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Bellevue Place Education Trust – the free school group you’ve never heard of



Bellevue Place Education Trust (BPET) is the third largest free school owner, with seven primary schools in and around London, writes John Dickens.

But it has operated  until recently out of the spotlight shared by some of the other major players such as Ark and Harris.

The trust featured in a Sunday Times article this month, which reported Saudi Arabian oil tycoon Tarek Obaid was a key investor in the private education firm that helped to set up the trust. The connection came to light after the Panama Papers data release.

He is the largest shareholder, via a British Virgin Islands company, of Bellevue Education – a private education firm that runs 13 independent schools in the UK and Switzerland.

In 2012, the firm co-founded BPET – which runs the free schools – with education consultancy company Place Group.

Chief executive Mark Greatrex, a former civil servant and director at academy chain E-ACT who has been in post since May, distanced the free school chain from the tycoon.

He told Schools Week: “I had never heard of the chap [Obaid] and he has no involvement with the running or governance of the trust.”

On its website, the trust states that it brings together the best of the fee-paying sector with the know-how of setting up new schools. Its first school opened in 2013, two a year later and then four last September.

The department said the trust, like all others, was the subject of “detailed scrutiny”.

The spokesperson also said BPET and Bellevue Education were “separate” organisations.

This has been questioned by some commentators, who pointed out that two of the trust’s members – Marwan Naja, a private equity investor, and Mark Malley – also hold top jobs at Bellevue Education.

But Greatrex said the trust was independent with separate governance structures. He described Bellevue Education as more of a “significant partner with long-term commitment” in the trust.

He attributed the company’s involvement as a key reason BPET was trusted to open seven schools, without being able to show any indication of prior performance. The two academy trusts with more free schools, Harris and Ark, were able to show Ofsted results of their pre-existing academies.

BPET also trumpeted Bellevue Education’s involvement in its free school application.

Six of the trust’s schools opened in areas with a shortage of places and were backed by their local authorities, Greatrex said.

But the one that did not, Islington Free School, caused a local storm after Michael Gove, the former education secretary, secured a site in the borough for BPET – despite the council having plans to raise
£3 million by selling it off for new homes.

Greatrex said the trust and Islington council have now called a “score draw”.

He said parents had bought into the trust’s ethos and claimed the “wider education experience” BPET offered meant that pupils got more than just core subjects.

An example of this, he said, was a performance of Cinderella by year 1 pupils last week, with 80 per cent of it performed in Spanish.

The trust’s first school, Rutherford House School in Wandsworth, was rated good by Ofsted in September.

But Greatrex added: “Now is the time to consolidate and prove with evidence from Ofsted that our schools are good or outstanding.”

free-school-trust

Updated, 3.30pm Friday, 22th:

The NUT has demanded an inquiry into how an “offshore company exposed in the Panama Papers has been allowed to play an influential role in a multi-academy trust running seven state-funded free schools”.

Christine Blower, general secretary of the NUT, said: “What due diligence has been applied when approving BPET’s applications to open free schools? Were the backgrounds of the two companies behind the academy trust – Bellevue and Place Group – scrutinised? If not, why not?”

She added: “If it [the government] cannot oversee those that currently run around 5,000 academies and free schools in England – what confidence can we have that they can oversee the dealings of those MATs running all 20,000 schools in England?”

 



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6 Comments

  1. We don’t let foreign nationals vote in our elections. Why should foreign companies based in the Virgin Islands have ANY involvement in running our schools? Why would any such company want to run our schools? Why is it so secret that the CEO does not even know that he is working for an offshore company?
    We have recently been told that lots of London property has been bought up by offshore companies and persons with dubious morals. Are we now selling off our education system too?

    • Stephanie Bernard

      This is what the privatisation of education looks like! It’s not because they are genuinely interested in education for the ‘joe public’ but simply what they stand to gain financially! Call me cynical….but where is the transparency?

  2. BEPT is being disingenuous. Mark Malley is linked to two people named in the Sarawak Report: Patrick Mahony (director of Petrosaudi Energy and Trading (UK) Ltd) and Marwan Naja (set up Manixer, a Geneva-based private equity firm 20 years ago). These three, together with Velocity Company Secretarial Services Limited are the four current directors of Bellevue Education Group Limited. Malley, Mahony (sometimes spelled Mahoney) and Naja are also linked via Bellevue Education International Limited whose ‘controlling parties’ are Malley and two companies, Plato One and Plato Two, registered in Hong Kong and in which Mahony and Naja have shares.
    There’s no suggestion that anything illegal is happening, but the National Audit Office said complicated structures could increase the perception of wrongdoing.
    http://www.localschoolsnetwork.org.uk/2014/11/complex-structures-could-increase-perception-of-wrongdoing-warns-chief-auditor-in-durand-academy-report

  3. David Barry

    A clarification:

    John Dickens writes:

    “But the one that did not,[open in an area with a shortage of places] Islington Free School, caused a local storm after Michael Gove, the former education secretary, secured a site in the borough for BPET – despite the council having plans to raise
    £3 million by selling it off for new homes.”

    1. “Islington Free School” is now called “Whitehall Park School”

    2. Not only was there no shortage of places in the area all the surrounding schools are either “good” or “outstanding” Which further questions the expenditure of millions of taxpayers money to build a new school building which is then transferred without charge to BPET.

    3. The phrase “secured the site” is rather neutral what actually happened was that Mr Gove requisitioned the site under the Academies Act without paying any compensation to Islington.

    4. Islington had expected to raise three million pounds by selling at a steep discount (as the law allows) to a Housing Association. (In return for the discount Islington would have got to nominate the tenants) It is this three million that was lost to the Islington schools capital (repairs) account, to fill the hole caused by the cost of the new Ashmount school.

    The full market value of the site is more in the region of ten million pounds, and this is the asset presented, free of charge to BPET with its various “interesting” connections.

    I blogged about the land requisition at the time here:

    http://www.localschoolsnetwork.org.uk/2013/10/the-proposed-free-school-on-the-old-ashmount-site-islington