Exclusive: Academy chains take £9m from schools’ budgets as chiefs cash in

Academy schools have taken millions from Yorkshire's budgets
Academy schools have taken millions from Yorkshire's budgets
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EXPANDING academy chains have taken millions of pounds from Yorkshire schools’ budgets while paying their own top bosses higher salaries than the Prime Minister.

Figures obtained by the Yorkshire Post show that around £9m has been top-sliced in the past three years from primary and secondary academies in the region in order to pay for chains’ central services – which include wages of several chief executives who earned more than £150,000 and a director-general whose take home pay was around £280,000 a year.

Four of the biggest chains operating in Yorkshire – Academies Enterprise Trust (AET), E-ACT, School Partnership Trust Academies (SPTA) and Outwood Grange Academies Trust – have all paid their most senior figures salaries greater than the £142,500 earned by David Cameron.

Since the coalition Government expanded the programme in 2010, both the number of academies run outside of council control and the number run by academy chains has increased sharply in Yorkshire. There are now almost 300 academies in the region, with more than 60 schools operating within larger chains.

AET and E-ACT are both national multi-academy chains operating in Yorkshire while Outwood and SPTA are organisations which have grown from two successful secondary schools in Wakefield and Garforth.

A Yorkshire Post investigation shows E-ACT has taken £2.9m out of its four schools in the region while paying its former director general Sir Bruce Liddington almost double the Prime Minister as well as six-figure salaries to 15 members of staff.

Outwood has taken £3.8m from six schools while paying four members of its team six-figure salaries – including chief executive Michael Wilkins, who earns £182,094.

AET is the biggest sponsor nationally and has just taken on eight schools in Yorkshire. It has retained £296,000 from its schools in the region while paying 19 staff six-figure salaries, including a top wage of between £240,000 and £249,999.

The SPTA did not provide exact figures to the Yorkshire Post but its latest annual accounts suggest it will have retained around £2m from 23 schools last year – by taking a 3.9 per cent slice of each academy’s grant funding from the Government. However, SPTA said not all of the grant money for schools published in its accounts was included in the calculation when taking out a 3.9 per cent share. Its chief executive, Sir Paul Edwards, was paid between £160,000 and £165,000.

Academy chiefs say the money they take from their institutions is less than local councils retain from their schools.

But unions have raised concerns about how accountable academy group spending is in light of the number of the high earners within these chains and after one of the national groups, E-ACT, was given a financial notice to improve by the Government.

It followed a critical audit report which accused the academy sponsor of having weak financial controls and a culture of credit card and expense claims for spending on prestige venues and first-class travel.

Its chair of trustees, Dr Ann Limb, said the chain planned to reduce the amount it top-sliced in future. She also indicated that a new chief executive being recruited to lead the organisation would earn considerably less than the former director general’s pay.

E-ACT, which has sponsored Leeds West Academy and Parkwood Academy, in Sheffield, since 2009 and took on Leeds East Learning Academy in 2011 and the Purston E-Act Academy in Featherstone last year, has also vowed to build a “culture of transparency and integrity”.

Outwood Grange’s Academies Trust told the Yorkshire Post that Mr Wilkins has voluntarily frozen his salary since 2009.

It also defended the level of the salary, adding: “It is clear that remuneration should reflect performance and it has been demonstrated year after year that Outwood Grange Academies Trust is having a significant and positive impact on the results of previously failing schools.”

The statement said the average increase in the number of pupils getting at least five A* to C grades including English and maths was 14 per cent across the group.

The Essex-based Academies AET is now the biggest academy sponsor in England, having gone from sponsoring four schools in 2008 to running more than 70 across the country now and expecting to have reached 80 later this year.

Figures show that the number of staff members earning six-figure salaries has risen almost fivefold in the space of two years.

It started sponsoring schools in Yorkshire only at the start of this academic year but already has acquired eight primary schools in Barnsley, Bradford, Hull and Leeds with another two secondary academies in Barnsley, one in Leeds and another in Sheffield set to convert.

Last summer AET reached an agreement with the Government not to take on any more new schools, but has denied reports that the DfE had banned it from running more academies.