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A new investigation by the BBC has revealed that 113 academies have run up debt of nearly £25million – numbers which raise ‘serious concerns about the accountability’ of the system, according to Meg Hillier, chairwoman of the Commons Public Accounts Committee.
Since New Labour introduced academy schools in 2000 they have been championed as the future of education by successive governments, and promoted as the best way to turn around failing schools. This is despite huge concern and opposition from education professionals, unions, parents, and politicians across the party divide on issues such as quality of education, exploitation of staff, and the business-like nature of turning schools into brands.
Much of the opposition concerns an increasing body of evidence that shows that the government are failing to hold academies to account, and some are abusing public funds. This has already led to convictions for fraud, and corruption. From the founder of a flagship academy who along with other members of staff were convicted of £150,000 worth of fraud, to the government favoured “super head” accused of receiving tip-offs about an Ofsted inspection.
The BBC recently revealed that some academies are running up colossal deficits, and spending in a highly questionable manner. Shockingly, all of this appears to have gone completely unchecked by the government agencies who should be responsible for keeping tabs on academy spending and finances.
In some cases this has led to the closure of academy schools, meaning that children’s education and futures are at risk.
One academy chain – Lilac Sky Schools Trust (LSST) who are in charge of nine primary schools across Kent and East Sussex – have run up a debt of £665,972, and their accounts show some incredibly shady practices.
LSST was founded by husband and wife team Trevor Averre Beeson, and Jane Fielding. The trust paid £800,000 to themselves – in the form of outside companies set up by the couple.
Mrs Fielding served as managing director of LSST at the time, and was paid £200,000 over a two-year period for the role.
The couple employed Mr Beeson’s daughter, Victoria Rezaie, who served as a Principal receiving £63,298 a year for the role.
They also employed another daughter, Samantha Busch, through the trust who received £16,593.
One of the schools run by the trust was found to be failing and issued a pre-termination warning for “unacceptably low” standards from the Regional School Commissioner’s Office in November.
They have now been ordered to hand all nine of their schools over to other trusts by the end of the year.
Another school in Birmingham-Baverstock Academy has been threatened with closure by the end of the year following claims of financial irregularities that include payments made to un-named recipients.
Unlike normal state schools whose budgets and spending are overseen by the local authority, Academies essentially have free reign over how they spend money, leaving them wide open to abuse, and potential fraud.
Academies are supposed to be held to account for spending by central government, and the Department for Education. However in practice this rarely seems to happen.
Earlier this year Amya Morse head of the National Audit Office condemned the DFE for the lack of financial scrutiny they apply to academies:
Providing Parliament with a clear view of academy trusts’ spending is a vital part of the Department for Education’s work – yet it is failing to do this.
Our children deserve the best possible education available. They do not deserve to be involved in a system which allows money meant for the purpose of learning, to be stolen, and abused by the very people who are supposed to be educating them.