Fresh calls have been made for an investigation into the running and financing of a beleaguered academy chain amid fears schools are unlikely to ever see the return of millions of pounds – including money raised by parents.
Governors have told The Yorkshire Post they fear the cash given to Wakefield City Academies Trust (WCAT) which had been built up for equipment and resources was “dead and gone”.
Some of the money had been raised through fairs and fundraising and was earmarked to support disadvantaged children to purchase uniforms and go on school trips. WCAT made a shock announcement days into the new school term last September that it was pulling out of running all of its 21 Yorkshire schools after the trust’s board said it could not provide the quality of education its pupils deserved.
Claims have since been made that money from its schools, including £2m between those in Bradford and at least £1.5m among those in Wakefield, was channelled into the trust’s central finances. Now as the academic year enters its final weeks, The Yorkshire Post has learnt the schools are still to receive confirmation over how much money they will get back, prompting new demands for a public investigation into what went wrong with WCAT and into oversight and accountability within the whole academy system.
Hemsworth Academy had £200,000 which had been raised over several years through fairs and fundraising, and £216,000 from a capital fund for future building work, transferred to the trust. Similarly, £300,000 from Heath View school in Wakefield, which is now Park Hill, had been earmarked for school improvements.
High Crags in Shipley built up a surplus of £276,000 after a spending moratorium was imposed by the trust – which MP Philip Davies told MPs at education questions had then been transferred to the trust.
Mike Pollard, a Bradford councillor and governor at High Crags,, said: “It’s money that our school is never going to see again.”
Jon Trickett, MP for Hemsworth, where four primary schools and one secondary were run by WCAT, said: “There’s a lot of unanswered questions and it is time that the full truth came out about what happened. Why wasn’t the school system able to deliver for the children? It is for the Government to provide those answers.”
A Department for Education spokesman said new trusts had now been confirmed for 20 of the 21 Wakefield City Academy Trust schools. “Once all the schools have been transferred, WCAT will focus on the orderly wind-up of the trust, with oversight from the Education and Skills Funding Agency and the Department,” the spokesman added.
The department has previously said WCAT was taking a “trust-wide” perspective of its finances.
It looked at allegations of assets being moved “inappropriately” from WCAT schools but had found “no evidence of this”.
A police investigation also found that no crimes were committed when the trust suddenly stopped running the 21 schools.
This followed a motion passed by Wakefield Council calling for police to investigate the organisation’s finances. Accounts published at the start of the year show it is expected WCAT will return a surplus when it is wound up and the Government has said it will work with the schools’ new trusts to redistribute any cash left over.
The Wakefield City Academies Trust (WCAT) announced in September last year that it was pulling out of running all of its 21 schools.
The Government has pledged that all affected schools will have new leadership by the end of the academic year, with all but one already transferred to new trusts. In March, the Government’s Academies Minister Lord Agnew said a leading accountancy firm had found “no evidence of financial wrongdoing” after being hired to look at WCAT’s financial position. It followed the publication of WCAT’s annual accounts in January, in which the organisation declared itself to be “financially solvent”.