Wakefield councillors demand inquiry into failed WCAT chain – DfE is ultimately responsible

Janet Downs's picture

Academies should be able to return to local authority support if they wish, voted Wakefield councillors after a passionate debate* on the failure of Wakefield City Academies Trust (WCAT).

Labour councillors stood up to condemn the ‘poor level of accountability’ of multi-academy trusts (MATs).  Where was the oversight, the due diligence, the scrutiny?

The DfE must accept responsibility and not seek to brush the WCAT affair aside by rebrokering WCAT academies, councillors argued.  The goings-on at WCAT should be ‘fully exposed’ before WCAT was erased from history.

Councillors argued that reserves built up by individual academies should be returned to the schools.  These, together with money which one councillor claimed was allocated to refurbishment, had been given in ‘loans’ to WCAT.  One councillor alleged that governors at one of WCAT’s academies had been asked to make a loan without it going ‘through the books’.

The Education Funding Agency (EFA) published a report in July 2016 which recorded 23 breaches of academy rules by WCAT, one councillor said. 

Councillors had tried to contact Vicky Beer, the area’s Regional School Commissioner (RSC), on several occasions but had been ‘stonewalled’.

RSCs were ‘shadowy figures’, said one councillor, and there was widespread ignorance about their existence.  Yet they had the power to intervene in academy trusts and rebroker academies.  WCAT academies had now been rebrokered but councillors complained the takeover MATs were being imposed.

The Conservative Group Leader on the council defended MATs.  They were the right way to raise educational attainment.  That was why the schools with the top ten Progress 8 scores were all MATs.  This isn’t true – the top ten included two local authority maintained schools.  But such claims don’t really prove the superiority of a particular type of school.  The top ten included faith schools, non-faith schools, converter academies, sponsored academies, free schools and LA maintained schools.  Take your pick.    

Councillors voted for a Public Inquiry into the fall of WCAT and alleged irregularities to be referred to the police.

According to Schools Week, Education Secretary Justine Greening promised local MPs there would be a ‘forensic analysis’ by auditors into WCAT’s collapse.

That’s somewhat short of a Public Inquiry

WCAT accounts for year ending 31 August 2016 reveal the EFA visited WCAT in July and September 2015 and found WCAT had ‘made good progress…in establishing a more robust financial and control framework’ but needed to build on this and ensure full compliance with the Academies Handbook. 

The EFA must have known that WCAT didn’t have a robust financial framework before July 2015 – two years ago.    Yet the following September the then Education Secretary Nicky Morgan awarded WCAT a share of £10m to ‘promote educational excellence’.   And the EFA still allowed WCAT to take on more academies – five joined in 2016.

Perhaps the Public Inquiry should be widened to investigate the role of the DfE in the WCAT fiasco and whether it was negligent in allowing WCAT to receive additional funding and to continue taking on academies.

*Watch the meeting here (about ten minutes in)

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