Profit before pupils: Panorama investigates
Money for repairs at Bright Tribe academies not spent as expected
An investigation by BBC Panorama, to be aired tonight, found public money given to the now-notorious Bright Tribe Education Trust for repairs and upgrades was not spent as expected.
The most well-known example of neglect is Whitehaven Academy where rebuilding issues preceded Bright Tribe’s takeover of Whitehaven School. But a planned amalgamation which would have resulted in a new £33m building was scuppered when Bright Tribe withdrew.
Whitehaven Academy was not alone, Panorama has discovered. Bright Tribe received £566k to remove and replace unsafe walls in Colchester Academy’s sports centre, but Schools Week, reporting on the Panorama findings, says repairs ‘using metal braces’ were done instead. This much cheaper work is reputed to have cost just £60k.
DfE gave money to Bright Tribe for expansion
Bright Tribe received £25k in transfer fees when it took over Colchester Academy in 2015/16. But this wasn’t the only extra money which the Department for Education (DfE) gave to Bright Tribe. In 2016/17, the Trust received £241k in a bail-out grant for the now-closed Greater Manchester Sustainable Engineering UTC. Earlier, in November 2015, the DfE gave Bright Tribe £1m to expand in the ‘Northern Hub’. This was despite the DfE having received whistleblower allegations in July 2015 about financial impropriety at Bright Tribe.
Schools minister Lord Agnew told Panorama that 95% of academy trusts had no financial issues and the DfE wouldn’t tolerate dodgy financial dealing in academy trusts. But questions about Bright Tribe were raised before it was given £1m for expansion and before it was given permission to take over more academies including the troubled Grindon Hall in Tyne and Wear.
The DfE, as well as academy trusts acting similarly to Bright Tribe, would do well to take more care with public money.
Panorama will be shown tonight at 8.30 pm