Headteacher's 'protest' leaving letter claimed Northampton International Academy 'budget deficit' would leave students vulnerable

The all-through school was told last week it was failing its safeguarding duties - but has denied claims by former headteacher who criticised the school's trust

Monday, 15th February 2021, 9:53 pm
Updated Monday, 15th February 2021, 9:58 pm
The former headteacher of Northampton International Academy sent a scathing letter of criticism to the school's trust on his last day last year.

A protest letter sent by a headteacher on his last day at Northampton's largest free school claimed 'budget deficit' would leave students vulnerable, it has been revealed.

The emergence of the letter came after Northampton International Academy was the subject of a scathing report by Ofsted last week that ruled the all-through school was failing to safeguard pupils.READ MORE: Inspectors find 'serious failings' in safeguarding at Northampton International AcademyThe Chronicle & Echo has now seen a "protest" letter sent by former headteacher Tim Marston on his last day in January 2020 that warned the school's trust of the impact of a budget that he claimed .

In the email, which was reportedly sent to all staff, Mr Marston leveled criticism at the East Midland Academy Trust for embodying "a complete lack of values" held by the school.

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He claims EMAT - which operates the school - created a "£476,000 hole" in the school's budget that led to "a damaging and poorly judged round of cost cutting and clumsy redeployment, some of which has caused considerable reputational damage to the school."

The trust says it strongly refutes "a number of the assertions" in the Mr Marston's letter and that the budget process was "in no way linked to the outcome of the recent Ofsted visit". The trust says it has recruited an additional 69 teachers and 55 support staff in the last two academic years.

Mr Marston's leaving letter, which was written in January last year, reads: "The situation regarding this year’s budget has, for me, been evidence of a complete lack of the values that I try to demonstrate and that as an organisation, I felt we had signed up to.

"In sticking rigidly to the budget approved by the trust board [...] we have harmed the school unnecessarily, weakened the staff team [and] harmed the education experience for our pupils.

"I don’t accept that NIA is over staffed on any level and actually is missing three to five teaching assistant positions which are important to make sure our most vulnerable pupils are well supported.

"I am no good to you if I am a negative influence and I cannot in all good conscience pretend to be 100 per cent on board if I actually feel that the school is very poorly served by the central team and that the educational experience of our pupils is being detrimentally impacted as a result. "

The school earned a "Good" inspection report from Ofsted in July 2019. Mr Marston left NIA in January 2020.

The latest report was published this month and came after a visit in December, in which Ofsted found "serious failings" in NIA's safeguarding actions.

Ofsted noted that staff were "struggling with caseloads" and senior staff had "too many responsibilities to enable them to carry out their safeguarding duties effectively."

It ruled that in the weeks leading up to December "some of the most vulnerable pupils have been put at serious risk," and called on the school to "urgently address" its weaknesses.

Mr Marston's departure and letter came after EMAT switched the school's budget over to 'general annual grant funding', or 'GaG', that funds schools in a trust of a central pot.

He claims this led to a staffing budget that was "63 per cent of income". According to the government’s financial benchmarking service, staffing typically represents between 75 and 80 per cent of a school’s expenditure.

A spokesperson for EMAT said it refuted "a number of assertions" made in Mr Marston's letter.

"We want our focus to remain on ensuring the very best for our pupils and the communities we serve. However, this historic letter from a former member of staff makes a number of assertions that we need to strongly refute.

“The budget setting process is in no way linked to the outcome of our recent Ofsted visit. As the inspection report states, there were individual failings which we were already in the process of addressing when the inspection took place. The global pandemic means this is an incredibly challenging time for all schools and at the time of the Ofsted visit, we were in the process of closing an entire year group bubble after a positive Covid case, which takes significant staff resources to manage," the spokesperson said.

“At no point has the school’s budget ever undermined its duty of care to pupils or detrimentally affected our staffing numbers. In fact, we recruited an additional 33 teachers and 24 support staff members in 2019/20 to support the growth of the school and a further 36 teachers and 31 support staff have been recruited for the current academic year.

“The budget for all our schools is set using the Integrated Curriculum and Financial Planning (ICFP) model, which is advocated and supported by the Department for Education. Our budget for 2019/20 was reviewed as part of our standard annual audit process and was supported by an external assurance process. Both have shown that the budget was approved in accordance with the ESFA Academies Financial Handbook.”