3 June 2014 Letter to the Governors
Dear Mike Nicholls, HPS Chair of Governors, and Governing Body,
We would like to bring to your attention some information that we have obtained on the background of Mr Robert Back, the Department for Education representative who recently joined the senior leadership team and Chair of Board of Governors on the platform during the parent consultation evenings.
Although it was implied to parents that Mr Back is a civil servant from the Department for Education (DfE), we understand the that he is in fact a private consultant and academy ‘broker’. Mr Back’s role is to advise the senior leadership team at Hove Park School on academy conversion on behalf of the Department for Education. Robert Back is a former director of education in West Sussex and runs an education consultancy business, Avocet.
As parents of children at Hove Park School, we are alarmed about Mr Back’s involvement in decision-making about the school’s future. This concern relates to his most recent directorships.
According the records at Companies House, Mr Back was a director on the boards of both the BAU Foundation and Mentora Academies Trust – companies that form part of the same company – from August 2013. According to records1, Mr Back resigned from both boards of BAU Foundation and Mentora Academies Trust on 10th December 2013.
We believe his resignation, along with those of co-directors Lord Bichard and Dame Anna Hassan, related to the collapse of an attempt by BAU and Mentora, created by Turkish businessman Enver Yucel, to co-opt three schools in the Oxfordshire. This was widely reported in the national press at the time.2
Mr Yucel, who runs a number of private universities and test centres in Turkey, was quoted in a Turkish newspaper in November 2013 saying he was going to take over three schools in Oxfordshire and charge £6,000 per student, which would be paid for by the UK government .
Investigative work carried out by Local Schools Network and Fiona Millar found that Bau Mentora Foundation was listed on the DfE pre-approved sponsors register, but that it had allegedly been fast-tracked in a few weeks, without a robust and thorough examination of its suitability as a sponsor. 5
The head teacher of one of the Oxfordshire schools, Dr Annabel Kay, told the Oxford Times why she pulled out of the academy proposal: “It was more of a growing concern of the intentions of some of the group. We were originally approached by the DfE in March and it sounded potentially exciting, especially as Lord Bichard and Dame Hassan were involved. I had a growing sense about my concerns. I didn’t want to hand over my school, my special school, to someone who doesn’t share its vision and respect it.”3
More background about the subsequent resignations of Bichard and Hassan, can be found on the Local Schools Network website4. Mr Back’s name may not have been reported in the news stories at the time, as his public profile isn’t as high as that of his fellow directors, but you can clearly see from the directorship records that he resigned on the same day.
As parents, we ask you to consider whether a person with such a complex vested interest, in an area of the academies programme that is under such scrutiny, will give the best advice to the Senior Leadership Team at Hove Park School.
While we acknowledge that the head teacher has said that he does not intend to seek a sponsor for Hove Park, the difficulties in starting a Multi Academy Trust from scratch, and the risk that it will ultimately be scooped up by one of the bigger sponsor chains, is not something that Mr Back is best placed to explore with either the SLT or the governing body.
We urge the governors to challenge Mr Back and the Senior Leadership Team on these issues and seek independent guidance from outside the Department of Education on the suitability of academy status for Hove Park School before any such decision is taken. We ask that a much wider and more rigorous consultation process be undertaken before the governors decide whether to vote on the issue.
Although it was stated at one of the parent consultation meetings that the governors will not be responding to individual letters from parents, we hope that you will see that the seriousness of this issue, along with the fact that it comes from a group representing over 170 individual parents and many more family members, means that you will see fit to respond on this occasion.
This letter will be posted on the Hands Off Hove Park School (HOHPS) website and circulated to press.
We await your response.
More background sources