An investigation into a multi academy trust which ran two failing schools has uncovered financial failings which include gifts, alcohol and hampers being purchased for staff and trustees on the trust’s charge card.
Investigators have also questioned why the Thrive Partnership Academy Trust spent £138,814 on branding and website design from the most expensive supplier to bid for the work.
The Department for Education has published a report today into the finance and governance at the trust 10 months after the investigation finished and after the trust has been shut down.
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The Thrive Partnership Academy Trust, which ran Philip Morant School in Colchester, and Colne Community School and College in Brightlingsea, was closed down at the end of last year.
The Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA) investigation was launched in May 2018 after it received several reports of concern about the management of the trust’s finances.
The report said investigators found a number of failings and weaknesses in financial management and governance arrangements that breach the Academies Financial Handbook.
- Poor procurement practices where the trust chose to appoint the most expensive of three potential suppliers for branding and website design.
- The report also suggests links between a firm the trust used and staff at one of its schools, which should have been declared in “existing trust staff interests” in the board minutes. However, the redacted report does not make clear whether this firm is the one which was chosen to design websites.
- “Potentially irregular” procurement expenditure in relation to gifts, hampers and alcohol being charged to hotel rooms. The report said this was requested by the chief executive of the trust. Recipients included an executive principal, the previous chair of the trust, a previous trustee and the former chair of Colne Community School.
- A lack of governance oversight which meant the chief executive and executive principal were in attendance and contributed to finance committee meetings.
- Recruitment of three senior staff being made without the trust board’s knowledge.
- Severance payments being made to staff with apparent capability/absence issues.
The report said that in March 2018, the same month in which the ESFA first received complaints about finance and governance, the Thrive Partnership Academy Trust board suspended both its chief executive and the executive principal, “without prejudice following allegations of inappropriate conduct and financial mismanagement”.
An independent investigation was commissioned by the trust. The ESFA said that the time of drafting its report, “the outcome of the work was not yet complete”.
Ofsted had rated Colne "outstanding" in 2013 and Philip Morant as "good" in 2015. However, they were both inspected again by Ofsted last year and judged to be "inadequate".