The National College for Leadership and Teaching report on Waltham Forest head Ludiya Besisira: a tale of dishonesty and almost total regulatory failure UPDATED

‘I would like to take this opportunity to thank the headteacher, Ludiya Besisira and her staff for all their hard work in improving the school and attaining an excellent Ofsted report’ (Cllr. Chris Robbins, portfolio holder, to LBWF Cabinet, October 2008)

In October 2015, the National College for Teaching and Leadership (NCTL) published its adjudication on allegations made against Ms. Ludiya Besisira, headteacher at Mission Grove Primary School in Walthamstow from 2001 to 2010 (NCTL, Ludiya Besisira: Professional conduct panel outcome (October 2015)).

It does not make pleasant reading.

The NCTL finds against Ms. Besisira on twelve separate counts, many of them serious, establishing that – inter alia – she paid herself £135,700 over and above her statutory pay; claimed overtime for which there was no provision in her contract; entered into a leasing agreement with a third party though such agreements were explicitly forbidden by the school’s financial regulations; authorised an overpayment to a third party of £50,000; misled LBWF regarding the financial status of her school, and thereby ‘knowingly deprived the borough of funds to which it was entitled’; and behaved ‘in a bullying and intimidating manner’ to staff. In short, the NCTL concludes, ‘Ms. Besisira acted dishonestly for the purposes of financial gain’.

How can this have happened? The following is a summary of what we currently know.

We look first, naturally, at Ms. Besisira herself. As the NCTL report suggests, she had a forceful personality, self-confidence, and an autocratic style. Witnesses are quoted remembering that ‘“you had to do what she said. If you argued with her it would be like arguing with a brick wall”’ and “The way that the school’s finance [sic] work is that Ludiya controlled everything”’. In addition, the NCTL report notes the important detail that Ms. Besisira was fluent in money matters, having worked at Coopers and Lybrand, and several other similar organisations.

Finally, it is apparent that Ms. Besisira was assiduous in currying support from the great and good, something that the local blog Archipelago of Truth had fun with in 2010, for which see here:

Next up is ‘Individual D’, who became chair of the Mission Grove governors in 2005. The NCTL report characterises him as someone who devoted ‘substantial amounts of his personal time to his role’, but had ‘wholly inadequate’ knowledge of the financial framework within which the school was supposed to operate, including specifically ‘the basis on which Ms Besisira should be remunerated’. Against this background, the NCTL report concludes, ‘Individual D’ was greatly influenced by Ms. Besisira, and ‘effectively “did her bidding”’. One example captures the relationship: ‘Letters were regularly drafted by Ms Besisira and placed before Individual D for his signature without him having any real understanding or knowledge of what he was signing…this included the letters that were drafted by Ms Besisira which authorised the increases to her salary’.

So much for the individuals, what about the oversight authorities? The obvious starting point is Ofsted which of course had significant general responsibilities. It turns out that Ofsted inspected Mission Grove twice during the relevant period, first in 2005 and then in 2008. And it further turns out that on both occasions Ofsted judged the school to be outstanding, and not just in terms of its teaching and learning, but also in terms of its administration. Ms. Besisira provided ‘excellent leadership’, the senior staff were ‘highly effective’, and overall ‘a strong sense of team spirit’ contributed to the success of the school. The governors, too, were praised, with the 2005 report calling them ‘effective’, and noting there was ‘a core of very good governors, including the chair and vice-chair’; and its successor judging them ‘astutely led’ and sensitive to ‘what is needed to improve the school’. The inescapable conclusion, then, is that, to put it kindly, the Ofsted inspections drastically misread important aspects of what was happening at Mission Grove, and by doing so allowed them to persist.

Did those with regulatory responsibility at a local level do any better? Unfortunately, the blunt answer is no. For although LBWF and its partner EduAction (the joint venture formed by Amey Plc and Nord Anglia Education to run the borough’s schools in the 2000s) oversaw virtually every aspects of day-to-day administration across the local sector during this period, and employed various well paid managers to implement their policies, neither organisation apparently detected that anything at all was going wrong at Mission Grove until December 2009, eight years after Ms. Besisira’s appointment.

The final player in this dismal story is unexpected. The NCTL report reveals that, contrary to the school’s regulations, Ms. Besisira entered into a leasing agreement for eight photocopiers in 2006, which was worth a total of £213,041. This in itself is fairly startling. But more surprising still is the fact that the finance was brokered by no less than BNP Paribas, the self-styled ‘bank for changing the world’.

Exactly who first suggested this arrangement, and to what end, is unclear. The leasing agreement provided for standard quarterly payments of £17,390. However, in April and June 2009 Ms. Besisira paid over much larger sums, no less than £51,600 and £57,500 respectively. She later maintained that ‘she had an agreement from BNP Paribas that any payments over and above the quarterly payments would reduce the overall money owing to them’, something that the bank has subsequently disputed. The NCTL report conjectures that the real objective of the agreement was to park assets so as to avoid claw back, at the time liable on any excess in an individual school’s budget over 8 per cent. Whatever the case, this episode remains deeply puzzling.

So much for the facts. What will happen now? The Waltham Forest Guardian reports that after being contacted by LBWF in January 2010, the police launched an investigation, which is still ongoing today. Why no firm conclusion has been reached after nearly six years worth of effort remains a mystery.

But leaving aside the specific matter of possible criminality, it is to be hoped that a final reckoning will encompass the several other individuals and institutions that figure in the story.

Amongst the questions that need to be answered are the following:

Did Ms. Besisira act alone or in concert?

Why did both LBWF and EduAction so spectacularly fail to identify her dishonesty and disregard of regulations?

What did Cllr. Chris Robbins, then portfolio holder, now Leader of the Council, know of this unhappy episode?

Why did the Ofsted inspectors twice overlook what was so obviously going on under their noses?

How and why did BNP Paribas become involved, and was the bank doing similar questionable business with other Waltham Forest schools?

Put in a nutshell: we spend a good deal of public money to prevent dishonest and fraudulent behavior; in this case every safeguard failed for a period of eight years; and we urgently need to know why.


The Daily Mail online carried the following on 28 November 2015:

‘A cheating head teacher enjoyed a two-year trip to Nepal partly funded by the foreign aid budget, while under investigation in Britain.

Ludiya Besisira fooled Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO) into making her an all-expenses-paid ‘education ambassador’.

She had quit her primary school in London after ‘dishonestly’ doubling her salary to £97,000, a probe heard.

She was also said to have wrongly claimed £300-an-hour overtime, to have bullied staff, employed an illegal worker and to have made unauthorised payments. But a year later she was flown by VSO, which is partly paid for by the Department for International Development, to the tourist spot of Kaski in the Himalayas, posting photos of herself online enjoying the sights while pupils missed out in the financial mess she had left behind.

Officials at VSO had offered herthe overseas role without discovering Basisira was being investigated over her reign at Mission Grove Community Primary School in Walthamstow.

She appeared in VSO publicity to promote volunteering abroad, saying her stint had been a ‘memorable experience’ but her profile on the charity’s website was deleted after Besisira, 64, was banned from teaching for life last month.

Alan Meyrick, on behalf of Education Secretary Nicky Morgan, said a teacher misconduct hearing found a pattern of dishonesty over ‘large sums of money for her own personal gain’, with rises signed off by a governors’ chairman who ‘did her bidding’. She denied all the allegations.

Jaki Walker, VSO’s head of resourcing, said its recruitment process was now more rigorous.

Chris McGovern, chairman of the Campaign for Real Education, said: ‘VSO does some great work in developing countries but clearly needs to tighten up its vetting procedures’.


I should also point out that Ms. Besisira has the right to appeal the NCTL decision.

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