Claim that school budgets could be raided by failed academy chain

Wakefield City Academy
Wakefield City Academy

A warning has been made of an “outrageous threat” by a crisis-hit chain of academies to raid the budgets of its individual schools to pay off debts.

The claim was made by a governor of Bradford’s Thornbury Academy, one of 21 schools run by Wakefield City Academies Trust (WCAT).

In a letter, Mick Hayes said cash could be diverted to the parent organisation after WCAT announced last month that it would cease running all its schools.

He wrote: “As a governor of one of the 21 schools left unsupported and undermined by the failure of the Wakefield City Academy Trust, I want to register my alarm at the outrageous threat to asset-strip our school budgets to pay off the trust’s debts.”

Mr Hayes said his academy had been budgeting to save cash and maintain standards for pupils in a deprived part of Bradford.

He said: “However, it now seems there is a real possibility that when we move to a new academy chain we may have to give up all or part of this money to help resolve WCAT’s financial problems.”

Mr Hayes said the threat was hanging over all 21 schools and the total funds diverted could run into millions.

He added: “Such asset-stripping would be entirely unjustified and entirely unacceptable. Our schools bear no responsibility for the collapse of WCAT.”

A confidential report has also emerged that said WCAT was losing money “at an alarming rate” before it decided to cease running the schools, which include Wakefield City, Normanton Freeston and Hemsworth academies.

The report was written by new chief executive Chris Pickering in June this year and raised concerns over leadership and financial management.

It said: “There is inadequate accountability. The organisation has developed a blame culture where academies blame the trust and vice versa.”

The report was written after it emerged that WCAT awarded contracts to companies linked to its previous chief executive, Mike Ramsay, who Mr Pickering replaced.

At the time WCAT said all the proper procedures had been followed.

The June report said: “WCAT has been operating under the cloud of the past, highlighted by adverse media coverage referencing the trust’s previous allegedly questionable financial practice.

“Past financial practice, particularly in respect of contracts, has been at best naive and at worst ill considered.

“Those running a trust have both legal and moral responsibilities. There are simply things that you do not do regardless of whether it is legally possible or not.”

The leaked report reveals that schools which were part of WCAT were being charged a levy which was seen by the individual academies as “their money which is being taken from them by the trust.”

WCAT was in need of a cost-saving plan to reduce financial deficits and restore cash reserves.

The report said: “The financial position of the trust is of great concern. It is currently operating at a significant in-year deficit and reserves are disappearing at an alarming rate.”

The report said the leadership regime at WCAT had changed and there was enough expertise in the organisation to make improvements.

It said: “It is clear that there is a strong, almost universal will to change.”

WCAT declined to comment on the report.

On September 8 WCAT said it had asked the Department for Education (DfE) to find new organisations to run all its schools.

The DfE has since released a list of potential new sponsors for the academies.