SchoolCompany’s Trust director prioritised ‘growing the business’
‘In terms of growing the business, what are the vital things to go for and what would be good and what just charitable?’ asked an unnamed director of SchoolsCompany Trust (SCT) at a board meeting in July 2016*.
But academies aren’t businesses seeking a profit – they are supposed to be charities.
A pupil is ‘a customer’
Pupils are not ‘our children’, said the director. They are ‘a customer’.
The customers were vulnerable pupils referred to SCT Alternative Provision (AP) in Devon, sites where the ‘quality of resources to support learning has not been of an appropriately high standard’, SCT 2016/17 accounts show**.
Primary schools don’t create profit
At a meeting in March 2017, one director asked what the motivation would be for SCT taking on primary schools: ‘They do not create profit.’
Deep problems revealed when Interim Board took over
The RSC-appointed Interim Board (IB) revealed in February 2018 that SCT had ‘significant debts’.
Angela Barry, SCT’s interim CEO, ‘expressed huge concern’ about the ‘questionable standard’ of the Devon provision. Pupils had been dispersed in ‘an ad hoc manner’ to various sites. Some of these were run by two former SCT directors.
‘Effectively they get the funding but then put the[m] somewhere cheap.’
Investigation revealed grim picture
The IB investigation into SCT’s Devon AP reveal a grim picture. Tavistock site was a ‘huge risk’ to pupils. Torridge Academy ‘couldn’t be allowed to remain open’ because of severe issues around health/safety and safeguarding (see Schools Week). ‘SCT appeared to be running an illegal outreach’ at the Chapel Street site which had no insurance and no gas or electrical testing. Rent was three months’ in arrears.
SCT owed around £1m
SCT hadn’t paid invoices for the last few months, the IB found.
Loan of £3.2m agreed - further money needed to remain solvent
In March, the IB said a £3.2m loan had been agreed but a further £1.8m was needed to remain solvent. The minister (unnamed) had ‘agreed a further £650k to enable the payroll run’ but would not guarantee further loans. SCT had already been given £700k for Goodwin Academy in 2016/17, Freedom of Information found.
By the end of 2018, the deficit would be £7m not including redundancies.
Devon LA slated
Criticism wasn’t confined to SCT. Devon LA was slated for using AP as ‘informal diagnostic’ centres. One student had been in AP for nine years and was ‘completely institutionalised’.
The IB raised concerns about Devon’s ‘commissioning and monitoring of SEND pupils’ and wanted Ofsted to inspect the LA. (An Ofsted review of of Devon’s Local Safeguarding Children Board and Inspection of children’s services place in March 2015. They were judged to require Improvement.)
SchoolsCompany website is still live. One of its boasted values is ‘Compassion for young people who are at the core of everything we do’. The ongoing ESFA investigation may debunk that claim.
EXTRA 15.04: SchoolsCompany Trust is still on the DfE's approved sponsor list updated yesterday, 14 September.
*I have seen Minutes of all meetings discussed above but am unable to provide a link.
**Available for Companies House