Criticism over ‘extravagant’ expenses at academy chain

NAHT general secretary Russell Hobby
NAHT general secretary Russell Hobby
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Bosses at one of the country’s largest school academy chains spent public funds on “large drinks bills, business lunches and first-class travel”, according to a new report.

Government auditors found that senior managers at E-Act, which sponsors 31 academies across the UK including four in Yorkshire, filed expense claims that “tended to extravagance”.

The report by the Education Funding Agency (EFA) said: 
“Expenses claims and use of 
corporate credit cards indicate a culture involving prestige 
venues, large drinks bills,
business lunches and first-class travel all funded by public money.”

Sir Bruce Liddington resigned as director general of the organisation, which sponsors two academies in Leeds, one in Featherstone and one in Sheffield, last month.

More than half of secondary schools in England are now academies, which are funded directly from the Department for Education and have more autonomy over finances, pay, curriculum and timetables.

The EFA’s report found that £393,000 was spent on “procedural irregularities” such as consultancy fees, which was against E-Act’s own rules. Some £237,000 of this was spent by Sir Bruce.

Meanwhile lunches took place every month at the Reform Club, a private members’ club in London.

A spokesman for E-Act said the report highlighted areas which were being addressed, such as the removal of company credit cards.

He said: “There is no question they are a cause for concern and no question that we are already addressing them.

“E-Act can absolutely assure its parents, staff and taxpayers that this will not be repeated. There have been several departures following this report. This is being dealt with root and branch.”

The findings were revealed as a leading union called for academy chains and local councils which fail to treat headteachers fairly to be publicly named-and-shamed under a new policy.

The National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) is calling for a new contract between school leaders and their employers, as part of a bid to improve schools.

The agreement, set to be debated at the union’s annual conference in Birmingham this weekend, will be a way to hold employers to account in return for a pledge by headteachers to lead their schools well and improve standards, it said.

If a resolution on the contract, called the Leadership Compact, is passed by delegates, then it will be adopted as NAHT policy.

The NAHT said it wants local councils and academy chains to sign up to the agreement, although the union’s general secretary, Russell Hobby, suggested it could also apply to other organisations, such as Ofsted and the Department for Education.

He insisted the union, which has about 28,500 members in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, and represents the majority of primary school heads, will be willing to publicly endorse those employers that sign up and adhere to the agreement.

“We will publicly endorse employers who join in this compact and, if necessary, we will warn about those who repeatedly violate it.

He said naming organisations which had not stuck to their end of the agreement would be “a last resort”.

Mr Hobby added: “Every day school leaders work tirelessly to provide the best education for the children in their charge.

“We have a right to work in an environment which enables us to perform at our best and where we can continually improve.

“If employers provide this environment, there are no limits on what school leaders can achieve. Justice and transparency are not incompatible with success, they are its foundation.”

The NAHT conference opened yesterday with parents being advised to give their children “lots of hugs”, play games and ensure youngsters get enough sleep.

The NAHT is are also urging families to eat dinner together and make time for homework, reading and talking. The advice is contained in a new leaflet.