REVELATIONS over the management of the charity fund of a Yorkshire school follow a series of exposes surrounding how it obtained millions of pounds of public money and paid its superhead an average of more than £190,000 a year.
Outwood Grange has negotiated deals worth almost £3.4m over the last four years from town halls across Yorkshire to send in staff to improve struggling schools.
The work, carried out through the National Leaders of Education programme, has resulted in the publicly-funded Wakefield school generating around £1m in profit.
A Yorkshire Post investigation into the payments regime at Outwood has previously revealed more than £750,000 has been paid directly to its principal Michael Wilkins through both his salary – which has risen from £105,000 to £182,000 over the four-year period – and a further £148,000 paid to the headteacher’s personal consultancy firm.
It has now emerged that the majority of cash paid to Mr Wilkins’s company Challenge Leadership Ltd was not paid directly by the school but through a school charity fund which Outwood used to bank hundreds of thousands of pounds earned through NLE work without telling the Charity Commission.
Outwood Grange has acknowledged Mr Wilkins’s average pay over the four years of its NLE work was £191,256 – which is £50,000 more than the current salary of the Prime Minister. He also received a one-off payment of £14,000 as a car user allowance and £7,000 to help buy a flat in York.
The payments to Mr Wilkins’s company were challenged by Wakefield Council which launched an audit into the school’s finances after it emerged Outwood Grange had failed to pass on money which has been raised for outside charities.
The council’s probe contended that the consultancy payments to Mr Wilkins’s firm were not properly approved by governors and said Outwood Grange, which became an autonomous academy in 2009, should claw back £90,000 from him.
The audit found that there had been a breakdown in the appropriate standards of governance and accountability at the school. It also criticised Outwood Grange for a staff rewards culture which saw “significant sums” paid on overseas trips, hotels and meals out – including a trip for two on the Orient Express and bottles of champagne bought from France for a celebratory toast.
At the time the audit was published, Wakefield Council’s chief executive Joane Roney said: “We have uncovered a practice and culture of excessive rewards, with, in our opinion, weak public accountability. This report raises many serious issues about the use of public money, the scale and range of payments made, and the extent to which some individuals gained.”
However Outwood Grange rejected claims made by Wakefield Council’s audit. The school accused the authority of taking a hostile approach to the school since it opted out of their control and became an independently-run academy.
It also said that the payments made to Mr Wilkins’s private consultancy had been properly authorised. Although Mr Wilkins received his full pay for working at Outwood while he was also spending considerable time working away at other schools, Outwood has defended his remuneration on the basis of his increased responsibilities and workload. Two of the councils which commissioned Outwood and Mr Wilkins to deliver NLE work have since launched their own internal inquiries into how the expensive deals were agreed.
Doncaster Council found the authority had broken a raft of public spending rules when it agreed to give more than half-a-million pounds to Outwood Grange.
Internal auditors revealed that no contract had been signed and no competition had been sought for the lucrative deal. Stockton’s audit revealed it paid £628,000 to Outwood Grange to provide expert support at one of its schools without a contract to underpin the spending while North Yorkshire County Council has said it cannot rely on NLEs in future as they are too expensive.