Sunday, October 22, 2017

Schooled in profits

Wakefield City Academies Trust now stands accused of “asset stripping” after it transferred millions of pounds of the schools’ savings to its own accounts before collapsing.

Hemsworth Arts and Community Academy, a mixed secondary school in Pontefract, had £220,000 of funds, raised by volunteers at Christmas markets and other school events, transferred to the trust’s accounts earlier this year. It also saw a further £216,000, which had been held back for capital investment, moved over. “It’s not the trust’s money. It’s our money,” said a former governor at the school. “It’s money for the people in the area, their children and their grandchildren. It wasn’t for them to take.”

Heath View primary school in Wakefield had £300,000 transferred to the trust in September 2016. Another school, Wakefield City Academy, had more than £800,000 transferred towards the end of 2015. In both cases, the trust told the schools’ governors that the transfer was a loan. 

 “This money was our rainy day money,” said Kevin Swift, chair of the Wakefield City Academy's local governing body. “It wasn’t just left under the mattress. It was money that we had anticipated we would have a very definite need for.”

High Crags Academy primary school in Shipley was instructed by the DfE to join the trust in April 2016 after being put into special measures the previous year. When it joined it had a surplus of £178,000, which was immediately moved to centralised accounts. Eric Fairchild, chair of the school’s local governing body, said that on at least two occasions the governors had asked if its surpluses were being used to shore up the trust’s accounts. They were reassured that their money was ring-fenced and safe. “I believe that it is grossly immoral that our surplus funds are being effectively taken away from the children of our school who, in very many cases, are very deprived,” said Fairchild.

Parents, teachers and governors say the financial problems at the Wakefield City Academies Trust had been clear for nearly a year before it collapsed. In November 2016 a draft DfE report leaked to the Times Education Supplement stated that the trust was in an “extremely vulnerable position as a result of inadequate governance, leadership and overall financial management”. The draft raised concerns that the chief executive, Mike Ramsay, had been paid more than £82,000 for 15 weeks’ work, despite the fact that the trust was facing a large budget deficit. The previous month, it had emerged that the trust had paid almost £440,000 to IT and clerking companies owned by Ramsay and his daughter. 

Speaking at a public meeting of parents, teachers and trade unionists in Doncaster last Thursday, National Education Union activist Sally Kincaid said the trust was guilty of “asset stripping” its schools, which had been instructed to only spend money on “essential items”.
“The amount of money that has been taken out of those schools is scandalous,” she said. “The schools are not allowed to spend a penny at the moment, on anything, whether it’s bits of paper or pens. We’ve got GCSE students having to use the back of last year’s kids’ work to do their work on for this year. We are not football teams. We are not part of the transfer market, where we can be transferred from one multi-academy trust to another,” Kincaid said last week. “It’s not good enough.”

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