Jon Ellacott, a parent with three children attending Oval Primary, has uncovered some disturbing information about the background, qualifications and achievements – or lack of them – of ARK, the educational organisation which is about to be handed valuable public buildings, fixtures and fittings to turn the Croydon school into a
profit centre academy.
ARK’s chairman is the multi-millionaire investment banker Stanley Fink, a Tory peerwho has served as co-Treasurer of the Conservative party.
Jon Ellacott and other parents and staff at the school on Cherry Orchard Road are understandably very worried about the future of their children, and whether they will even be able to protest against Conservative-controlled Croydon Council’s plan for Oval Primary. When parents in Brent campaigned against their school being taken into academy status, ARK went to court to take out an injunction against them.
Although it benefits from having charitable status in England, ARK appears to be regarded by its founders as more of an “alternative investment”. Even the organisation’s name is couched in a term more familiar on the trading floor than in a classroom: Absolute Return for Kids.
If you wondered whether this move was more about profit than education of children in Croydon, your view might be swayed by ARK’s website, where it says its trustees are keen to explore a new approach to charitable giving known as “Venture Philanthropy”, a “form of more engaged philanthropy which applied venture capital investment principles”.
ARK was founded in 2002 by Arpad Busson, the chairman of EIM, which manages assets for institutional investors and millionaires. He is also chairman of the AAA Foundation, a Swiss-based organisation providing Swiss pension funds.
Busson handed over the ARK chairmanship to Lord Fink in July 2009. According to Sunday Times Rich List 2010, Lord Fink’s fortune was more than £100 million in 2009.
Oval School parent Ellacott launched his own website inspired by the fury and frustration caused by Croydon Council’s mismanagement of his children’s school. In Ellacott’s latest posting, he has detailed what he has found out about ARK, who were introduced to parents and staff at Oval Primary last week.
- ARK is run not by teachers or professional educationalists, but by a group of hedge fund managers.
- ARK’s “management team” includes two people who were involved in the Goldman Sachs mortgage scandal of 2008.
- One of ARK’s board is an advisor to David Laws, the Lib Dem MP forced to resign from the government last year over his expenses claims.
- Of the seven schools that ARK already manages, five were already rated as “outstanding” before they were taken out of local authority control.
- Two schools taken over by ARK in 2009, the St Albans Academy and the Charter Academy in Portsmouth, are both being monitored because of the poor attainment of their pupils. Charter Academy is reckoned to be in the bottom 20 schools in the national schools league tables.
Ellacott writes: “When I questioned ARK on this topic, the female ‘Project Leader’ (why do you need a project leader?) stated that when ARK took over Charter Academy the results of its pupils were about 21 per cent. In two years it has risen to 24 per cent.
“Now please pardon me, if I am wrong, Oval got 49 per cent in its SATS and was performing better than this school.”
According to members of staff that Ellacott has spoken to, ARK is not even proposing to do anything significantly different to that which is already in place at the school, beyond some re-branding, new uniforms and a new school name.
The National Union of Teachers has some fascinating research on its own website about the academies policy and ARK in particular.
The NUT expresses serious concerns about the background and motivations of key individuals in the organisation. “Hedge Funds are the finance companies which tipped the world into economic crisis in 2008,” NUT’s briefing sheet says. “They make huge profits by gambling on market prices and they profit by driving down the value of bank shares. See the Anti Academies briefing, ‘Are Hedge Fund managers really the right people to be running our schools?’
“Among the list of Directors, none have any previous experience in education. Jennifer Moses is an ARK executive who was due to work as an advisor to Gordon Brown but had to give up her post when her husband, Ron Beller, lost over £20 million following the crash of his Hedge Fund, Peloton Brothers, in the credit crunch.
“Busson is quoted as saying in an article in the Observer newspaper 29 May 2005 (‘Can this “venture philanthropist” save our schools’) that, ‘What qualifies us to be doing education? Nothing. But we will as entrepreneurs try to bring the best people we can find to help us.’
“He has used his charity’s money to bring in well-paid managers to run ARK’s Academies. It is noticeable that when ARK explains its ‘Model’ on its website, it uses the language of business. For example, ‘ARK has developed a strong results-driven model to identify, create and deliver innovative programmes that are transformative, scalable and sustainable. Programmes are based on demonstrable evidence showing need, high impact, quality of execution and measurable outcomes’.”
Little wonder, then, that the parents of pupils at Oval Primary are questioning why Croydon Council, led by the very busy Tim Pollard, is making a massive “gift” of their school, its buildings and equipment, to a bunch of millionaire bankers.
- Oval Primary parents offered “bribe” to stay at academy school (insidecroydon.wordpress.com)
- Oval parents sent round in circles over academy status (insidecroydon.wordpress.com)
- Council sacks £200k headteacher Craig Tunstall who suspended seven pupils (dailymail.co.uk)