Were the Dead Sea Scrolls any easier to discover, I wonder?

My setting was the more mundane headquarters of the Department for Education in Westminster, rather than caves in the Middle East, but at times the documents seemed just as elusive.

Two weeks ago  – under orders from the editor – I was tasked with tracking down the DfE’s ‘Register of Interests for Board Members’.

Schools Week learned of the register while researching donations made by wealthy individuals to the election campaigns of education ministers and their opposition counterparts.

While working on that piece I learned that non-executive director of the DfE Paul Marshall  – who is also chair of trustees for academy chain Ark – had given £15,536 to support Yeovil Liberal Democrats’ 2015 election campaigns. Yeovil is the seat of schools minister David Laws. The donations were declared by Mr Laws in the 2014/15 register of MPs’ financial interests in August last year and February this year.

The DFE refused to comment on the non-executive director aspect of the donations. When we asked about the requirement to publish board member interests, they told us they did hold a register (as required by law) but that it was only available for viewing by appointment.

Anyone who wanted to view it could contact Malcolm at the DFE. They provided his email address and phone number.

Malcolm was clearly going to be the key to success. So, I phoned him, and was told that he’d never had a call about the register in 10 years  and, in any case, was no longer dealing with appointments to see it.

He referred me to the person who had taken over the role of ‘official provider of access’. He was based in Manchester.

Sean, in Manchester, told me the register could be accessed in one of two ways: It could be couriered down to London  – but that would be “problematic” – or I could go to Manchester to view it.

Encouraged by the editor to get the information quickly, I told him I could visit the next day, at which point a new option emerged. They could email a PDF of the register the very next day.

This sounded simple – so I accepted that option.

All sorted.

Except, it wasn’t. Sean later rang back to say that the press office would now be dealing with the matter. No PDF would be possible.

My hopes were raised the next day, Tuesday, when the press office called the editor to say there had been a mistake, but – while the PDF could not be sent – they would happily arrange an appointment for me to visit the DfE offices in London.

“Can she come today?” the editor asked. They demurred. “Wednesday?” I suggested, as that would still give enough time to write a piece for the paper before the election.

Thursday was the earliest day that would work, they said – just missing our deadline.

Undeterred, I took the appointment anyway, and on Thursday morning headed to the DfE’s offices in the shadow of Westminster Abbey.

Given the register was not available as a PDF, I wondered if it might be on papyrus – or perhaps there would be a more modern parchment version?.

What was actually presented to me was three boring sides of ordinary A4 paper.

I asked the slightly embarrassed press officer if I could take a picture of the innocuous-looking document. He (very nicely) said no. I would have to hand write the contents. He’d spoken to the powers that be about me getting a copy – but that wasn’t going to be possible. I took out my pen and began to write.

So, what does the document reveal?

First of all it’s not up to date. It’s meant to be updated annually, but the most recent version only contains declarations made up to April 2014. It does not contain any registrations of interest for those who have joined the board since then. Declarations are therefore missing for Paul Kissack – director general, children’s services and departmental strategy; Simon Fryer – director, human resources; Marion Plant – non-executive and Tim Leunig – chief scientific adviser. I was told I could come back in June or July once the new register is available.

Lead non-executive director Paul Marshall’s donations also do not feature in the register, as they were made too late to be included.

As for the rest, well – you can see for yourself.

An hour’s worth of scribbling translated back into digital means the register is now here – online at last.

*

Declarations of interest by DfE Board Members as at April 2014:

Chris Wormald – Permanent Secretary

Nil return

Tom Jeffery  – former director general of children, young people and families directorate

Family member interests: wife is assistant director of children’s services, East Sussex County Council

Andrew McCully – director general for schools infrastructure and funding

Miscellaneous and unremunerated interests: Skillforce, trustee

Shona Dunn – director general, education standards

Nil return

Simon Judge – director, finance and commercial

Family member interests: sister (Emma Judge) involved in project How to Thrive , supporting resilience in Herfordshire school, which received £600,000 funding via endowment originally funded by DfE, in 2012.

Janette Durbin – former director, human resources

Nil return.

Tom Shinner – director of strategy

Other remunerated employment: Royal Navy Reserve Lieutenant.

Miscellaneous and unremunerated interests: Governor (member and director), Greenwich Free School.

Peter Lauener – chief executive Education Funding Agency

Miscellaneous and unremunerated interests: Educators International, trustee.

Paul Marshall – lead non-executive board member

Remunerated directorships: Marshall Wace Asset Management Ltd, MWAM UK Ltd, MWAM NA Ltd, Marshall Wace LLP – Partner.

Miscellaneous and unremunerated interests: Absolute Return for Kids (ARK) Education, director; Eureka Charitable Trust, trustee; Sequoia Trust, trustee; CentreForum, trustee.

Jim O’Neill – non-executive board member

Remunerated directorships: paid speaker, organised by Chartwell Partners

Miscellaneous and unremunerated directorships: Shine, Sutton Trust, Teach for All, Piggybank Ltd.

David Meller – non-executive board member

Remunerated directorships: Julius Meller, CS Holdings

Miscellaneous and unremunerated directorships: The Hertswood Academy, the Harefield Academy, The Bushey Academy, Elstree UTC, Watford UTC. Presidents Club, trustee; Greenhouse, trustee; The Meller Educational Trust, director; Original Giving, non-executive director; Policy Exchange, trustee; Access Inspiration, trustee; chair Grenada Schools Ltd, Conservative Friends of Israel Ltd, The Tel Aviv University Trust, The British Friends of the Jaffa Institute, National Apprenticeship Ambassadors Network.

Theodore Agnew – former non-executive board member

Remunerated directorships: Burnley Group Partnership, partner; Somerton Capital LLP, partner; Flovate Ltd, director; Accident and Credit Services Ltd, director; RQ Capital Ltd, director.

Miscellaneous and unremunerated directorships: Policy Exchange, trustee; Inspiration Trust, academy sponsor.

Dame Sue John – former non-executive board member

Remunerated directorships: Lampton School Academy Trust, headteacher (three days a week); Challenge Partnership, Engine of Improvement head (one day a week)

Miscellaneous and unremunerated directorships: London Leadership Strategy, director; Brilliant Club, chair of trustees; Future Leaders (project company board), trustee; Teaching Leaders, trustee; Royal Shakespeare Education Advisory Group, member.