A convicted drug smuggler was awarded a contract by a local authority worth thousands of pounds to teach vulnerable children.
Paul O’Dee’s four-year deal with Salford council, beginning in 2019, took place via Gorilla Warfare, an alternative provider he had set up. More than 10,000 pupils are being sent to unregistered educational facilities of this kind, which do not require teachers to have qualifications or criminal record checks.
O’Dee, 48, was jailed for four years in 2003 for his role in a £20 million drug-smuggling plot.
A decade later he was again convicted of conspiracy to import a class B drug and of possession of a false passport. National Crime Agency officers had watched him meet John O’Donoghue, an Irish crime boss, who was jailed in 2021 for a machete attack.
Children are referred to alternative providers by schools or local authorities where they have been excluded from mainstream school or cannot attend for medical reasons.
Most are required to register with Ofsted, the schools inspectorate. However, those that operate part-time or have fewer than five pupils are not. While some councils and trusts have banned unregistered providers, others rely on them to make up for a shortage in specialist schools.
Figures released this month by the inspectorate showed that 11,600 children were being taught in unregistered alternative providers, a rise of nearly 20 per cent on the previous year.
Ofsted has repeatedly called for the government to ban such institutions, where teachers are not required to have a DBS, or criminal record, check or teaching qualification, or force them to register.
Gorilla Warfare Alternative Provision, which O’Dee runs from a gym of the same name he owns in Salford, Greater Manchester, provides children with teaching in “maths, English, healthy living and vocational qualifications”, with a heavy emphasis on sport.
“The sports provision is the hook that gets them to engage with the centre and once they become engaged it is easier to teach the academic side of the provision,” O’Dee said in documents filed with Companies House.
According to Gorilla Warfare’s Facebook page, the sporting programme includes boxing and martial arts as well as “weight training and military preparation”.
O’Dee told The Times that Gorilla Warfare had made some “massive achievements with many of the students — both academically and physically”.
“I myself have worked with kids for 15 years teaching martial arts,” he said. “My past has never been a secret and is available for anyone to see if requested.”
A spokeswoman for Salford city council said that a “small number of pupils received a limited number of hours of alternative education provision” at Gorilla Warfare after it was added to the list of providers used by the council in 2019. She said that it had met “the nationally set regulations regarding criminal convictions and the required safeguarding checks”.
Since then, however, the council’s commissioning process had changed and Gorilla Warfare was no longer used, the spokeswoman said.
An Ofsted spokeswoman said: “We have long been concerned about widespread problems with unregistered alternative provision, having seen far too many substandard providers. As well as offering only a narrow curriculum, some of these providers have no qualified staff, or have not checked that their staff are even suitable to work with children. And, too often, schools and local authorities are sending vulnerable pupils to these providers for most or all their education.
“While these providers remain unregulated, their suitability, safety and quality remains in doubt. The solution to these problems lies in a proportionate registration and inspection regime — something we’ve repeatedly called for over the past 12 years.”News