£1 million for non-existent students at Barnfield – and the out-going CEO got golden handshake
You wait for months for a report and two come along at once. The Educational Funding Agency (EFA) and Skills Funding Agency (SFA) have published their findings into alleged financial irregularities at Barnfield Federation.
1 The Federation received nearly £1m for non-existent students.
2 The structure of the Federation was complex: this included a “shared service vehicle” which was not properly overseen.
3 There was poor attendance at Corporation board meetings: in 2013 the average absence rate was 49%.
4 Certain executives received high pay rises without proper oversight.
5 The former Principal, who resigned on 1 May 2013, was offered a lump sum which equalled his annual bonus, an extra month’s holiday, his expensive company car and a further non-contractual lump sum as a sweetener to sign a “compromise agreement”. But as the former Principal had resigned there was no need for such an agreement.
6 The Acting Chair of Barnfield Academies Trust (BAT) agreed part of the settlement would be paid by BAT but the BAT Board hadn’t agreed to this when the compromise agreement was signed.
7 The BAT Acting Chair, a solicitor, negotiated settlement terms with the former Principal and his solicitors – the SFA has concerns about independence of the advice.
8 Items of expenditure at the academies were “irregular and improper, not for the purpose intended” and didn’t represent good value for money.
9 Proper procurement procedure wasn’t always followed.
10 There were conflicts of interest.
11 Evidence of Board meetings or budget approvals for Barnfields Moorlands Free School or the Barnfield Skills Academy couldn’t be found.
12 There were breaches of Charity Commission rules about payments to trustees.
13 Company House records weren’t kept up-to-date: Barnfield Business and Enterprise Studio School’s name was changed to Barnfield Skills Academy but no formal resolution existed (the school had so many names that a local paper thought there were two different schools – see here).
The former principal, Sir Peter Burkett, was knighted for “outstanding service to further education and the academy movement”. Education Secretary Michael Gove named him as one of his “Magnificent Seven” and held the Barnfield Federation up as an example for others to follow. Barnfield Federation was named best “School operator – academy chain” for 2013 by Education Investor and Ofsted said the Barnfield Executive Board provided “outstanding governance” to Barnfield Moorlands Free School.
But two official reports contradict these former judgements.
Sandy Upper School is now in limbo. It was due to be taken over by Barnfield on 1 April 2014 although Barnfield had in effect been running the school since September despite not being the formal sponsor. According to a local paper Barnfield “forced” pupils to drop GCSE options. The Department for Education (DfE) has now withdrawn the sponsorship but it’s unclear who is now responsible for the school.
The Governing Body held a meeting on 27 February 2013 – there is no information yet about the outcome.