Major MAT saw third of schools fall into the red last year

Astrea academy trust publishes financial accounts late after calling in forensic auditors

More than a third of Astrea schools were in deficit last year.

A major academy trust saw more than a third of its schools record a deficit in 2017-18, its delayed financial accounts have revealed.

Astrea, which has schools in Yorkshire and Cambridgeshire and has taken on some schools from the failed Wakefield City Academies Trust, failed to publish the document on its website by the Department for Education's 31 January deadline.

At the time, it said it was so that forensic auditors could carry out a more detailed review following its expansion.


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The trust has now filed an unqualified set of accounts, signed off by its auditors on 8 March, which shows an increase in the number of its schools in deficit.

In 2016-17, just one of the 18 schools that it ran at the time had a deficit: Edenthorpe Hall Academy, in Doncaster, which had a £19,000 deficit.

For 2017-18, eight of the 21 schools it then ran were in deficit.

One school, Cottenham Village College in Cambridgeshire, had a £515,000 deficit in 2017-18, compared to a £94,000 surplus in the previous year.

Another school, Netherwood Academy, in Barnsley, saw a £429,000 surplus in 2016-17 become a £321,000 deficit in 2017-18.

The accounts do not explain why the schools went into deficit, but say: “Academies that are in deficit are monitored and plans are in place to return these to a surplus position.”

In addition, the accounts show that the trust spent £1.09 million more on central services than the money it received from its academies to pay for them. This deficit was up from £798,000 the previous year.

Astrea’s central team provides CPD, IT, HR, data analysis and finance support to its academies, for which they are charged a 6.5 per cent top slice of their DfE funding.

The accounts say: “This percentage charge to individual academies doesn’t cover all of this support or expertise to academies. As a trust, we feel that this staff expertise and support is necessary for the academies and there is no need to increase the percentage contribution at this stage.”

The accounts add that the trust increased the staffing in its central team so that it could increase its capacity before a number of new schools joined it in 2018-19.

The accounts also reveal that Astrea has linked the salary of its highest-paid member of staff to that of newly qualified teachers.

They say: “In order to ensure fairness and equity throughout the organisation, it was proposed that job roles should be banded relative to that of the salary of a newly qualified teacher.

“The highest-paid role will not exceed seven times that of a newly qualified teacher.”

Chief executive Libby Nicholas is recorded as receiving £170,001-180,000 last year, compared to £130,001-140,000 the year before.

However, the accounts say this did not represent a pay rise, but “reflects a reconciliation of a contractual obligation which was overlooked in financial year 2016-17 and rectified in year 2017-18.”

It says that for the last three years, her salary has “remained at the point on which she was appointed in January 2016”.

A spokesperson for Astrea said: “The majority of schools have joined us with significant deficits and it typically takes us around seven months to get a primary school back on track financially and a secondary around a year and a half.

"We have real expertise in this space and even in just the first six months of this academic year, we have clawed back £2.3m of deficits from the academies that joined our family in September.

"This is done through rigorous curriculum-led financial planning to ensure that every penny we spend is contributing to our goal of an education that inspires beyond measure.”

 

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