EXCLUSIVE: £686k given to Trust with over 50 academies in financial support

Janet Downs's picture

ULT surprise name among academies given DfE grants to stabilise finances

United Learning Trust (ULT) was given £685,674k to stabilise its finances in financial year 2016/17, Freedom of Information shows.  

ULT is a large multi-academy trust which has been involved with academies since the early 2000s.   It has 52 academies and is still expanding.

Accounts* for ULT for year ending 31 August 2017 said ULT ‘finances its operations through retained surpluses’.   The Directors believed the ‘unrestricted reserves of £6.406m (2016: £9.771m) were adequate to keep operating.

Subsidiary of UCSF Ltd

ULT is a subsidiary of United Church Schools Foundation Limited which operates several private schools as well as state-funded academies.  Accounts* for UCSF for year ending 31 August 2017 show it had a ‘total deficit for the year [which] amounted to £25.2m (2016: 5.7m)’.

Deficit or surplus?

Academy accounts* are difficult for a lay person to understand and I’m confused about ULT’s unrestricted funds.   ULT accounts* (year ending 31 August 2016) said the deficit on unrestricted funds was £4.304m.  But accounts* for the following year said the £4.304m was a surplus.    Mistaking a deficit for a surplus (or vice versa) seems a rather considerable typo.

DfE wrote off large debts on transfer of two academies to ULT

Researching ULT revealed some interesting nuggets.  For example, when ULT took over two Richard Rose academies in 2013/14, the belatedly-published transfer costs** said ULT received £245k each for the two schools.  But Carlisle’s News and Star said Jon Coles, ULT’s CEO, told the paper the Department for Education (DfE) ‘wrote off a large amount of the academies' debts, hundreds of thousands of pounds’.   Published transfer costs** have never included deficit reduction.  This omission hides the true cost of academy transfer.

£700k from Northern Fund

 ULT was given £700k from Northern Fund but hadn’t taken over any Northern school by April 2017, Schools Week reported.  However, it has since taken on three: two Barnsley primary schools and Norden High School and Sports College in Blackburn, a secondary school which is now a sponsored academy.  The College has been renamed The Hyndburn Academy.

‘Last ditch funding’ for Lambeth school

In an Exclusive in January 2018, Schools Week found ULT received £150k in ‘last-ditch funding’ intended to support schools ‘in danger of imminent failure’.   Grants from the Strategic School Improvement Fund are awarded to academy trusts which support a non-academy rated inadequate but which hasn’t converted to academy status or an ‘inadequate’ academy which hasn’t changed its sponsor.    

The £150k given to ULT was to support Sedgehill School via a formal partnership with Lewisham council.  It’s unlikely ULT will take it over – Sedgehill School is lumbered with a hefty PFI millstone and remains under the stewardship of the council.  

Row with DfE

And finally, ULT and the DfE were embroiled in a row about predicted academy numbers in 2014.  Jon Coles accused the DfE of acting illegally


*All accounts available from Companies House

**Downloadable here.   

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