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Suffolk: Entire board of governors removed after school is victim of alleged fraud

PUBLISHED: 06:00 31 March 2012 | UPDATED: 09:56 31 March 2012

Glemsford Community Primary School

Glemsford Community Primary School

Archant

THE entire board of governors at a school involved in an alleged £600,000 computer equipment fraud has been dismissed, Suffolk County Council has confirmed.

Glemsford Community Primary School has been left owing thousands of pounds after it unwittingly signed long-term leases on 100 laptop computers, which staff thought they were receiving free of charge.

Head teacher Elizabeth Steele has been suspended since January and yesterday, governors were informed that the council had applied to education secretary, Michael Gove, for permission to replace the school’s governing body with an executive board.

It is believed that out of 436 schools involved in the same fraud across the UK, only one other head teacher has been suspended, and all of the other schools’ governors have received the backing of their local authorities.

But a spokesman for the county council confirmed the authority had initiated steps to get the governors removed.

He said: “Local education authorities have powers of intervention when schools cause concern. In relation to Glemsford Primary School, we are currently following the appropriate legal processes to put in place an interim executive board, which will take on all of the responsibilities of the governing body.

“The governing body has been issued with the appropriate warning notice. We are currently in the middle of an internal and police investigation involving the school and as such, it would be inappropriate for us to comment further at this stage.”

Chairman of the board of governors, Duncan Grafen, said they had actively supported the school community, the staff and council officers since the problem emerged. This support however had not been reciprocated by council officers he said, adding: “We can find no justifiable reason for this perceived lack of support and we believe that at all times we have acted in the best interests of the school, and in accordance with our duties, to ensure proper accountability for, and control over, the use of public funds.”

On February 27, the board was served with a warning notice requiring the development of a financial monitoring plan, a review of the school’s delegated powers and details of the steps the board intended to take to address the outstanding IT leasing issues.

Mr Grafen said: “The governing body responded to that warning notice with a detailed monitoring and action plan proposal that addressed all the points raised by the council. We requested guidance and advice from council officers in preparing the final proposal, but those requests were refused.”

When the EADT called the school yesterday morning, staff were unaware of the move to sack the board of governors.

Mrs Steele, who was told by the county council to stay at home while an investigation into the alleged fraud was carried out, said: “I was very shocked to receive a copy of the letter sent to my governors. They are all very hard working and loyal members of the public and have put the school first in every way.

“My main aim was, and still is, to return to work at the school that I love. The school is not under investigation by the police – we are merely victims.”

Another of the governors, Richard Kemp, said due to ongoing police investigations into all of the schools affected by the computer fraud, he had been advised to say “very little” but confirmed he had written to the county chief executive outlining his views.

He added: “Compared with the authorities covering the other 400-plus schools, it seems from my sources that the draconian action taken against the governors of Glemsford School and some members of staff has not been replicated throughout the other areas.”

The computer leasing problem arose after Glemsford Primary was allegedly approached by a sales person from a company called Direct Technology Solutions Ltd, who said the firm would supply the laptops without charge as part of a promotion.

But when the company went into administration, the school was left exposed to thousands of pounds worth of liabilities owed to Clydesdale Bank. In January when the fraud was first unearthed, a spokesperson for the bank said it had acted in good faith and had no involvement with the supply of the equipment itself.

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