The Charity Commissioners have lost patience with the National Confederation of Parent-Teacher Associations and sent in an accountant to sort it out.
Richard Hill of KPMG has been appointed as an interim manager to run the troubled charity and to review its structure, activities and objectives. He will be working with the current trustees and staff but Mr Hill has assumed executive authority and will from now on be the one who signs the cheques.
He has this week written to the 11 trustees asking what they think the charity's objectives should be and how they should be achieved - and if they wish to remain trustees.
The appointment was announced to the confederation's area chairmen in Bexley last Saturday, when he was introduced by Judith Wood, who chairs the trustees. It was greeted with relief by many who had despaired of seeing the 40-year-old charity extricate itself from many months of internecine strife.
Ms Wood said she was pleased the commissioners had "recognised the value of the NCPTA" and appointed someone to build on its "existing status within the world of education".
Last summer, a damning report by the Charity Commission concluded that the charity, which has about 11,000 member schools, had "no overall strategy or direction" and had "allowed itself to be side-tracked by internal disputes which had created rifts within the organisation".
It made 34 recommendations, calling for a complete restructuring of the organisation, the appointment of a new chief executive and the introduction of proper management and accountancy procedures.
It is believed the commission was finally driven to step in by the failure of a special general meeting last month even to discuss an action plan in reponse to its report. Several of those present complained to the commission.
In addition, a highly critical resolution from two member schools - which called for the resignation of the NCPTA's executive committee and the appointment of an interim management team - was forwarded to the commission. It was to be debated at the AGM in April and was thought to stand a good chance of success.
Mr Hill has postponed the AGM. "I don't want it going off at half-cock," he said. "I want important decisions and resolutions passed that ensure the long-term future of the charity."
Some members of the organisation criticised the commissioners for being slow to act. Sean Rogers, a former NCPTA trustee who was forced to leave after his complaints about the management were taken up by the commissioners, said it was time the commission "stopped molly-coddling certain individuals and declared the NCPTA a failing charity". If it had been a failing school, he said, those responsible would have been sacked and a hit squad sent in.
But Mr Hill said he was anxious to look forward, not back. "The NCPTA has done some excellent work over the past 40 years and it's in a strong position on membership and finance. Where it's at the cross-roads is on direction and future strategy."
He said that the fewer hurdles he faced, the less time his work would take - and the lower would be the cost to the charity of employing him and other KPMG staff. He has already made one wise move: members have been asked not to phone him but to put their points in writing, and to keep it snappy.
Leader, page 20