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Jul 25

How School Bosses Spend Your Millions

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Exeter_High_School_(New_Hampshire)An investigation by Channel 4 Dispatches can reveal that some bosses of academy schools are spending taxpayers’ money on luxury hotels, top-end restaurants, first class travel and executive cars.

The Academies programme may have started under Labour, but it was pushed through a rapid expansion by David Cameron. In just five years the numbers have grown from 600 to more than 5000, they are now controlled by trusts and run like businesses. Over 3,000 of these schools are part of chains known as multi-academy Trusts, which are in control of millions of pounds of taxpayer’s money.

Expenses:
More than £14 billion of public money now flows directly to Academy Trusts. For the first time, the expenses of some of those running thousands of Britain’s academy schools can now be disclosed following a raft of Freedom of Information requests.

Dispatches looked at the expenses of more than 100 Academy Trusts, they reveal:
• The chief executive of another Trust spent almost £1000 on hotel bills, including a £245 stay at a luxury golf resort in Cheshire
• The executive principal of a Trust spent more than £1400 on two hotel bills including £909 at the Park Plaza in London
• One Trust pays a monthly Broadband bill for executive principal’s home in France
Research by Dispatches shows that largest 40 Academy Trusts have spent more than £1m of public money on executive expenses since 2012.

One of the most notable uses of taxpayer’s money is by Ian Cleland of the Academy Transformation Trust in Birmingham, which runs 22 schools. Mr Cleland is paid £180,000 per year. The Academy’s expenses reveal that he spent 3,000 on first-class travel and over £1,000 on restaurant bills. The Trust also pays for the use of his XJ Premium Luxury V6 Jaguar car including around £3000 on items like new tyres, a vehicle health check and insurance for himself and his wife. His expenses include a meal at Marco Pierre White totalling £471 and Bank totalling £703.45.

The Academies Transformation Trust said they are “committed to being… transparent” and to “achieve value for money”. They confirmed the credit card is only used for business purchases, including work-related expenses for other members of staff. The most efficient rail fare is booked wherever possible, his role “requires significant, regular travel… hence the car maintenance costs…” which are paid for by the Trust. He is “reimbursed for his business mileage only”.

Margaret Hodge, former chairman of the Public Accounts Committee said: “This money is supposed to be there for the education of our children… the governance system is inadequate, there ought to be proper oversight so these things don’t happen.”

The Department for Education said academies are “subject to stricter oversight and accountability than council-run schools” and that it “proactively oversees academy governance and… spending.”

Salaries:
Dispatches has found that more than half of largest 50 chains pay their chief executives more than the Prime Minister (£143,000).

Last year the chief executive of the Aspirations Academies Trust which runs 12 schools trust pays its chief executive and Founder Stewart Kenning a total package of £225,000 and his wife Paula Kenning £175,000 as executive principal and Founder.

The Co-Founder and President of the Aspirations Academy Trust, Dr Russell Quaglia is based in the USA. In the past three years the US organisation that he founded was paid more than £200,000 by the Trust. Dr Qualiga’s standard rates show that an average visit to the UK costs $8,300 for travel, hotels and meals, consultancy rates start at $8,000 per day and rise to $15,000. When added together it equals $190,000, approximately £114,000. He says that he gives the Trust a substantial discount, only charging around £90,000 per annum.

The Aspirations Academy Trust said, “Dr Quaglia is a highly respected figure in International Education.” The figures quoted “represent value for money” and ignore the free support that is not costed. “The amounts charged are significantly below cost” and “in line with the Department of Education rules.”

On Mr and Mrs Kenning, the Trust said, “The Kenning’s pay is not “out of line” with their previous earnings as “principles of outstanding schools” and “reflects the responsibility” in running a £33m organisation “with over 500 staff”.

Related Party Transactions:
Dispatches have discovered that Academy chains have spent millions of pounds of public money with business deals which are in some way connected to the Trust.

Out of 100 Trusts Dispatches surveyed, around half had paid money to directors, trustees or their relatives through business deals or even direct employment. In one year these related party transactions added up to more than £9 million of taxpayer’s money. These deals are permitted as long as they take place at cost, and the parties involved do not make a profit.

Examples uncovered by Dispatches include:
• One Trust awarded a £123,000 two year contract to the chairman’s daughter for clerking services.
• Another Trust spent more than £100k over two years to a recruitment firm owned by the Trust’s managing director.
• One trust spent £695,000 in one year on IT services from a firm majority owned by one of its members.
Margaret Hodge told Dispatches: “The Department for Education should be much tougher on them, should not allow them to take place… I just think it’s wrong.”

The Department of Education said these transactions “can save money” and “must be disclosed” in academies’ published, audited accounts. “In the vast majority of academies’ transitions” no concerns had been raised, but where they are they “will investigate” and “take swift action”.

HOW SCHOOL BOSSES SPEND YOUR MILLIONS: CHANNEL 4 DISPATCHES – Monday 25th July, Channel 4, 8pm