Academies: Profits Before Pupils?

Academies were established under New Labour, and greatly expanded as part of Coalition (basically Tory) education policy. They are a type of ‘exogenous privatization’ as they involve private companies running schools on behalf of the government.

So Academies are paid for by the government, and run by private trusts. These trusts are not supposed to make a profit, but some have been accused of doing just that…

A recent Panorama documentary explored two academy trusts which have been accused of misusing government funds. The two trusts under investigation being:

The man who set up ALAT is Michael Dwan, a businessman reputedly worth more than £100 million. He claims he got involved with the academies movement in order to ‘give something back’ to education, as he benefited so much from his own education as a child. He says he’s given more than £2.4 million of his own money to ALAT. Mr Dwan has also been closely involved with the Bright Tribe Trust.

However, according to research conducted by the BBC, a lot of public money just seems to have gone missing, with most of the accusations being levelled at academies within the Bright Side Trust.

Bright Tribe Trust> Misusing Public Money?

A crucial thing to keep in mind about all of the examples below, is that the companies subcontracted to do the ‘improvement’ works to the schools were all run by… Michael Dwan.

At Whitehaven Academy in Cumbria,  parents and teachers claim that Bright Tribe has starved the school of funding since 2016, and as a result buildings some of the buildings are literally falling apart… the wooden window frames are rotting and flake off when touched, and other windows cannot be opened, which meant that in the recent hot summer, some pupils recorded temperatures of over 30 degrees centigrade.

Rotten windows @ a Bright Tribe school, 2018.

At Colchester Academy there is evidence the trust taking public money for work that was never done. The sports hall was in an unsafe condition, and Bright Tribe was awarded £566 K from the government to knock down the walls and rebuild them. However, the trust instead simply braced the existing walls with metal struts, and according to one insider, the job only cost £60K.

The £500K difference is the equivalent to employing one additional teaching assistant in every class room for one year.

Bright Tribe was also awarded a £250K grant for fire improvement, but they left a void in the ceiling that would allow fire to spread and failed to replace 100 fire doors with new ones. Bright Tribe were warned by staff that the work had not been done satisfactorily, but they still signed of a work completion form and claimed all the money.

In Whitehaven, Bright Tribe were given a grant of over £300K to provide energy efficient lighting in one school, but three years later they still remain in a cupboard. One independent engineer says only about £20K of work was completed.

They were also given £200K to upgrade new boilers, but instead they took old boilers  from an old part of the school and refitted them in another part, estimated at a cost of a mere £20K.

Possibly worst of all, in 2015 the trust was awarded £1M to set up a Northen Hub, which was never established, but Bright Tribe kept the money saying that it had paid certain people to do work towards setting up the hub even though it never emerged. Panorama contacted some of these people, and many of them said they had never done any work on the Northern Hub for Bright Tribe.

In response to above claims of money being misspent, Mr Dwan says Bright Tribe did all work necessary to ensure the buildings were upgraded in line with regulations, and that the government has never pointed to any failings with any of the work the trust undertook.

Michael Dwan

 

Analysis: one ‘bad apple’ or a structural failing of the academies system?

While it is far from the case that all academies are corrupt, the legal structures surrounding the way finance and accountability. The way that the financing of academies is structured means that there it is possible to set one up and run schools through a Trust with there being very little local oversight.

There are Serious problems with the way academics are regulated…. Academies are not required to provide any detail of the works they have completed to local overseers such as governors or local MPS, and as a result is very difficult to make an assessment as to whether they are spending money appropriately, which is NOT the case with LEA controlled schools.

In his defense, Michael Dwan argues that he was never in control of the trusts, that he never had authority, no decision making power and no vote, he was never a trustee an officer or a decision maker.

Michael Dwan points out that no issues were raised with the monies spent above and denies all allegations of monies not being spent effectively.

It’s just that Panorama happened to have uncovered evidence of more than £1 million of public money going missing, and that could just be the tip of the iceberg!

Michael Dwan has since cut all ties with ALAT and Brightside.

Image Sources:

Screen captured from BBC iplayer. Technically owned by me because I pay my licence fee.

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