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Saturday, 07 November 2015 18:25

The Griffin Academies Trust

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The Griffin Academies Trust,which runs 12 schools, six in the Midlands and six in the South East including four in Medway, has been heavily criticised for its financial arrangements.  An article in the Guardian reports that in just two years the Trust paid over £700,000 to a company jointly owned by its two chief executives, one whom is Elizabeth Lewis, previously a headteacher of Dover Grammar School for Girls. Three other companies in which trustees of the charity have majority interests received smaller payments that amounted to around £100,000 for “educational consultancy services’”, the trust’s accounts show. The article continues:....

It has emerged that a review of the trust by the government’s Education Funding Agency (EFA) in 2013 found 11 breaches of the Academies Financial Handbook, including six contracts awarded by the trust without evidence of competitive tender and no evidence of a register of business interests. The independent audit for the EFA added that there was no evidence “a process was in place for independent checking of financial controls”. The auditors additionally found that a financial arrangement with a “connected party of one of the trustees” was approved by a board on which three out of six of the trustees were “connected to companies providing services to the trust”. 

The Medway schools are: Kingfisher Community Primary, Chatham, & Saxon Way Primary, Gillingham – both in Special Measures when taken over, now OFSTED Requires Improvement; Lordswood Primary, Chatham – OFSTED Requires Improvement when taken over; Wayfield Primary, Chatham – OFSTED Good when taken over. There is no doubt that both Chief Executives have a track record of making marked improvements happen in schools, and no criticism is intended of this considerable achievement.  

The Trust website states that: “Because the Trust family is small, your relationships with us are open and also revealing. There is no big organisation to hide in or blame for errors or delays”.

The Trust’s local connections strengthened with the recent appointment of Nick Watkiss as Headteacher of Fort Pitt Grammar school in Chatham. He was previously Griffin’s Director of School Improvement, most recently on secondment as headteacher of Willow Brook Primary School Academy.

Last year a Report commissioned by the education selection committeeexamined payments made to companies related to trustees and directors of trusts, and warned that the “checks and balances on academy trusts” were too weak and that there was significant evidence of concerning conflicts of interest. There is no suggestion of anything illegal happening in this or in most cases, but there is no doubt that the management of a number of Trusts see their academies as a source of income through professional and other services provided for them, in what can be a heavy drain on school budgets at a cost to the children especially when, as too often happens, economies are made through cheap staffing. A Report issued by the National Audit Office in 2013, concluded that: 976 academy trusts – 43% of those examined in 2013 – disclosed “related party transactions” worth an estimated £71 million. Almost £9 million of this money posed a risk to public money. 

Read 3847 times Last modified on Saturday, 07 November 2015 19:18

1 comment

  • Comment Link Sunday, 08 November 2015 13:05 posted by Richard Johnson

    The local links of the Griffin Trust are even closer. Julia Bell, Executive Head of Fort Pitt, succeeded Liz Lewis as Head of Dover Girls Grammar. It appears that Nick Watkiss was appointed as head of FP after a brief informal interview with Ms Bell, without the post being publicly advertised. Non-academies are required to go through public advertising and formal interview to ensure the best candidate is selected and speaking as a Local Authority Adviser, we would certainly never allow such an insider appointment.

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