Stung by the cuts, Schools Network goes bust

1st June 2012 at 01:00
The charity will continue under its old name following a buyout

The Schools Network, once one of the biggest players in English education, was forced into administration this week after suffering losses from shrinking school budgets and government cutbacks.

The charity has been in the hands of auditors for several weeks but the decision to finally file for bankruptcy came only on Monday afternoon. The group will continue to exist as a new company, reverting back to its former name, the Specialist Schools and Academies Trust (SSAT), after a management buyout.

The buyout was led by its chief executive Sue Williamson, who said that the combination of the economic crisis and the subsequent government cuts had forced the Schools Network to go bust. About 400 of its member schools left the network following cuts to school budgets.

"No one realised we would be in the economic climate we are in now, and as a result there is very little contract work out there," Ms Williamson said. "We tried to keep it from going under, but now we have taken this decision to stage a management buyout I am extremely confident for the future of the SSAT."

At its peak, the organisation had grown to 400 staff with a turnover of about #163;100 million. It won a major government contract to deliver Labour's diploma programme, but the victory turned out to be fateful as the qualifications were scrapped when the coalition was formed.

The network's substantial overheads also played a part in its downfall, not least its central London offices in Millbank Tower overlooking the Thames, which, it is understood, were costing the charity #163;1.4 million a year.

John Dunford, a former board member of the charity when it was first called the SSAT, said that it had been a "victim of its own expansion". "However, there are some extremely capable people there and it certainly has a future using its expertise in school improvement," he said.

The organisation was formed as the City Technology Colleges Trust in the late 1980s, but its empire grew rapidly under Labour with the introduction of specialist schools and academies. As the SSAT, it gained a high profile, partly because of its outspoken former chairman Sir Cyril Taylor, who had been an adviser to successive education secretaries, both Tory and Labour.

The body's current international arm, trading mainly out of Abu Dhabi, has staged its own management buyout and will trade as a separate company called the SSAT Middle East.

The SSAT in England will continue to employ 70 staff with a budget of about #163;10 million and is expected to move to new, cheaper offices in central London.

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