Bills unpaid after Aspire Academy AP free school joined TBAP, Panorama investigation

Janet Downs's picture

Aspire Academy opened in 2014 as a stand-alone alternative provision free school.  It was transferred to TBAP in 2017 after trustees thought the school would be better off in a multi-academy trust.

But the financial foundation of TBAP was shaky.  And the Department for Education knew about the trust’s financial difficulties when it allowed TBAP to take over Aspire and other schools.

Aspire’s head Deb Garfield showed Panorama a sheaf of final demands for overdue bills for which TBAP was responsible.  Damaged fire doors could not be replaced because TBAP hadn’t paid the provider.

The trust was sent a financial notice to improve in August 2018.  TBAP admitted the 2016/17 accounts* had to be ‘restated’ as they were ‘materially inaccurate’.  The stated deficit of £758k was actually £2.4m.

 TBAP’s most recent accounts* show the ‘cumulative deficit’ from 2016/17 had increased ‘albeit at a significantly reduced rate’ than previously.   TBAP had to ask the Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA) for ‘additional support’.

Whistleblowers, speaking independently, told Panorama that TBAP’s ‘books were cooked’.  The whistleblowers also alleged that Seamus Oates CBE, TBAP’s CEO and accounting officer, knew about it. 

TBAP denied this:  it had encountered financial difficulties due to ‘a lack of external funding and poor internal financial systems’. 

TBAP’s accounts say its financial management came under pressure because of the trust’s ‘rapid growth’.  ESFA must bear some responsibility for allowing TBAP to expand so swiftly especially when its financial woes were known.  

The trust said it had now put ‘robust’ procedures in place.  According to its accounts, this includes saving £1.1m in staff restructuring. 

Trainee teacher Katherine Frances told Panorama that hers was one of the threatened jobs.  ‘We’re literally numbers on a spreadsheet that can be deleted without any thought’.  She said there was an ‘uneasy feeling’ within the school because there weren’t enough staff for them to feel safe.

TBAP said it undertook ‘robust assessments’ when cutting staff.

Panorama described the situation as a ‘financial shambles’.

Schools minister Lord Agnew told Panorama that Oates had taken his ‘eye off the ball and the governance was not strong enough to blow the whistle on him.’

But the government has repeatedly missed such financial wrongdoing, Panorama said.


*Available from Companies House

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John Mountford's picture
Tue, 26/03/2019 - 21:30

Janet, thank you for flagging up this story and that of Silver Birch Academy Trust as discussed in Mondays' Panorama. I have literally just finished watching the programme and I am disgusted at what is going unchallenged by this government. The dismissive attitude shown by Lord Agnew, the DfE and the examinations watchdog in their failure to properly address serious problems relating to TBAP and Silver Birch raise issues that are crying out to be brought to full and proper account. This is not going to happen however.

One of the greatest sicknesses afflicting our nation in these troubled times is unaccountability in public office. Not only is this the reason a number of academies and MATs are allowed to commit fraud and embezzlement as well as cheat in public examinations without censure, as the Panorama programme revealed. The same brazen unaccountability also lies at the heart of the disaster surrounding Brexit. The shocking behaviour of everyone in parliament and government in responding to a mandate from the British people to exit the EU on Friday has made us the laughing stock of the world. Sadly, in their childish, partisan mauling of the issue they have threatened the very essence of our democracy. Of even greater concern to me has been their dereliction in their handling of education in particular. While MPs have behaved in this disgusting way, they have let the cheats, liars and frauds run amuck in our schools.

I am sure there are some effective MATs around. It may well be they pay their managers too much but they do not all deserve to be tarred with the same brush. It surprises me that such organisations are not stepping forward to call for proper regulation from the government. It is after all their good names that are at stake and the trust of parents and the communities they serve.

Once again, I note the absence of any comment from the originators of this site. Maybe they have given up. Maybe they are too taken with other activities. Maybe they no longer care about what is happening in our schools. However, maybe they should remove their names and faces from the site and thank you, Janet, for keeping it alive and relevant. I take my hat off to you.

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