Head shocked by claim 'spies' sent to school
CLAIMS that spies from a multi-million pound private school chain were sent to a Llanelli school to pick up information have shocked a head teacher.
Daniel Sheehan, head of St Michael's School, has spoken out after allegations were made that the Cognita group, run by ex-Ofsted chief Chris Woodhead, sent staff acting as prospective parents into rival schools.
A former senior education officer at the firm, who says he was asked to take part in commercial espionage, revealed the practice to the Department for Education.
Claiming he was asked to pretend to be a prospective parent along with a female colleague in order to pick up commercially valuable information from a rival school, he said the exercise was referred to as "secret shopping" within the company.
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And he said Cognita's UK marketing director, Nicole Louis, even handed him a script to use during a planned visit to St Michael's last year, which competes with Cognita's Ffynone House school in Swansea.
Ffynone House has since been transferred back to its previous charitable owners amid questions over the school's financial viability.
Daniel Sheehan, head teacher at St Michael's, said many parents and former pupils had been in touch since finding out about the news, which broke in the Observer on Sunday newspaper.
"We were naturally shocked to read in the Observer the allegations that representatives of Chris Woodhead's, Cognita were sent as 'mystery shoppers' to spy on St Michael's," he said.
"Though it could be seen as a compliment that the ex-Ofsted chief inspector's multi-million pound organisation thought that they could learn something from St Michael's remarkable success."
Nicole Louis said: "The allegations made in the Observer form the basis of an employer tribunal which will take place next month.
"Cognita will robustly defend all of the allegations referenced within the article and in the specific matter regarding St Michael's School in Llanelli, having taken expert advice, we are certain that we have not done anything wrong or unusual in organising the 'mystery shopping' trips.
"Given that these matters are the subject of an upcoming tribunal, we will be making no further comment at this stage."
Head leaves school after 20 years — page 19