Champagne, #163;176. Orient Express, #163;499. But head insists he had council's permission

17th June 2011 at 01:00
Teacher rewards branded 'excessive' were part of 'team-building' exercise, he claims

A secondary headteacher who gave rewards to his teachers including a trip for two on the Orient Express defended his actions this week.

Speaking to The TES, Michael Wilkins, principal of Outwood Grange Academy in Wakefield, hit out at claims that he and his governing body acted "extravagantly" or "excessively" in rewarding staff.

Mr Wilkins found himself at the centre of a media storm after a council probe into the school's finances before it converted to an academy.

Concerns were first raised when the Yorkshire Post revealed Mr Wilkins had received #163;1 million of public money over four years in consultancy payments for his work to raise standards across nearly half a dozen schools in the area.

And, according to an audit carried out later by Wakefield Council, Outwood Grange spent #163;499 sending a teacher and her partner on a trip on the Orient Express.

The audit report questioned the motives behind the school spending #163;176 on 22 bottles of champagne to treat staff after good exam results.

But Mr Wilkins refuted any claim of "excessive rewards", adding that the secondary had been given the go-ahead by Wakefield Council to make "team-building and motivation payments" from the school's purse.

He added that a great deal of local animosity towards the school stemmed from its decision to switch to academy status.

"There was a day trip to Edinburgh on the Orient Express for someone who had been at the school for 25 years and had fantastic exam results and was about to retire," Mr Wilkins said.

"We actually sought advice from Wakefield Council in November 2004 regarding team-building and we asked their permission about motivation payments, and Wakefield confirmed in writing that the payments could be made and that they should be made from the school fund."

Mr Wilkins added that his staff give more than 6,000 additional, unpaid hours to the school through after-school clubs, which, if paid, would amount to #163;3.50 an hour.

The principal also hit back at reports that spending #163;176 on champagne for his staff was in "excessive", stating that the school had managed a complete turnaround.

"Outwood Grange exam results had gone from the bottom 10 per cent to the top 10 per cent in the country," Mr Wilkins said. "And we celebrated because we had half a million deficit when I arrived and we quickly paid it off, and when our exam results started to pick up we celebrated with our teaching staff and support staff."

He added: "But when you consider we have 290 staff, it works out at 60 pence per person. In no way is that excessive."

Wakefield Council chief executive Joanne Roney said the local authority acted as soon as it was aware of "potential mismanagement".

"As a result of our audit we have uncovered a practice and culture of excessive rewards with, in our opinion, weak public accountability," she said.

"This report raises many serious issues about the use of public money, the scale and range of the payments made, and the extent to which some individuals gained. For this reason we will be referring all relevant information to the Audit Commission, HMRC, Charity Commission, and other appropriate bodies for their consideration."

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