors would have very little real control at the school but to be honest the reality has been even more surprising. The Governors don't seem to have any control over the school. It appears that in reality SABRES is a conduit organisation to enable the DfE to pay IES without having to do this directly.

There is however no doubt that SABRES was not like this at all when founded. It was a grass roots campaign group to save the middle school. Its members were parents who wanted a local secondary school in Brandon.

I have been convinced for sometime that the decline of SABRES from a parent led campaign group was due to interference from several local politicians. In particular the local MP Matthew Hancock who has been desperate to advance his career as an education minister. However what I found when I began to look into the affairs of the Trust was even more worrying. It appears that over time two families have come to completely dominate the Trust holding no less than 5 places on the Governing Body including the posts of Chair and Vice-Chair. In addition it is clear that these families are significantly connected themselves and one of them is a Conservative councillor.

Bill Bishop is a well known figure in Brandon and was until April both a County Councillor and District Councillor. He retired from the County Council in April but still sits as a Tory Forest Heath councillor. He was the first of the five to join SABRES becoming a Director in November 2010.

He was followed by his daughter Kate Curtis who is the current Chair of Governors and became a SABRES Director in December 2012. Her friend and the current Vice-Chair of Governors Linda Challis was already a Director since August 2012.

In September this year though two new Directors were appointed, Kevin Curtis and Andrew Challis who are the husbands of the Chair and Vice-Chair.

There seems to have been a gradual concentration of power in the hands of these two families which has now become consolidated since the new appointments in September. It appears strange to say the least that a school is governed by an organisation where the Chair of Governors own father and husband are also governors as well as her friend as Vice-Chair and her husband too!

The silence though from the IES governing body has been deafening and serious questions remain unanswered about why an organisation set up to save Breckland Middle School appear to have done exactly the reverse and have left the school in a position where there are real questions over its future.

I was concerned that part of the reasons SABRES originally gave for contracting the running of the school out to a private company or "education provider" as it is referred to was that they lacked the capacity themselves to run and manage a school. Quite why they thought that they would have the capacity and skill to hold such a provider to account I am not sure and they have appeared to have struggled with this task.

I would personally like to see the contract for IES cancelled to run what should be called Breckland High School. In an ideal world a local governing body would run the school on the model of Stour Valley Community School, the first Suffolk Free School who have successfully run and managed the school themselves.

But all this would take strength and determination by SABRES to see off the DfE who will be desperate to ensure that their experiment with profit making education isn't seen as a spectacular failure. It would mean insisting that Brandon children are put before the careers of local politicians and party loyalties. Are SABRES able to return to their grass roots and really save Breckland school? Right now they look more like the problem than the solution to me.
IES Breckland 8830928420309068049

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