Posts Tagged ‘Ofsted’

Book Review: The Great City Academy Fraud – Part 2

July 13, 2016

Academy Fraud Pic

Francis Beckett (London: Continuum 2007)

Poor Staff Conditions

Both New Labour and the Tories have regurgitated endless amounts of Thatcherite verbiage about ‘choice’, when hyping their schemes to take education out of the control of local authorities. In fact, parents and teacher frequently have little choice over how academies are run. The funding agreement gives the power to make decisions regarding school management to the sponsor. These agreements get rid of all but a token representative from the parents and school staff on the school governors’ board. The staff governor may not even be a member of the teaching staff. They are free to set their own pay, terms and conditions, and are outside the regulations governing the conduct of teachers. New Labour was early faced with public opposition when they announced that teacher employed in academies would not have to belong to the compulsory professional body that makes sure teachers are actually fit to teach children. Blair and his team boasted that this was all part of the freedom academies enjoyed from the regulations binding conventional schools. Somebody pointed out that if this regulation was unnecessary, then surely it should also be repealed for ordinary schools. And if it wasn’t, then the regulation should be enforced in academies. At that point, New Labour decided that the regulation did apply, and backed down.
Several of the academy chains, including one run by 3Es, won’t recognise trade unions. These have massive staff turnover, including headmasters. Some of these are hired for truly eye-watering sums. One head, who formerly ran the King Solomon Jewish school, was taken on by an academy for £120,000. This chap eventually left as his experience running a faith school did not prepare him for the problems of coping with a mainstream school, whose children were taken from a variety of ethnic and faith backgrounds.

Refusal to Take Difficult Pupils

Conditions for pupils may not improve either, especially for children with behaviour problems. Academies have tried to keep up their appearance of improving standards frequently by excluding some of the most difficult children, who may find their school career, and their entire lives, wrecked as a result. One school managed to excluded 246 or so of its student population of 700-odd. Beckett provides a couple of cases showing what happened to some of the unlucky children, who were expelled. Except that, technically they may not be. They can exclude someone in a particular manner, so that it’s not technically an exclusion. And if it’s not technically an exclusion, then the Local Education Authority does have the statutory responsibility to find another school for them. This happened to a lad, ‘Jack’ – not his real name – who was excluded, and effectively confined to home for five months. The lad suffered from depression anyway, which was made worse. His mother reported that he then spent all his time in his room, not coming out even for his meals. Another boy, who was excluded, also found that no-one else was prepared to take him on. He ended up not doing his GCSEs. He did manage to get a vocational qualification at a local college, but as this is not an academic qualification, he will suffer at finding a job, and be unable to get into university.

And it isn’t exactly fun and games for the teachers, either. They’re frequently only hired on six month contracts, just in case they start getting a bit too settled and too powerful. One woman was assaulted by a boy in her class. He was not expelled, and the woman understandable felt anxious about going back to work. So she took a little bit more time off. Only to find that, as she was on a six-month contract, she was not paid for the extra time.

No Choice for Parents and Local Authorities

And parents and local authorities have also been penalised if they refused to get in-line and ‘on message’ with the Blairite diktats. Local authorities are expected to consider building academies when trying to renovate and improve schools in their areas, and the onus is always on changing to an academy. If a local authority refuses the government’s command to turn their school into one, the government responded with a scorched earth policy. No further money would be forthcoming for that area’s schools.

And Blair was both doctrinaire and personally vindictive towards those schools that refused to bend, or stubbornly remained ‘good’ in Ofsted reports. Documents revealed under the Freedom of Information Act show that Islington Green School, which Blair was desperate to close, were actually rated good by the school inspectors, despite Chris Woodhead, the-then head of Ofsted, declaring that it was failing. There then followed a long campaign to have the school closed and transformed into an academy. Quite why is unknown, but Beckett speculates personal spite on the Warmonger’s part. The Blairs lived in its catchment area, but they sent their children over the other side of London to be educated at the London Oratory. The press seized on this, and the Dear Leader was embarrassed. So it looks like the school was failed for political reasons, to make it seem less like Blair wasn’t sending his children to it purely for reasons of personal snobbery.

In other areas, parents were subject to full set of New Labour spin and vilification if they put up protests against plans to close their schools and turn them into academies. One man, who was part of a campaign to save his local school, came under personal attack in the subsequent court case to save the school from closure. He was a member of the Socialist Party, what used to be the Militant Tendency, when it was part of the Labour party. And so New Labour seized on that, and claimed that he was only opposing the academy plan because of his political opinions. Not true, but that was how the local New Labour party spun it. Their Labour MP also sent out a very carefully worded letter to her constituents, that asked them to tick two boxes. One said that they were in favour of raising school standards involving a transfer to academy status. The other box said that they were not in favour of raising standards through academy status. Or something like that. It was carefully phrased to make it sound like the only way to improve standards was through changing to an academy. If you weren’t behind it, you weren’t in favour of improving school standards. It was the New Labour educational variety of the old leading question, ‘Do you still beat your wife?’

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Vox Political: Study Shows Council-Run Schools Better than Academies

April 26, 2016

Mike over at Vox Political has put up a piece on a report in today’s Guardian, showing that schools run by local authorities perform better than academies and free schools. The study by the Local Government Association found that 86% of state-run schools were classed as ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ by Ofsted, compared with 82% of academies and 79% of free schools. Furthermore, local government-run schools were better at improving. 98% of local government schools had done so by the time of their first Ofsted inspection, after being rate ‘inadequate’. The figure for academies was ten per cent lower 88 per cent.

The same article in the Guardian reported that Thicky Nicky would not be drawn on questions about negotiations with Tory councils to allow them to run some of the academies, in order to avoid a backbench revolt.

Mike makes the point that this shows that the Tories’ desire to privatise the education system is driven by ideology, not fact, and that Thicky Nicky is flagrantly incompetent. He has recommended that she be returned to the back benches.

The article can be read at: http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2016/04/26/local-authority-schools-outperform-academies-proving-thicky-nicky-wants-the-worst-for-your-children/

I agree that Thicky Nicky should go back to where she came from, but ultimately, she isn’t to blame. The rot started long, long before, when Maggie Thatcher started ball rolling about taking schools out of local government control. It was then picked up by Tony Blair, who launched the academy system. Now it’s being massively extended by David Cameron, who, as a public-school toff, probably believes that privatising these schools will magically turn them into the prole equivalent of Eton, Harrow and the rest. I’m not exaggerating. Years ago Private Eye reviewed Danny Danziger’s Eton Voices, which quoted one old Etonian as saying that schools would improve if their pupils were given the same confidence that Eton gives its pupils. The Eye’s reviewer attacked the vacuity of this statement by sarcastically stating that it was so profound, it was worthy of the SDP in its prime. This to my mind seems a bit harsh on the SDP.

What the study does is disprove thirty years of Thatcherite propaganda: that private management is always superior to that of the state, and that the privatisation of a concern or enterprise will automatically solve its problems as if by some weird economic magic. It clearly doesn’t. But this won’t stop Cameron and the rest of them, who are ideologically wedded to the idea. They also have a powerful vested interest themselves in education’s privatisation. They’re the children of the haute bourgeoisie, and have a class interest in extending private ownership. They are also funded very handsomely by big business, and often have personal links to the companies lining up to buy up the remains of the state sector, and so have personal reasons for wanting education privatised. After all, we wouldn’t want to disappoint Rupert Murdoch and his aspirations to run an education chain.

Thicky Nicky’s role in all this is actually quite minor. She’s just the latest face shoved in front of the public to sell the policy. She replaced Michael Gove, who was also less than competent, and will probably be replaced by someone else in the next cabinet reshuffle. The ultimate responsibility is David Cameron’s. He’s the one who really should be overthrown, and have to trudge back to the back benches.

From 2013: Private Eye on Empty Places at Free Schools

March 22, 2015

Also in their edition for 19th April – 2nd May 2013, Private Eye carried an article on the number of empty places at the free schools in the government is encouraging being built up and down the country. May of these appear massively undersubscribed. Furthermore, the headmaster of the school, which was at the centre of the Eye’s article, had left his previous job due to incompetence and the massive dissatisfaction of staff and pupils. The Eye’s story ran thus:

Empty Desk Syndrome

A new free school in Durham will open in September in the very buildings of a local comprehensive that is closing due to falling pupil numbers. It’s yet another example of the bizarre policy of opening new schools where there are already far too many school places.

According to the National Union of Teachers, a fifth of the free schools opened so far are in areas which already had empty desks in schools. Millions of pounds of public money have been spent creating a huge surplus of secondary places, while primaries elsewhere in the county remain badly overcrowded.

County education chiefs opposed Durham Free School (DFS) taking over the site of Durham Gilesgate Sports College. Though the city is closing schools because it has so many unfilled places, it will be forced by the Department of Education to hand over the keys at the end of term to provide a temporary home until DFS finds a permanent site. DFS will open with just 60 pupils, but says it plans to have more than 800 eventually, gambling on future housing developments going ahead to the south of the city.

Meanwhile DFS’ headteacher Peter Cantley introduced himself – in a style that will be oddly familiar to Eye readers – with “A Message from the Headteacher…” Although he name-drops the schools where he was an assistant head and deputy head, he’s more reticent about his most recent post: “I previously led a school merger project for the [Department of Education}.”

That merger was between two faith schools, one Church of England, the other Roman Catholic, becoming St. Andrew’s College in Cleethorpes. After 18 months as headteacher, Mr Cantley resigned suddenly in May 2011. Governors said he quite to pursue employment opportunities closer to his come in Cumbria.

Ofsted inspections from after his departure reveal that his headship in Cleethorpes was not altogether happy. In February 2012, inspectors rated the school “inadequate” and blamed some of the school’s problems on “turbulence in senior leadership” following the merger. A follow-up inspection this year says of the new head, who started in December 2011, that staff and students “say that things have got a lot better since she came”.

The evidence from this case certainly bears out other reports that the expansion in the number of free schools is driven by ideology from the Tories, not need on the ground. And the same double standards we’ve come to expect from the Tories are in abundant evidence here. The numbers were too low to support a conventional state school, but for free market Tories, there’s nothing wrong with them for setting up a school outside local authority administration.

Dorries Shows Off Her Grasp of Maffs

February 18, 2015

Tory MP Nadine Dorries is in this fortnight’s Private Eye . The MP, who famously described Cameron and Clegg as ‘two posh boys’ and went on to describe categorically how out of touch they were, is this time in it for showing off her grasp of advanced statistics on The Daily Politics.

She was claiming that the Tories were doing ‘fantastically well’ at managing and improving British schools. When the interviewer, Jo Coburn, mentioned that 23 per cent, nearly one in four of British schools, were below Ofsted standards.

To which Dorries replied that five years ago the figure was much worse. She thought it was one in seven.

No wonder standards are falling. And to think these morons are in charge of our education system.

From 2012: Another Workfare Company Guilty of Fraud

January 29, 2015

I’ve posted up several pieces recently on fraud by the welfare-to-work companies, and the way the system is actually designed so that it is highly vulnerable to such crime. The National Audit Office was well aware that the system would almost certainly fail, and suggested ways in which it needed to be bailed out. An article from a previous issue of Private Eye that I posted up yesterday stated that five workfare companies had been reported to the police for fraud. The charges, however, were eventually dropped, either through sufficient evidence to secure a conviction, or because it was deemed ‘not in the public interest’. Private Eye in their issue for the 13th – 26th July 2012 published this article about fraud by yet another workfare company, the Real-Time Training Group.

Workfare
The Real Steal

Yet another company has been using the government’s lucrative skills, training and workfare contracts as an easy way to gain large amounts of taxpayers’ money in return for, er, not delivering.

The latest to join the dubious ranks occupied by A4E, Working Links et al in cashing in at the expense of those seeking to improve skills or find work is the Real-Time Training Group (RTT). It has just gone into administration amid allegations of fraud and wrongdoing, leaving staff unpaid and apprentices and those on skills courses in limbo.

The Skills Funding Agency (SFA) declined to respond to reports that an RTT audit had found irregularities and that the agency was seeking to claw back money wrongly claimed for “successful” work and training placements. A spokeswoman would only confirm that it had terminated the company’s contract, believed to be in the region of £3m.

Castle Donington-based RTT, which names various members of the Barton family (John, Jennifer, Michael and James) as directors and company secretary, claims to have been delivering “world-class training and learning” thanks to contracts with the Department for Work and Pensions and funding the European Social Fund as well as the SFA.

One insider told the Eye that course have been run by people who have no qualification to do so; “learners” have been signed up for courses on the basis that they would obtain qualifications and licences to work, for example in the security business, when RTT was not entitled to provide them; that others had been incorrectly assessed for basic numeracy and literacy qualifications so that they take more courses than necessary; and that people who did not meet the usual criteria had been signed up to qualify for hard-to-employ enhanced payments of up to £1,000 per person.

He said he was instructed to forge papers for the “Train to Gain” programmes aimed at improve the skills of those in work, when those recruited were all job-seekers.

The Eye tried to put these allegations to RTT by email and by phone. But reply came there none.

Private Eye also posted up a piece, which I’ve also blogged, pointing out how poor the standards of companies like Working Links and A4E were in the educational courses offered to job-seekers. These were actually far below the standards of the vast majority of this country’s schools, as assessed by Ofsted. This is another piece of evidence showing that private industry does not lead automatically lead to higher standards, as well as showing the massive potential for fraud in the welfare-to-work sector.

Again from 2011: Private Eye on the Failure of A4E

January 21, 2015

I’ve published a number of pieces from Private Eye over the last few days detailing the colossal failure one of the government’s workfare providers, A4E. They were massively incompetent from the start, and the National Audit Office was also very much aware that the welfare-to-work scheme was so flawed that it was bound to fail, and need bailing out. Here’s another piece from the Eye from four years ago providing more information on the company’s staggering ineptitude.

Yob Creation
Working Beef

With the riots highlighting the urgent need for job opportunities for Britain’s disaffected youth, who can solve Britain’s unemployment crisis? Recent inspections by Ofsted suggest that benefit-busting private firm A4E, one of the government’s favourite welfare-to-work outfits, is not the answer.

Since the Eye first exposed A4E’s shortcomings last autumn (Eyes 1271 & 1272), the firm has been awarded five multi-million-pound contracts to run pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith’s Work Programme, covering East London, the East Midlands, South Yorkshire, the North West and South East. But three Ofsted inspection reports on A4E schemes are far from encouraging.

The reports rate performance on a scale of one to four; but A4E doesn’t score above a “3” or “satisfactory”. In other words, the company earning millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money to help the jobless was never found to be “good”, let alone “outstanding”. Even when an inspection report into A4E’s management of 8,795 apprenticeships and work-based trainees on the “Train to Gain” scheme was said to be “satisfactory” overall, the trainees still often failed. The inspectors said: “Too many learners still do not complete their programme within the agreed time. The overall apprenticeship success rates have improved slightly over the last three years but are still low. To many learners do not complete their apprenticeship on time. Advanced apprenticeship success rates have declined.”

A re-inspection last year of A4E’s “New Deal” job-finding scheme in Northumberland found it had improved from “unsatisfactory” to “satisfactory”, but this still left many of the unemployed in difficulty. “A4E’s job entry rate increased slightly in 2009/10 but at 26 percent remains below contractual targets,” said the inspectors.

A4E’s work on a “Pathways” scheme in Leeds designed to help 7,000 disabled people on incapacity benefit was also found to be “satisfactory” even though the unemployed were still let down. “Outcomes for participants are inadequate,” found the inspectors, who said A4E’s job-finding skills were “unsatisfactory”.

Given the underwhelming results, why does the government put so much faith in busted benefit-busters like A4E.

In other words, if A4E was a school, it would almost certainly be placed in special measures, along with much media hoo-ha about declining educational standards. It isn’t, but I suspect the Eye’s last question was rhetorical. My guess is that they’re getting the contracts, despite their record of what can only be described as abject failure, because they are Tory donors, sponsoring events and providing support to the particular politicians.

From 2013: Ofsted Inspectors with Connections to Private Schools Marking Down State Competitors

April 18, 2014

This is again from Private Eye for 1st – 14th November 2013.

Bias Beware

More questions for Ofsted over the use of additional inspectors who have conflicts of interest with the schools they inspect.

Wanstead High School in east London dropped from a “good” at its previous inspection to “requires improvement” after inspectors visited earlier this year. Pupils went on to record improved GCSE results and very impressive A-level results this summer, with nearly half getting a B or higher at A-level.

Meanwhile, sharp-eyed parents spotted that the Ofsted inspection team included Moazam Parvez, a Tribal Education-accredited additional inspector. His profile on the Tribal list notes: “He is currently head of secondary school in east London.” Mr Parvez is secondary head at Buxton School, a trust school, which is a 1.8 mile walk away, in the same E11 postcode.

This follows the case of London Nautical School getting a “requires improvement” rating in May from an inspection team including Daniel Mohnihan, the CEO of the Harris Federation, which has 15 schools in south London (Eye 1346).

In 2w011, Ofsted assured the Eye it would regard any situation where inspectors or their employers were “involved in an organisation in competition with the school under inspection as a conflict of interest to be avoided”. The Eye asked Ofsted whether both Moynihan and Parvez didn’t therefore face conflicts of interest as definied in the Ofsted protocol for inspection service providers. Despite a holding reply promising an explanation, answer came there none.

This is another example of the government using businessmen from private industry in an official position to push their privatisation agenda. Years ago Chris Woodhead, the former Ofsted schools inspector, declared he was strongly in favour of taking schools out of local authority control, in line with Tory ideology. This clearly meant that he had a bias against traditional state education, and this has merely continued with the employment of Parvez and Moynihan as school inspectors.

From 2011: Private Eye on the Failure of Working Links Workfare Firm to Find Jobs for Unemployed

April 13, 2014

workfare-isnt-working

This is from the Eye’s edition for the 25th November – 8 December 2011.

Workfare Update

Challenged in parliament over rising unemployment, David Cameron repeatedly offered the government’s Work Programme as the answer. But one of the main contractors running the welfare-to-work scheme has been deemed “inadequate” at helping the jobless find work, according to Ofsted inspectors.

Working Links, a partnership between Manpower and CapGemini, runs the Work Programme in Scotland, Wales and the South West. But according to an Ofsted report earlier this year: “The percentage of participants that progress iinto jobs is low”.

Ofsted marks services on a scale of one to four, from “Outstanding” to “Inadequate”. In Derbyshire the “outcomes for participants” – like jobs – got the worst mark. the inspectors also lamented that “the number of participants who joined the programme was significantly below the contract targets” and that “during this period only 13 percent of participants gained employment”.

The scheme is the brainchild of work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith, who had hoped to create a body of “Fairy Jobmothers”. Alas, the Ofsted inspectors were not over-impressed by some Working Links staff. “The personal consultants do not always negotiate and set clear targets for the completion of different activities. Often, they do not monitor these activities sufficiently well,” said the inspectors.

In the North-East, meanwhile, Working Links operations in cities like Middlesbrough, Newcastle, Tyneside and Sunderland, admittedly unemployment black spots, were underwhelming . Though the number of people finding jobs had improved slightly, job rates “remain low”, the inspectors said.

Working Links’ antics have sometimes been questionable. As Private Eye revealed in April, a confidential government audit into the partnership’s Liverpool operation showed that it was even claiming government cash for jobseekers who had found work without its help. As well as running the Work Programme, Working Links is now also part of the Community Justice Partnership, bidding for probation contracts (see last Eye).

Workfare is little more than a 21st century form of forced labour. A number of bloggers, such as Johnny Void, and including myself, have pointed out its similarity to the totalitarian forced and compulsory voluntary labour systems of Stalinist Russia, Communist Yugoslavia and Nazi Germany, all of which had schemes in which those persecuted by the regime, including the unemployed, were forced to work for industry. Johnny Void and several others have also shown that these schemes are terrible at getting people into jobs. The statistics actually demonstrate that you’re more likely to gain work through your own initiative than through the government’s Work Programme. Not that this seems to bother the government, as it looks like the whole programme is designed to supply cheap labour to industry, rather than actually combat unemployment. This piece by Private Eye adds more information on how useless the Work Programme is.

From 2012: Private Eye on Government Officials Joining Companies to Privatise Schools

April 11, 2014

Commend him for announcing the Savile investigation

Michael Gove considering which other schools to wreck through privatisation.

This is from Private Eye’s issue for the 30th November – 13 December 2012.

Revolving Doors

Back to School

The revolving door that propels education officials into the trusts and companies lobbying for government cash to run schools is hastening the move of education away from the control of local education authorities (LEAs) towards that of unelected private organisations.

Earlier this year John Coles, former director-general of the Department for Education’s Standards Directorate, became chief executive of the United Learning Trust, the UK’s largest academy chain with 31 schools. Though the rules say Coles cannot lobby government until December next year, there is no real mechanism to enforce the ban.

In September, Miriam Rosen, former chief inspector of schools, became a consultant to ARK Schools, which operates 18 academies and aims to bring hedge fund values to education. ARK stands for Absolute Return for Kids – “absolute return” being a hedge fund phrase about making returns (profits) even when an economy is going down the pan. ARK also employs Tony Blair’s former aide, Sally Morgan.

David Cameron’s former special adviser James O’Shaughnessy is in the academy business now too. In January he left the prime minister and became group strategy director of his old public school, Wellington College, which sponsors a state academy, Wiltshire’s Wellington Academy. O’Shaughnessy recently argued in a pamphlet for the policy Exchange thinktank that only academies can change the “scandal” of “coasting” schools which only achieve “satisfactory” grades rather than “good” or “excellent” marks. Wellington Academy’s most recent Ofsted grade was, er, “satisfactory”.

Currently only non-profit organisations like United Learning, Ark and Wellington can run chains of academy schools. But O’Shaughnessy’s pamphlet proposed bringing profit-making firms into state schools too. He argued that the charitable trusts can’t cope with the thousands of schools education secretary Michael Gove has “freed” from LEAs to become academies; and that academy chains in partnership with non-profit groups. This could be good news for O’Shaughnessy who has set up a firm, Mayforth Consulting, to act as an “educational entrepreneur”.

It could also help the biggest pro-academy voice of all, former Labour education minister Lo0rd Adonis, whose pro-academy stance is widely admired by the current government. Adonis is employed as an adviser by schools firm GEMS. Because GEMs is profit-making, it cannot run academies in the UK; and Adonis says his work for GEMS is “international only”. But under O’Shaughnessy’s plan, firms like GEMS could get into the British academy business after all.

This report shows the institutional corruption, which sees ministers, government officials and senior civil servants join the companies they are supposed to be supervising and regulating, to demand even more state functions should be privatised and handed over to those same companies. This was the ‘sleaze’ surrounding John Major’s administration, and it has continued through subsequent governments into David Cameron’s. The article clearly demonstrates how many ministers and education companies are actively campaigning for our schools to be privatised, just as David Cameron’s party is full of ministers, who stand to benefit from his desire to privatise the health service, including Iain Duncan Smith. As for the companies themselves, their record of providing education in schools is poor. A month ago the government issued a list of 30 academy chains which were banned from acquiring any more schools because of their poor performance. Education should not be in the hands of private companies, and should remain firmly part of the state sector.

From 2012: Investigation into Fraud and Poor Performance at A4E

April 9, 2014

This comes from Private Eye for the 23rd March – 5th April 2012.

Welfare To Work

Targets Practice

Dismal results from Welfare-to-work firm A4e have not stopped it earning hundreds of millions from the taxpayer. But now an investigation into fraud at the company may achieve what mere incompetence could not.

The Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) has launched an immediate audit and says it will terminate its commercial relationship with the firm if it finds “evidence of systemic fraud in DWP’s contracts with A4e”.

There is no shortage of material. The DWP investigation itself was prompted by an allegation of attempted fraud in an A4e contract to deliver “Mandatory Work Activity” – compulsory work placements arranged by A4e. Meanswhile, a member of staff running a government scheme in Hull was found guilty of fraud last year, and four former members of staff in its Slough office are currently being investigated for fraud on “benefit-busting” contracts. The DWP’s internal auditors have already investigate the firm four times, though without finding wrongdoing that amounted to fraud.

A common theme is that A4e staff are alleged to have made false claims about finding jobs or work placements for the unemployed. A4e blamed its staff, claiming that it too was a victim of the frauds or alleged frauds. But in 2010, when MPs on the work and pensions select committee investigated fraud and misbehaviour by A4e and other contractors, the firm admitted that its bonus system was at fault. Staff were paid to meet targets on getting people into work, a system that A4e said in its submission to MPs “may have been a driver for individual malpractice”. In short, A4e admits that its own bonus system encouraged some staff to fiddle the figures.

A4e executive Bob Murdoch told MPs the problem was solved by moving to group bonuses “as a safeguard against individuals making fraudulent job outcome claims”. No such luck: some of the false claims appear to have involved groups of A4e staff.

* Despite its travails, a4e always comes out fighting – even when that means taking credit for work it didn’t do.

When MPs on the public accounts committee criticised its performance of Pathways to Work, a jobs scheme for disabled people, the firm put a statement on its website deriding the “completely false premise” of the MPs’ attacks. it even quoted a DWP report that “indicates a return to the Treasury – and therefore the taxpayer – of over £3 for every £1 invested in the Pathways to Work programme referred to by the PAC”.

Alas, the report was not describing A4e’s own work, but that done by JobCentre staff who used to run the scheme in 2003-4 before being replaced by A4e and other contractors. In fact, a 2010 National Audit Office report into Pathways to Work as run by A4e and others found the scheme had delivered “poor value for money”. Still worse, JobCentres had “performed better”!

* Ever ready with an aggressive defence, nor does A4e like it when benefit-claiming clients try to stick up for themselves.

In Scotland, A4e refused to see a claimant, “Peter”, who wanted to attend meetings with a volunteer from ECAP, the Edinburgh Coalition Against Poverty. Since “Peter’s” benefit had been stopped several times, with police being called to throw him out of A4e’s offices on one occasion, a judge at the Social Security Tribunal Hearing ruled in his favour saying he had “good cause” to be accompanied.

Another claimant, “Ram”, was refused entry when he tried to attend an A4e Work Programme appointment with an ECAP member. A4e started a “sanction” that stopped his benefits, but Ram appealed and won. The DWP reinstated his benefits, apologised and gave him a £50 “payment for gross inconvenience resulting from persistent error”.

And this is the firm entrusted by taxpayers with £400m in contracts…

* Why the Skills Funding Agency saw fit to award A4e contracts to provide prison education in London and the South East, as confirmed last week, is a mystery given its pisspoor record at Darmoor prison.

The latest Ofsted report, released last month after an inspection in December, scored overall education and training, provided jointly by A4e and Strode College, as inadequate with inadequate capacity to improve. Leadership was also rated inadequate, and under the heading “strengths”, there were, er, “no key strengths identified”.

The next most recent Ofsted report into prison education run by A4e, covering a 2011 visit to Suffolk’s Blundeston prison, also found inadequate provision and criticised both the lack of organisation and lack of staff trained ot help those with specific learning difficulties or needs. The supposedly business-friendly firm also had “too few links with local employers”.

As Eye 1212 said when A4e quite providing prison education in Kent in 2008, because it wasn’t making money on the deal, and was immediately hired to run a New Deal for Disabled People scheme in Glasgow: “Nothing succeeds like failure, eh?”

In short, A4e are either institutionally corrupt, or are massively incompetent with a bonus system that encourages fraud and corruption. They are inefficient compared to the public sector workers in the Civil Service, who the government wishes to phase out of the system leaving it entirely in the hands of the private contractors. They steal the credit for other people’s good work, bully claimants and provide a lamentably poor service for educating crims in prison.

And even if they weren’t any of that, they would still deserve contempt and disapproval simply for administering the government’s workfare schemes, which are a highly exploitative form of unfree labour. And the Void has pointed out with regard to these schemes, they don’t work either. You’re far better off trying to find a job on your own.

So of course, with this magnificent record of compassion and quality of service, the government has to continue giving them contracts.

A4e is proof that IDS’ benefit reforms are purely ideological, and not supported by performance or results. Both A4e and their ultimate boss, IDS himself, should go.