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Sunday, 27 August 2017 18:17

Swale Academies Trust & The Sunday Times: Together with the Magic Money Tree

Update 7th September: I have updated the initial data in this story which was based on reports from informed parties. I accept some of this may have been inaccurate in detail, as I explained in the story, but was broadly consistent overall with the results of a KCC FOI, submitted before the Sunday Times story broke, which I have now incorporated. I apologise for any error.  

The Sunday Times led this week on a story about Academy'fat cats', one focus being the CEO of charitable company Swale Academies Trust (SWAT) with his £170,000 annual salary and the four BMWs provided for him and three other top Trust Executives to carry out their duties. A Public Relations Consultant, employed by the Trust, described the CEO as 'hands on, who needed to drive between the trust’s 17 schools in Kent. Having a company BMW made his “frequent long journeys safe and comfortable”, allowing him to “focus on improving the schools in his care”'. It is astonishing that a PR company could allow such an arrogant, misleading and factually false representation of the Trust's situation.

Coincidentally, I had been looking at  the Trust's finances with regard to two Kent Local Authority schools they have managed recently through a contract with KCC, preparing to taking them over as sponsored Academies. The Community College, Whitstable, had a budget deficit of £185,626 at the end of March 2016, Shortly afterwards SWAT took over and within a year the deficit had shot up to £683,642, with a further bill to KCC for staff re-structuring of £219,452.  Shortly before The North School, Ashford, was taken over three years ago it had a budget surplus of £244,000 which fell to £121,277 within four months, and became a deficit of £65,344 by March 2017. KCC is paying the Trust £180,000 p.a. for each school to manage them until conversion into Sponsored  Academies. At that time the two schools' deficits will be settled by KCC, the norm for new sponsored academies. The losses will then be met from KCC maintained school budgets at a cost to all remaining Local Authority schools, so clearly there is  no incentive for SWAT to economise, and apparently no accountability for their actions.

The Sunday Times Article
I examined the pay of the best rewarded Kent academy heads in an article last year when, for 2014-15, the highest was paid £170,000 p.a. for running a moderately performing single school Academy Trust. In passing, the highest paid primary head was on £160,000 for running a small but disastrously managed three school Multi Academy Trust (MAT).

The CEO of SWAT was on £150,000 p.a. that year, so he has had a 13% pay increase over 2015-2016, whilst teachers' pay was pegged at a 1% increase.

I am not sure if the claim that the CEO of SWAT runs 17 schools in Kent was a mistake by The Sunday Times, by the PR company, or the Trust, but SWAT actually has just eight schools in Kent, three in Sittingbourne, two secondary and two primaries in nearby towns and another primary in Ashford. The Trust has provided an update for my out of county information, with five recent acquisitions, four in Sussex and a primary in SE London. Add in six managed schools, including the two in Kent, and one arrives at the 17 claimed by the PR Group, but still just eight Trust Schools in Kent, and 13 overall. I still cannot see how this profile requires a purchased BMW to make the CEO's 'frequent long journeys safe and comfortable”', rather than use his own car and claim travel expenses. The mind boggles at three other Trust Executives also whizzing about and needing to make 'frequent long journeys safe and comfortable”' in new BMWs purchased for them.

For reference, apart from the out county schools, the two in Ashford are a whole 28 miles, or half an hour's journey from Sittingbourne, next furthest is Whitstable 23 miles away, with two Gravesham schools 22 miles distant. Clearly, appropriate planning of visits to these schools would minimise the stress caused by the journeys. 

Two of the four Senior Executives with their BMWs are presumably the Exexutive Head Secondary (salary £160,000)  and Executive Head Primary, with just eight and nine schools respectively to oversee on their frequent long journeys. 

The Magic Money Tree
I have now updated the figures in this article to those provided in the headline, following an FOI to KCC. 
 
 There is no suggestion anywhere that SWAT has  behaved unlawfully or irregularly, but nevertheless it has clearly absorbed large sums of money through its management contract for the two schools, whilst running them without the need to operate to the tight budgetary constraints imposed on all others. Presumably the significant staff restructuring taking place in each school would be covered by the £180,000 contract management fee.
 
Swale Academy Trust also took on two other struggling schools from KCC, presumably with a similar financial arrangement. These were Chaucer Technology School, Canterbury and Pent Valley Technology College, Folkestone, although both have since been closed, any deficits and contract management fees being subsumed.
 
The Community College, Whitstable
has limped along for some years, and it was not astonishing to learn that the previous headteacher had been removed. Swale Academies Trust took over the school in May last year, with a deficit of £185,626. One would have thought inheriting this loss and bringing it under control should have been a central task for SWAT, but to allow it to rise to £683,642, with a further bill to KCC for staff re-structuring of £219,452 in  just a year is surely carelessness or a deliberate strategy with no penalty for which the Trust has been paid £18,000. The overall deficit to be met by KCC controlled schools when the school becomes an academy will presumably be no issue for the Trust, but hey, there should at least now be a good school in Whitstable for the first time in many years. The school should have become an academy on 1st September, but there is no mention of this on the website. 
 
The North School
was placed in Special Measures in December 2013, and SWAT took over in February 2014.  A subsequent Report in June 2015 saw the school out of SM and into Requires Improvement. Nevertheless, whilst it was oversubscribed for September 2014 before the change  in management with GCSE results above the 40% cut off for schools in trouble, it is now by several measures the least popular of the four Ashford non-selective schools, with 15% vacancies on allocation in March and the lowest proportion of first choices in the District.
 
The financial surplus of £244,000 shortly before SWAT took responsibility but before the formal take over shows that at least the school was being financially well managed, although the fall of £120,000 to £121,277 within four months, and the £540,000 in contract management fees to turn this into a £65,334 deficit in three years year takes some doing. Initial reports of a staffing restructure levy, similar to that of Whitstable Community appear to have vanished, possibly after challenge by KCC. Reports indicate that a considerable proportion of this overspend went on Consultancy fees, along with three Associate Deputy Heads employed in the interim period, some apparently part time. Eight hundred thousand pounds to play with should certainly have seen some improvement, although I am aware from personal knowledge that this is not the perception of many parents, hence the high vacancy rate, combining with reports of disappointing GCSE results which may underline the current issues. 
 
Final Thought
One can only hope that Kent County Council is challenging this excess expenditure as it failed to do in the notorious and possibly parallel case of the late Furness School that closed with debts of £1.6 million paid for by Kent maintained schools, run up by the free spending unlamented Lilac Sky Schools Academy Trust. 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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Last modified on Sunday, 10 September 2017 17:04

2 comments

  • Comment Link Friday, 15 September 2017 05:32 posted by Name supplied but withheld

    I write as a former teacher at The North. I was was forced out by Swale because I had the temerity to speak out at the damage being caused, with large numbers of TAs being made redundant, and good teachers being shipped out to other Swale schools. These were replaced with less adequate 'friends' of Swale. I have been fortunate to be offered a place at a good school where I am appreciated. I am certainly not alone to be concerned as good teachers' careers are destroyed by this Leviathan, destroying all in its path. Is this really the future of education?

  • Comment Link Sunday, 10 September 2017 23:54 posted by TMOAFT

    (PETER: The following comment has been edited) - Surely it can't be long before the Swale Academies Trust decides to rid itself of the CEO of the Trust . Sadly it will be tax payers' money that they use to pay him off. His treatment of staff and of parents is widely known by those, like me, who have worked with him.

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