Six things we learned about embattled academy trusts

Several investigations underway at Bright Tribe, as boss apologises for past failings

John Roberts

durand, bright tribe, dunraven, angela barry, david boyle, john wentworth, pac, public accounts committee, academies, multi-academy trusts,

Two academy trusts that have been engulfed in controversy have been the focus of a public spending watchdog today.

Academy officials who are now responsible for Durand and Bright Tribe faced questions from MPs on the Public Accounts Committee.

Bright Tribe is giving up all of its schools after being embroiled in financial controversy and following opposition from parents at one of its high-profile schools.

The government is said to be trying to claw back up to £321,775 from Bright Tribe because it does not have proof that funding was spent on its intended purpose.

Durand Academy in Stockwell, south London, was transferred to Dunraven Educational Trust and renamed Van Gogh Primary in September, following years of bitter disputes with the Department for Education about conflicts of interest and executive pay levels.

Here are six things we learned about the two trusts today.

1. Several investigations are being conducted into Bright Tribe spending

Angela Barry, the interim chief executive of Bright Tribe, told MPs that several investigations were being carried out, which have been commissioned by the trust’s current management.

She told MPs that when she joined the trust, an investigation into controversial contracts and costs related to the installation of LED lighting and a boiler at Whitehaven Academy in Cumbria had been stopped.

Ms Barry said that she advised the chair of the trust at the time that this was a mistake. It has since been relaunched.

She confirmed that a report into Whitehaven by a consultant engineer had been completed, but added that she was reluctant to release it at this stage, as it was part of “a bigger picture”.

Ms Barry said she expected the full suite of investigations to be completed before Christmas. She also told MPs that she had not had to contact the police as a result of her work at Bright Tribe.

She apologised on behalf of people no longer in post for the past mistakes made by Bright Tribe.

2. Bright Tribe boss says Whitehaven Academy building is in an 'embarrassing' condition

MPs were told that the fabric of Whitehaven Academy was not good and that it was “professionally embarrassing” that the building had been allowed to get into the condition it has.

Ms Barry said that asbestos management at Bright Tribe was “not as it should have been”.

She said that the trust’s previous management had taken control of school sites away from individual schools and transferred it to the trust’s facilities management.

Copeland MP Trudy Harrison had previously raised concern about the condition of Whitehaven Academy – warning that children were being forced to work in 36C heat because faulty classroom windows had been nailed shut.

3. Pupils ‘had to use their phones’ because the school’s IT didn’t work

Retired teacher and former school governor Judy Davidson told MPs that Whitehaven Academy pupils had been forced to use their own phones because its computers didn’t work.

She also said that teachers had been forced to pay for their own photocopying. 

Earlier this year, Ms Harrison told education secretary Damian Hinds that the nuclear industry had stepped in to provide computers at the school due to the failings of the multi-academy trust that runs it.

4. DfE offered trusts more than £900,000 to take over Durand

It was revealed that Dunraven Educational Trust was offered £918,000 from Durand’s reserves to take on the school.

Dunraven chief executive David Boyle said this was to pay for building issues related to asbestos, as well as a boiler.

He told MPs that he understood that this offer had also been made to the Harris Federation academy chain, which had been due to take on Durand.

John Wentworth, a trustee of Durand, said that the asbestos issue had come to light as a result of the due diligence carried out by Harris when it was considering taking on Durand.

Mr Boyle also said Dunraven had been given just 48 hours to decide whether to take on Durand after Harris dropped out.

5. Durand suffered a ‘catastrophic failure in governance’

Mr Wentworth told MPs that Durand had experienced a “catastrophic failure of governance”.

He said: “There was a leadership there that had a very firm view of themselves and very clear view of their own abilities, and I think [they] didn’t particularly see the need for effective governance. 

"This was particularly short-sighted. Any good academy leader would be working to make sure there was effective oversight and effective governance because it is in everybody’s best interests."

When Public Accounts Committee chair Meg Hillier MP said she had heard a governance review was being carried out, Mr Wentworth replied that he believed this would be very helpful.

He also suggested the school system could start using professional governors.

6. 'Most' money from Durand's leisure centre is going to its ex-head

MPs heard that the private leisure centre and two accommodation blocks on the grounds of what was Durand Academy are still owned by Durand Education Trust, despite the school being taken over by Dunraven.

They were told that these assets generate about £400,000 per year, but that "most" of this was being spent on an £850,000 severance package for its former head, Sir Greg Martin.

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John Roberts

John Roberts

John Roberts is North of England reporter for Tes

Find me on Twitter @JohnGRoberts

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