'Conflict of interest': Outcry at plan to put multimillionaire Tory donor David Ross in charge of Ofsted

Carphone Warehouse multimillionaire David Ross is favourite for key educational post, but critics complain of a clash with his role as founder of an academy chain

Education Editor

A multimillionaire Tory donor is being lined up by Michael Gove to chair the body charged with maintaining and raising standards in England’s schools.

David Ross, a co-founder of the Carphone Warehouse high street chain, is believed to be the front runner for the post after the Education Secretary in effect sacked the previous incumbent, Baroness Morgan.

But the move will be deeply controversial because, as well as being a Tory donor, Mr Ross is the founder of a chain of 25 academies – for which Ofsted, the education standards watchdog, has responsibility.

“What will happen when inspectors are sent into his own schools?” one teachers’ leader asked. Any attempt to appoint Mr Ross would ignite a fierce row within the Coalition as Mr Gove’s deputy, the Liberal Democrat schools minister David Laws, has made it clear he expects the appointment to be non-political.

Mr Ross, who has given the Conservative Party around £220,000, belongs to an elite diners’ club whose members get frequent access to David Cameron in exchange for donating more than £50,000 a year.

His appointment to an independent quango would raise further questions about the party’s ties to wealthy individuals, following the revelation that the wife of a Russian banker paid £160,000 to play tennis with Mr Cameron and Boris Johnson at the party’s summer fundraising ball on Wednesday. Baroness Morgan, whose expulsion from her Ofsted role was revealed this year by The Independent, was widely considered to have proved an impartial executive despite having run Tony Blair’s office when he was Prime Minister.

“Sally Morgan has been able to rise above party politics and command cross-party support – it’s crucial the next person is able to do the same,” a Liberal Democrat source said.

Mr Laws indicated that he believed the decision not to re-appoint Baroness Morgan was a sign that the Ofsted inspectorate, which is officially independent of government control, was being damaged by political interference.

Mr Ross, who is estimated by the Sunday Times “rich list” to be worth £892m a year, co-founded Carphone Warehouse in the 1980s with Charles (now Sir Charles) Dunstone, a friend from his school days.

Sir Charles maintained his links with the firm while Mr Ross ceased to be joint-chief operating officer after 2003 – becoming deputy chairman and then non-executive director. He resigned in December of that year over the mortgaging of some of his shares in the retail business, but was cleared of impropriety over the issue by City regulators.

Four years ago, he was involved in a bizarre situation when an escort girl, Sniezana Kobeniak, alleged she had been bruised in a scuffle after being turned away from his London home. She said she had been booked for a £250 one-hour appointment for which she had not been paid.

Ms Kobeniak withdrew her allegation after Mr Ross was interviewed under caution and there is no suggestion of impropriety on his part.

Mr Ross’s involvement with education began with the setting up of the Education Trust– whose first school, Havelock academy, opened in Grimsby in 2007. His network now has 25 schools which, it is estimated, educate nearly 8,500 children in primary and secondary schools.

In the selection process to replace Baroness Morgan, it was suggested that one leading candidate could be another Conservative party donor, Theodore Agnew – who sits on the board of the Department for Education and also has sponsorship links with academies.

In ruling himself out last month, Mr Agnew appeared to concede that the post should not go to a divisive or partisan figure. “It should not be a politically moti vated appointment,” he said. “It should be a post that is supported by all the political parties. It’s a very important role and if it had not been considered controversial I would have applied for it.”

Mr Gove has previously said no candidate “should be ruled out on the grounds of political allegiance”. The Tories are understood to want the new Ofsted chairman to have both business and education experience, which means that the field of ideal candidates is fairly small.

A spokeswoman for the DfE said: “The recruitment process for the new chair of Ofsted is ongoing. The successful candidate will be announced in due course.

“As with all public appointments, the appointment process is being conducted in accordance with the requirements set by the Commissioner for Public Appointments and the guidance issued by the Cabinet Office Public Appointments Unit.

“An independent panel decides who is long-listed, short-listed and interviewed. After this process is complete, they recommend to ministers a list of suitable candidates.”

Margaret Morrissey, of the parents’ pressure group Parents Outloud, said: “It doesn’t sound quite right.

“I don’t know the man – he may be very worthy – but I do think that when those in power consider doing things like this they put themselves in an invidious position. He may be a brilliant entrepreneur – but that doesn’t obviously give him a great insight into inspecting a school.”

She added that she was worried about a potential conflict of interest over the academy chains.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment
Madonna is not in Twitter's good books after describing her album leak as 'artistic rape and terrorism'
music
Arts and Entertainment
Tony Hughes (James Nesbitt) after his son Olly disappeared on a family holiday in France
tv
Arts and Entertainment
The Apprentice candidates Roisin Hogan, Solomon Akhtar, Mark Wright, Bianca Miller, Daniel Lassman
tvReview: But which contestants got the boot?
Arts and Entertainment
Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels ride again in Dumb and Dumber To
filmReview: Dumb And Dumber To was a really stupid idea
News
people

Jo from Northern Ireland was less than impressed by Russell Brand's attempt to stage a publicity stunt

Extras
indybest
Sport
Scunthorpe goalkeeper Sam Slocombe (left) is congratulated by winning penalty taker Miguel Llera (right)
football
Life and Style
A woman walks by a pandal art installation entitled 'Mars Mission' with the figure of an astronaut during the Durga Puja festival in Calcutta, India
techHow we’ll investigate the existence of, and maybe move in with, our alien neighbours
Arts and Entertainment
Sir Ian McKellen tempts the Cookie Monster
tvSir Ian McKellen joins the Cookie Monster for a lesson on temptation
News
i100
Travel
Tourists bask in the sun beneath the skyscrapers of Dubai
travelBritish embassy uses social media campaign to issue travel advice for festive holiday-makers in UAE
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Manager

£35000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A fantastic opportunity has ari...

Recruitment Genius: Account Manager

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A fantastic opportunity has ari...

Recruitment Genius: Support Worker

£9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: A rewarding opportunity to work with an easy-...

Recruitment Genius: National Sales Account Executive

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company leads the market i...

Day In a Page

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas
La Famille Bélier is being touted as this year's Amelie - so why are many in the deaf community outraged by it?

Deaf community outraged by La Famille Bélier

The new film tells the story of a deaf-mute farming family and is being touted as this year's Amelie
10 best high-end laptops

10 best high-end laptops

From lightweight and zippy devices to gaming beasts, we test the latest in top-spec portable computers
Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

The batsman has grown disillusioned after England’s Ashes debacle and allegations linking him to the Pietersen affair
Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

The Williams driver has had plenty of doubters, but hopes she will be judged by her ability in the cockpit
Adam Gemili interview: 'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

After a year touched by tragedy, Adam Gemili wants to become the sixth Briton to run a sub-10sec 100m
Calls for a military mental health 'quality mark'

Homeless Veterans campaign

Expert calls for military mental health 'quality mark'
Racton Man: Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman

Meet Racton Man

Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman
Garden Bridge: St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters

Garden Bridge

St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters
Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament: An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel

Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament

An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel
Joint Enterprise: The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice

Joint Enterprise

The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice
Freud and Eros: Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum: Objects of Desire

Freud and Eros

Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum