Councils unable to give details of what they spent millions on

COUNCILS have spent millions of pounds with Outwood Grange to improve the performance of their schools – but have been unable to provide detailed clarification of what they agreed to pay for.

Doncaster Council paid £537,861 to Outwood Grange’s private consultancy to provide specialist support to the failing North Doncaster Technology College (NDTC) after it went into special measures in 2008.

The council, in common with two other authorities which took out contracts with Outwood Grange, provided a spreadsheet to support the spending. Some of the more expensive elements, such as provision of an executive principal at £7,800 a month and a headteacher at £8,912 a month, were clear.

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But another column of spending was just described as “intervention expenses” at a cost of £1,286 a month, totalling £18,000 for the year-long contract. Asked what this was for, the council said it “does not have any information on the specifics of these expenses”.

The council confirmed Outwood Grange principal Michael Wilkins was the executive principal at NDTC, but said it did not hold any information on who had taken up other appointments or provided services referred to on the spreadsheet. NDTC has since become an academy, run by Outwood Grange under the leadership of Mr Wilkins.

Also included on the spreadsheet were four separate monthly payments, totalling £30,000, simply made to Outwood Grange College. Again, the council said it had no information on what this payment was for.

Doncaster Council’s director of the children and young people’s service, Chris Pratt, said: “With Outwood’s assistance, North Doncaster exited the Ofsted Special Measures category within the year which is ahead of normal expectations and met all the challenging targets set by HM Inspectorate.”

North Yorkshire County Council (NYCC) paid a total of £533,619 to Outwood Grange Consultancy for senior teachers and other services at Scalby School in Scarborough for a 20-month programme of support ending in August last year.

The Scalby spreadsheet included separate payments totalling £60,000 made to Outwood Grange College and £34,500 on “intervention expenses”. The council did not respond when asked to clarify what either category was for.

A total of £754,573 was paid to Outwood Grange College for specialist support at Harrogate High School which ran from April 2007 to August 2009. North Yorkshire County Council’s spreadsheets included £30,400 on “intervention expenses” and a series of payments to Outwood Grange itself amounting to £60,000, which the council did not clarify.

The spreadsheets for Harrogate High were the only ones provided by all three councils which did not include thousands of pounds for “accommodation”. It is not clear why these costs were not necessary for Harrogate.

A NYCC spokeswoman said: “In terms of accountability, Outwood Grange delivered what they said they would. This was regularly monitored and evaluated by the local authority. Outwood Grange was challenged to account for their work which they did and delivered agreed outcomes/improvements for the schools and the children.

“The local authority uses a range of approaches to school improvement very effectively. The work of Outwood Grange and other National Leaders in Education provides one way of working and was effective. It is, however, just one approach, and is comparatively high cost. The authority’s overall strategy for school improvement will continue to be diverse and, in financially challenged times, will always ensure that costs are sustainable and proportionate.”

Stockton Council’s spreadsheets were similar in design but did not cover the entire period of spending for one of the schools it contracted with.

The local authority is due to spend £654,189 with Outwood Grange for specialist support at St Patrick’s Catholic College running from February last year to this August.

The only spreadsheet it had available covered spending from September last year. It did not include a category for “intervention expenses” but did include a category identifying £40,000 for Outwood Grange Consultancy.

Stockton has also paid £723,586 to Outwood Grange Consultancy to run Thornaby Community School between April 2009 and last August. The spreadsheet including £25,000 for “intervention expenses” and a spread of payments totalling £55,000 for Outwood Grange College, even though the college ceased to exist in September 2009 and became an academy.

A Stockton Council spokesman said: “We have agreed an overall fee with Outwood Grange for all their services, so the schedule is merely for information. The headings taken from the schedule are those used by the contractor and not by the council. They do not refer to specific budget headings which the council would itself use or which are paid for as specific items. As such we would not do not hold a detailed explanation of each heading and the schedule is at most the contractor’s budget plan.”