Posts Tagged ‘Ofsted’

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.

14 Academy Chains Barred from Managing More Schools

March 23, 2014

The Conservative Party Annual Conference

Michael Gove: The man now in charge of wrecking our children’s education. But only if you’re working or lower middle class.

The I newspaper also carried a story in its Friday edition (21st March 2014) that 14 academy chains, including the largest, the Academies Enterprise Trust (AET) have been banned from running any more schools. The I stated that the reason for this were concerns about low standards and financial management in the schools the chains already manage.

The barred academies together manage about 200 state schools altogether. Apart from the Academies Enterprise Trust, which runs 75 schools, they also include the Academies Transformation Trust, which runs 16. This last company was criticised for paying over £50,000 to a trustee and a company owned by the daughter-in-law of the Trust’s chief executive. The other barred academy chains are the Barnfield Academies Trust, with seven schools, City of Wolverhampton Academy Trust, two schools, Djanogly Learning Trust, with five schools, and E-ACT with 34 schools. E-Act were forced to return a third of these 34 schools to the state because of poor performance in Ofsted results. The other barred academy chains are the Grace Foundation with three schools, Landau Foundation with six, Lee Chapel Academy Trust with a single school, Prospects Academy Trust, which has five, South Nottingham College Academy Trust with two, The Learning Schools Trust, which has four, University of Chester Academies Trust, which has ten and the West Hertfordshire Teaching Schools partnership, which currently runs 25.

At the moment, the education watchdog, Ofsted, does not have the power to inspect academies, and Michael Gove has blocked calls for it to do so. After this news broke, the chief schools inspector, Sir Michael Wilshaw, and the Liberal Democrat Schools Minister, David Laws, both again called for Ofsted to be given such powers.

The article also quoted Mary Bousted, of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, on the decision to stop these chains from expanding further. She said ‘My main concern is for the children … and whether they are getting a decent standard of education. It is one thing to say they can’t run anymore schools, but what’s happening in the schools already in place?’

Others found the timing of this news also suspicious. It was released at the same time as the Budget. The Labour MP and former universities minister, John Denham, who had made the request for information on the number of chains that had been barred, accused the Education Department of ‘burying bad news’. In response, the Department of Education stated that this was ‘way off beam’, as the information had been made available to parliament on Tuesday before the Budget.

That still sounds to me suspiciously close to the Budget, so that it sounds like the Tories were hoping that it would be overshadowed by it.

Mike over at Vox Political, Another Angry Voice, and a number of other bloggers have also covered the way the Tories are gradually privatising education. The academies can set their own wages and conditions and, as the article stated, are currently exempt from Ofsted inspection. Gove also wishes to remove the current requirement for teachers to possess a degree. The Conservatives appear determined to privatise the school system, even though this will lead to much lower standards. Of course, they especially have no sympathy for the teachers and other staff working in the schools, in the same way they have shown precious little sympathy or understanding of Britain’s workers in general. Except when they decide to patronise them with a penny off beer and less tax on bingo, of course. What matters to Gove and the rest of the Tories is that it should all be run for profit, regardless of poor results and standards.

The fact that 14 academy chains have been barred from acquiring any more schools and that Ofsted is not allowed to inspect academies indicates that there are serious problems with the Tories plans to replace state with private education. The whole policy needs to be abandoned, and the schools returned to responsible state management, rather than irresponsible trusts, which simply see education as an investment.

Private Eye on More Private Equity Firms in Government: Michael Gove Makes John Nash Minister

July 24, 2013

In my last post featuring an article from Private Eye, I discussed the Eye’s report that the then Tory health minister, Norman Lamb, appeared to be dimly aware that private equity firms actually weren’t very good at running hospitals and care homes. That didn’t seem set to stop them trying to increase such firms owning and running these services, and indeed it didn’t. Just a month later, in their issue for 25th January -7 February of this year, the Eye reported that Education secretary Michael Gove had appointed John Nash as minister. Nash is head of yet another private equity company. The Eye reported

Man in the Eye

John Nash

Education Secretary Michael Gove’s appointment of businessman John Nash as a minister suggests he wants private companies to be far more involved in running mainstream state schools.

Nash makes cash through his private equity firm, Sovereign Capital, which invests in higher education and training companies that receive millions for their poor performance on government contracts. Private firms are currently barred from investing in most state schools, but Nash’s new job might include opening up this market.

Given Sovereign’s record, this isn’t great news: it owns the private Greenwich School of Management, whose income from public funds has jumped to £22.6m – almost a quarter of the total going to private universities-since the coalition increased the number of private university courses funded by government-backed student loans (Eye 1330). Alas, when inspectors visited GSM in July student learning opportunities did “not meet UK expectations” and the college required “improvement to meet UK expectations”.

Meanwhile Sovereign’s website boasts of its backing for training firm ESG, which it bought in 2004. ESG training for the jobless was inspected five times by Ofsted between 2007 and 2009 and never received a single “good”. Inspection reports found “achievement and standards are inadequate”, a “low rate for job outcomes”, “slow progress in implementing quality assurance arrangements”, “insufficient resources in some centres” and “some poor learning resources”.

Despite this ESG won a £69m Work Programme contract from the Work and Pensions Department-and stumbled here too, failing to meet a 5.5 per cent minimum target for getting people into jobs. Sovereign says it sold ESG last July after it won the Work Programme contract, but documents at Companies House show Sovereign still owns about 20 per cent.

Press coverage of Nash’s appointment mentioned his investment in the Conservatives (he and his wife have given £300,000 to the party-and he now has a seat in the House of Lords and a government job!) but his Sovereign role wasn’t discussed because the Department for Education failed to mention it when announcing the appointment. The government did say Nash would step away “from all relevant business interests” while serving as minister. Sovereign Capital declined to comment.’

So the government is appointing yet another businessman from a private equity firm to oversee its privatisation of yet more state institutions. The private equity firm involved has an abysmal record in running those institutions it does possess. Its chairman is nevertheless rewarded for his persistent failure with a seat in the House of Lords, and position in government. It’s basically business as usual then, with the only difference being that this time it’s education that will suffer, rather than hospitals.