Staff rally round head in 'cash for honours' row

21st April 2006 at 01:00
Colleagues fear the headteacher at the centre of the academy scandal will be made a scapegoat. Graeme Paton and Michael Shaw report

Colleagues this week defended the headteacher arrested as part of the cash-for-honours investigation and said they feared he would be made a scapegoat.

Des Smith, head of All Saints Roman Catholic secondary school, in Dagenham, and a former council member of the Specialist Schools and Academies Trust, was questioned by detectives after telling an undercover reporter that anyone sponsoring one of the Government's academies may be offered a knighthood or peerage.

Mr Smith said via his solicitor this week that he "categorically denies the allegations and will be contesting them vigorously".

Governors and staff at All Saints rallied round the head, insisting that there were no plans to dismiss him, and a public celebration of his achievements would go ahead as planned.

Dominic Savage, chair of governors and director general of the British Educational Suppliers Association, said: "He was 60 in January and agreed to stay on until the summer, so we are looking forward to his return and celebrating his achievements during his headship at the end of term."

Bill Paceman, a governor and former All Saints teacher, who has known Mr Smith since the early 1980s, said: "The governors have all confidence in him and I have no doubt about his integrity - he is an extremely honest man.

"When I opened that newspaper on the Sunday morning and read the transcript of the conversation he is supposed to have had with a reporter, I was shocked. It just didn't sound like him at all.

"I don't like the word 'entrapped' but I can't help but think the press have gone after him. At the end of the day, he is only a head who has been co-opted into some job by 10 Downing Street."

Sir Cyril Taylor, chairman of the Specialist Schools Trust, said that Mr Smith was the victim of a "KGB-style honey trap". He said: "The reporter was a very attractive blonde. It would be a great shame if this ended the career of an outstanding headteacher."

He said that although Mr Smith had been on the trust's council since November, he was not in the trust's employment and had not acted as his adviser.

Mr Smith was bailed last week after being questioned under the Honours (Prevention of Abuses) Act 1925, which bans the sale of honours. The Metropolitan Police told The TES that the investigation was continuing, but refused to confirm reports that the Prime Minister was to be questioned.

This week the National Union of Teachers condemned the "sleaze and cronyism" at the heart of the academies programme and said Mr Smith should not "be the fall guy".

Hank Roberts, from Brent, north London, told delegates at the union's annual conference in Torquay: "If any crime has been committed, please jail the entire sleazy crew. But if Tony Blair has committed a crime, let's jail him too."

Jon Cruddas, Labour MP for Dagenham, is opposed to academies, but praised Mr Smith. "Twenty minutes of pub talk shouldn't get in the way of 40 years of public service," he said.

* graeme.paton@tes.co.uk

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