Academy chiefs helping themselves?

Leaders of academy schools are spending taxpayers’ money on luxury hotels, top-end restaurants, first-class travel, private health care and executive cars at a time when schools are struggling with finances, a joint investigation by Channel 4’s Dispatches and the Observer has found. The largest 40 academy trusts have spent more than £1m of public money on executive expenses since 2012.

Expense claims from academy leaders included:

Ian Cleland, £180,000-a-year chief executive at the Academy Transformation Trust has the lease and joint insurance with his wife on a Jaguar car, and also spent £3,000 on first-class rail travel. Academy Transformation Trust announced in March 2016 that it needed to save £500,000 from its schools and stated at the time “ is essential that we review our costs and consider where savings can be made, without impacting on the quality of education.”

The Paradigm Trust pays for its CEO, Amanda Phillips, to have broadband at her holiday home in France, even though she earns £195,354 a year.

The chief executive of the Aspirations Academies Trust, which runs 12 schools, pays its chief executive and founder, Stewart Kenning, a total package of £225,000, while his wife, Paula Kenning, receives £175,000 as executive principal and founder.

More examples are given in the Observer article here:

Over the last five years the number of academies has grown from 600 to more than 5,000, while the Education Funding Agency (EFA) the regulator that looks after the finances of academy trusts’ has seen staffing numbers slashed. The EFA dealt with 125% more financial returns in 2014-15 than the previous year, but had 20% fewer staff to deal with the increased workload.

Jon Richards, the head of education at UNISON, said the investigation revealed that the system was untenable: “The EFA, which oversees academy finances, isn’t a transparent organisation and with the increase in academy numbers it can’t cope anymore.

“We raised concerns with the EFA a year ago about the way finances were handled at the Bright Tribe Academy Trust, yet despite numerous attempts by us to keep track of progress, we have had no response. Eventually we were forced to refer our complaint to the National Audit Office, who immediately met with us and quickly but thoroughly investigated and lambasted the trust. 

“There are huge amounts of public money being shovelled around in the schools system and unless the EFA ups its game, plenty of unscrupulous people out there will help themselves.”