Tory Donor Ross In Frame To Chair Ofsted
David Ross, the co-founder of the Carphone Warehouse high street chain, is a leading candidate to become the next chair of Ofsted, the education watchdog.
Sky News can exclusively reveal that Mr Ross, who has donated hundreds of thousands of pounds to the Conservative Party, is among a number of names being considered for the role by Michael Gove, the Education Secretary.
If Mr Ross is offered the post, it could ignite a political row with Labour at a time when Ofsted's handling of the 'Trojan Horse' schools extremism row has sparked furious divisions within the Government.
It could also spark opposition from within the Coalition - David Laws, a Liberal Democrat, is Mr Gove's deputy at the Department for Education (DfE).
Mr Gove decided in February not to renew the term of Baroness Sally Morgan, the current Ofsted chair and a Labour Peer, triggering claims - denied by Mr Gove - that the leadership of one of Britain's most important quangos was being damaged by political interference.
More recently, the education watchdog has been ordered to step up school inspections in the wake of the Trojan horse affair in Birmingham.
An investigation into some schools in the city saw five of them downgraded to inadequate and placed in special measures amid claims of takeovers by hardline Muslims.
Mr Ross is principally known for his involvement in the creation of Carphone Warehouse, which he set up during the 1980s with Sir Charles Dunstone.
In recent years, he has also become a prominent figure in the education sector, sitting on the council of Nottingham University and founding a series of academy schools through the David Ross Education Trust.
Friends of Mr Ross describe him as being "incredibly passionate" about education.
Academic results at the schools in his network were improving significantly since he began working with them, according to a spokesman.
Havelock Academy in Grimsby was Mr Ross's first academy, opening in 2007. His network now stands at 25 academies, educating 8,500 children at primary and secondaries, with a special school and a grammar school also part of the group.
Mr Ross's status as a donor to the Conservatives is nonetheless likely to be contentious if he does land the Ofsted role.
The precise sums given by Mr Ross are unclear but they are understood to amount to several hundred thousand pounds over the last decade.
A source close to the businessman said he had not given a "substantial" sum for some years.
Asked in February about whether Theodore Agnew, a financier who has also given substantial sums to the Tories, was a contender for the role, Mr Gove said that no candidate "should be ruled out on the grounds of political allegiance".
It is unclear whether Mr Agnew is being considered for the Ofsted chairmanship alongside Mr Ross, or who the other remaining candidates are.
The Carphone Warehouse co-founder, whose fortune is estimated at £892m by The Sunday Times Rich List, also made headlines in 2009 when he was cleared by City regulators of any impropriety over the mortgaging of some of his shares in the retailer.
DfE officials are being assisted in the selection process by GatenbySanderson, a recruitment firm.
A spokesman for Mr Ross declined to comment. The DfE also refused to comment.