Staff member brands academy trust boss’s £1,000 US Apple trip “disgusting”

A Hull academy trust has been criticised after spending more than £1,000 for its boss to fly to an Apple conference in the US.

Auditors said spending £1,021 on the premium economy flights for Estelle MacDonald, the chief executive of the Hull Collaborative Academy Trust (HCAT), could be deemed excessive, its accounts show.

Mrs MacDonald, who earns more £200,000 a year, travelled to America along with fellow chief executives from other multi-academy trusts.

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A staff member at HCAT, who asked not to be named, called the spending “disgusting”, while a senior union official branded it a waste of money.

The Marvell College academy, in Barham Road, Hull. Picture is from Google Street View,The Marvell College academy, in Barham Road, Hull. Picture is from Google Street View,
The Marvell College academy, in Barham Road, Hull. Picture is from Google Street View,

HCAT runs 16 schools across Hull and the East Riding, including Marvell College and the primary schools Pearson, Longhill, Bellfield and Dorchester, in Hull, and Withernsea and Gilberdyke, in the East Riding.

Other primary schools run by the trust include Collingwood, Eastfield, Stockwell, Sutton Park, Thoresby, Wansbeck, Westcott and Wheeler, all in Hull, as well as Malton, in North Yorkshire.

A total of £1,021 was spent on the premium economy flights, an upgrade from standard economy tickets, the accounts for the year up to August 2022 state. Other costs included transport and an overnight stay at the departure airport, though details of these were not specified.

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Auditors flagged the spending on the flights as a regularity issue, meaning it raised questions over whether public money was being spent for the purposes intended by Parliament.

In the independent reporting accountant’s assurance report, it is stated: “This is a regularity issue identified, as the upgrade flight costs could be seen as excessive and unnecessary expenditure and may not be in line with the trust achieving the best value for money.”

The trust spokesperson said the Department for Education was aware of the spending. The spokesperson said: “The trust has spent a lot of time reviewing this with trustees and members and is reviewing all relevant policies in line with this review, the DfE are aware of this and we consider this matter closed.”

However, a critical HCAT staff member said the spending had come as trust schools were struggling for resources. The staff member said: “It’s disgusting, where are the kids in all this?

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“That £1,000 would buy a lot of glue sticks. We’re concerned because money is going on things like this and not the children in the schools.”

Mrs MacDonald received £205,000 to £210,000 in remunerations in the year up to August 2022, the accounts show. In 2016, she was awarded an OBE for services to education.

Tim Toepritz, an national executive member of the NASUWT teachers’ union, said unnecessary spending had become more commonplace in education sector.

He added: “Taxpayers’ money is for the public good. Flights to the US are a profligate waste of public money.

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“During a cost of living crisis, many families struggle even to afford school uniforms. It is essential that public money be spent on the most vulnerable children in our society rather than pampering privileged and over-paid trust executives.”

Patrick Roach, the NASUWT General Secretary, said: “It is vital that multi-academy trusts demonstrate the highest standards of financial accountability and probity. This is public money and the Government should leave no stone unturned in ensuring that public money is spent appropriately at all times.”

According to Schools Week, an education industry publication, as many as 200 school leaders are estimated to have attended Apple events, which are billed as professional development conferences.

A spokesperson for the HCAT trust told Schools Week that Mrs MacDonald’s trip was part of an exercise to see how Apple products could be used in the ICT curriculum.

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The spokesperson said the trip had been taken ahead of the launch of a trust-wide initiative which would see huge advances in ICT and the wider curriculum, but did not specify what the “huge advances” were.

The flights were approved before the trip and the other expenses were in line with existing policies, the spokesperson added.

“On review, the additional cost incurred for the flights was in the region of £300. The trust is reviewing policies linked to travel, staff development and training… with a view to ensuring this does not happen again,” the spokesperson told Schools Week.

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