Crisis-hit academy trust paid £80,000 to boss for four months’ work

Lord Agnew.
Lord Agnew.
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An interim chief executive at a crisis-hit trust running 21 schools in Yorkshire was paid more than £80,000 for less than four month’s work, it has emerged, as new reports reveal questions were raised over “inadequate” trust governance nearly a year before it failed.

The Wakefield City Academy Trust made a shock announcement last September, just days into the new term, that it would give up its schools to new trusts after its board concluded it was not able to bring about improvements its students deserved.

All 21 of the schools, across Wakefield and Doncaster, have since secured new sponsors.

Now, as new reports reveal interventions into its financial management and governance as far back as 2015, the Department for Education (DfE) says academy scrutiny has “significantly” increased since the trust’s demise, pledging improved oversight and “more robust” accountability.

“As these reports show, we take the use of public money very seriously and will not tolerate those who try to exploit the system for personal gain,” said Lord Agnew, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the School System.

Intervention in this case, Lord Agnew insisted, had led to improvements, stamped out conflicts of interest, and ensured the trust followed strict transparency rules.

“We will always take action to make sure young people get the best possible education, and parents should be reassured that WCAT is not representative of all academies – more than half a million children are now in good or outstanding academies that were typically previously underperforming schools thanks to innovative trusts across the country.”

The full reviews by the Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA), published yesterday by the DfE, reveal that investigations were carried out at the trust in 2015 and 2016.

It had been left in an extremely vulnerable position, reports concluded, as a result of “inadequate” governance and financial management, while a lack of transparency had raised questions over the independence of the board.

The trust had been thrown into disarray in 2015 in the wake of whistle-blower allegations, reports revealed, resulting in the resignation of an academy principal and, later, the trust’s chief executive.

It also revealed that interim chief executive Mike Ramsay had been paid rates including overtime that would have equated to an annual salary of £282,000, and had been offered an ‘off-payroll’ salary, in breach of rules.

Claims were previously made that the organisation transferred millions of pounds from some of the individual academies to its own accounts.

But crucially, it has now emerged that the trust, later accused of asset-stripping schools, had been advised by the Government to pool its surplus into a central fund.

It total, details emerged of 16 breaches, including a failure to agree balanced budgets and a failure over financial management.

A spokesman for Wakefield City Academies Trust said: “A new trust board, appointed in July 2016, acknowledged the issues highlighted by the ESFA reports. The DfE recognises the new board ‘immediately took appropriate action’ to address those financial and governance issues.

“A robust action plan addressed and resolved the concerns. The new board’s approach has been effective. WCAT’s latest published accounts for 2016/17 received a clean audit and those for 2017/18 are expected to show a surplus position.

“The board also oversaw a review and evaluation of the trust’s educational outputs and accepted in September, 2017, it did not have the capacity to facilitate the rapid improvement of its academies. The board is now focused on overseeing an orderly and solvent winding up procedure in the current financial year.”