COVENTRY’S Labour leaders are embroiled in controversy as it emerged the councillor in charge of city schools has set up a new business to take over schools as academies.
Councillor David Kershaw, Coventry City Council’s Labour cabinet member for education, is heading a new academy company called the West Midlands Academy Trust. It is thought to be in line to win Tory government permission to take over five struggling schools in Birmingham.
The Observer can reveal Companies House documents show the company was set up only last month, is registered to the Coventry address of 74-year-old Coun Kershaw, a loyalist of council leader Ann Lucas, and the company also includes Coventry school head teachers as directors and members.
Labour is campaigning ahead of next month’s council elections against Conservative government plans to convert all council maintained schools into academies by 2022, with freedoms from councils and direct government funding.
Coun Kershaw, ex-head of Coundon Court School, was also involved in Labour government turnaround teams going into failing schools in the 2000s.
He has been a longstanding passionate advocate of state-run comprehensive education with councils overseeing a ‘family of schools’, despite a pragmatic policy of the council working collaboratively ‘in partnership’ with Coventry’s new secondary academies.
Along with his Labour council colleagues, he has long expressed concerns about both the government’s academisation of council-maintained schools and so-called ‘free schools’ such as Finham Park II. Labour politicians including Coventry North west MP Geoffrey Robinson last week claim Finham Park II is an example of government education policy going wrong – with nearby Woodlands Academy school now under threat in merger plans with Tile Hill Wood school.
Coun Kershaw in correspondence with the government’s Department for Education last year expressed support for setting up the new free school, which is now up and running temporarily at Finham Park but is expected to relocate to the former Land Registry building in Tile Hill this September.
Coun Kershaw’s new company, of which he is listed as a director, is understood to be in line for Department for Education approval to take over the five Birmingham academies and free schools run by the troubled Perry Beeches academy chain.
Also listed as a directors are Peter Thomas, head of President Kennedy School in Coventry, Richard Kershaw, and Sarah Durkin (formerly Lucas).
Members of the new company listed include Alan East, a Coventry University law lecturer and solicitor who is standing for Labour in Bablake on May 5, and Mark Bailie, head at Finham Park School.
Conservative group leader, councillor John Blundell, said: “This needs explanation from the people involved. It raises questions about councillor Kershaw and his Labour group colleagues’ long held position on the government’s academies programme.
“There’s a big issue being made about Woodlands, Tile Hill Wood and Finham Park II. Now it emerges a councillor and a would-be councillor are setting up an academy chain, presumably with Department for Education support, to take over academies in Birmingham.”
Coun Blundell said he also believed the matter would have to be declared at the Council House and in council meetings as a potential conflict of interest.
Coun Kershaw was unavailable for comment.