Northampton academy chain that spent £20k on New York ‘fact-finding’ trip should have been shut down sooner says union leader

Gordon White, NUT county member.
Gordon White, NUT county member.
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An academy that was forced to hand two of its Northampton schools back to the Government last week should have been “terminated rapidly” due to what was labelled “irresponsible spending”, a union leader has said.

Last week The Education Fellowship became the first academy trust in the UK to terminate funding for all of its 12 schools, including Blackthorn Primary School and Thorplands Primary School.

Gordon White at the National Union of Teachers Official Strike at the Guildhall, Northampton.

Gordon White at the National Union of Teachers Official Strike at the Guildhall, Northampton.

In a brief statement the chief operating officer Lizzie Rowe said the decision was made following a “financial review”.

But Gordon White of the NUT, said the news is hardly surprising, considering he raised concerns about the trust’s spending in 2014.

A report by the Education Funding Agency in that year found two governors had received expenses of £45,000 in 2012/13 and there were “very high levels of private car usage, travel and subsistence and accommodation costs incurred for business travel”.

A £20,000 fact-finding trip to New York was included among expenses and the trust later admitted “wine” was purchased for a workshop with head teachers - as part of a training exercise designed to show that children, like grapes, can mature into “exceptional wines”.

Spokesman for the National Union of Teachers (NUT) in Northamptonshire, Gordon White, said: “If that was any other public-funded organisation they would been terminated rapidly.”

Mr White said he felt the trust simply took on too many schools in 2013. Despite an monthly wage bill of more than £2 million, many of its schools were still underperforming a the time of the trust’s demise.

Blackthorn Primary School was rated inadequate in September and Thorplands primary school is currently rated as “requires improvement”.

Mr White, said: “I cautioned the local authority about the number of schools they were taking on and whether they had the resources to cope with them,” he said.

“I warned the education people we were talking to at the time at Northamptonshire County Council (in 2013). We raised the issue with the officers in charge. They were taking on too many schools in special measures.

“It’s a condemnation of the Department for Education that they allowed this to continue for three years.”

Teaching staff at the the Northampton schools now face an uncertain future.

Both schools are being handed back to the Government until the Department for Education finds a new sponsor to run them.

“It means more upheaval for them,” Mr White said about the teachers he represents there. “They will need to be TUPE-transferred again.

“What guarantees are there that their new employees will be better than their current one?”

The Education Fellowship have so far only issued one oblique statement about why it was forced to close down, stating it had to do so following a review of “financial constraints facing the education sector and the misalignment of values with the DfE.”

The Chronicle and Echo has made requests to interview the chief operating officer Lizzie Rowe, but they have so far been declined.

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