CEO of failed academy trust ‘tricked’ his way into running academies, says Times

Janet Downs's picture

Johnson Kane, CEO of the failed Education Fellowship Trust, ‘tricked’ the Department for Education into believing he was competent to run an academy trust, the Times reveals.

It took journalist Geraldine Hackett two years to get hold of the files which revealed the DfE’s ‘failure to adequately check Mr Kane’s background’.

Kane claimed* he was John Lewis’s ‘youngest ever appointed senior manager’, that he ‘helped oversee the first major privatisation’ at BAA, was ‘CEO of major retail chains [and] Venture Capital Bank’ and ‘advisor to the UK’s top 100 CEOs’.

But these claims could not upheld.  In fact he had only worked on the sales floor at a John Lewis store and he lied about his qualifications to get a job with the BAA. He was never on the board but did work for 18 months as commercial services director.’

Internal emails dated June 2014 revealed that DfE officials hadn’t been able to verify claims on Kane’s CV but nothing was done until 2017.

The DfE told the Times: ‘Since the introduction of regional schools commissioners, the department’s processes for sponsor approval have been strengthened.’

This is an admission that before RSCs were appointed in September 2014, the system for approving sponsors was weak.   This site has expressed concern about the rapid approval of academy sponsors in the past, including one trust approved after just a few weeks and another given a contract to run academies  before it was registered at Companies House.

Parents expect that academies are run by honest trustees who have been properly vetted by the DfE.  In the above case, due diligence seems to have been lacking.


The Education Fellowship Trust (TEFT), formerly the Education Schools Trust, was set up in 2011 during Michael Gove’s tenure as Education Secretary.

 In April 2014, the Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA) published a financial review of the trust. This ‘highlighted a number of highly unusual and potentially significant issues’.   The trust was served with a Financial Notice to Improve.  This was lifted in 2015. 

Ofsted wrote to the trust in June 2015 after a focussed inspection of five TEFT schools.  Ofsted told the trust to ‘urgently improve the achievement of pupils across both primary and secondary academies’.

ESFA published another investigation report in 2016 which found ‘the financial position is vulnerable’ and ‘the top slice is higher than the normal parameters for a multi-academy trust’.  The trust’s organisational model, whereby the trust was a subsidiary of The Education Fellowship Limited, a private limited company, wasn’t acceptable**.

In 2017, TEFT requested the transfer of all its academies to new sponsors.

Kane was a trustee of another academy trust, United Learning, from June 2011 until March 2012.

*these claims still appear on the accounts of TEFT for year ending 31 January 2019, available for Companies House

**The Education Fellowship Limited is named as the sole ‘member’ of TEFT in its accounts.  TEFT is still a subsidiary.

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Brian R Wilson's picture
Fri, 21/02/2020 - 16:53

It feels like there are one or more such posts about academy "trust" malpractice each week. Have you kept count of them? When will they add up to a full scale enquiry?

Janet Downs's picture
Fri, 21/02/2020 - 17:01

This would never have come to light if it weren't for the dogged persistence of the journalist Geraldine Hackett.  The DfE first refused her FoI request.  This refusal was upheld by the Information Commissioner's Office.  Geraldine had to take the case to a First Tier Tribunal (as I did to get the academy transfer information).  The tribunal partly ruled in her favour and the files were released.

That said, most academy trusts work responsibly so it would be wrong to tar them all with the same brush.  But as there's no difference in performance between academies as a whole and local-authority maintained schools as a whole, it raises the question whether the millions spent on academization were money welll spent.  At the same time, schools which join multi-academy trusts lose their individual identity.  So much for the much-vaunted freedom!

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