Education chiefs urged to prepare for collapse of academy trust running Suffolk schools
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Education chiefs have been urged to prepare for the possible collapse of an academy trust, which runs several Suffolk schools and has been accused of making false claims for public money.
Ipswich MP Sandy Martin made the calls after last night’s Panorama investigation into alleged financial irregularities at Bright Tribe.
The documentary alleged Bright Tribe made repeated false claims, totalling hundreds of thousands of pounds, for building and maintenance grants to carry out work that was not completed.
MORE: Parents ‘angered’ after Essex academy allegedly failed to carry out fire safety improvements despite £255k fundingLawyers for Bright Tribe have denied the allegations. The trust added that it had appointed new leadership and was working with the Department for Education (DfE) to address “matters as swiftly as possible”.
Although the documentary focussed mainly on Bright Tribe’s former Whitehaven Academy in Cumbria and Colchester Academy, concerns have also been raised about the possible impact on its Suffolk schools – Alde Valley in Leiston and Cliff Lane and Castle Hill in Ipswich.
Mr Martin said he believed the trust would fold within months and was keen to ensure plans were in place to allow for a smooth transition to new providers.
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“My expectation is that Bright Tribe will cease to exist fairly shortly, so I will be speaking to Suffolk County Council about what plans they’ve in place about making sure that the schools that are currently run under Bright Trust can move over to more suitable leadership,” he added.
Mr Martin said he had been aware of the national concerns about Bright Tribe but had not yet spoken about the issue as there had been no evidence of any improper behaviour at the Ipswich schools.
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“However, I do believe this calls into question the whole principle of national academy providers,” he added.
“In my view, there’s no place for national academy chains and we should go back to the system of local accountability,
“As local education authorities have been so heavily stymied in recent years, I can see merit in having local multi-academy trusts, but I cannot see the point in national providers.”
Jack Abbott, Labour’s education spokesman at Suffolk County Council, said the Panorama claims were “appalling but, frankly do not come as a huge surprise”.
“We need the DfE, Regional Schools Commissioner and Suffolk County Council to commit to a full, public investigation into Bright Tribe and any other academy trust it suspects of not fulfilling their duty of providing the very best education,” he added.
“For too long these crucial decision makers have turned the other way - it is time to show some leadership, end the opaqueness and unaccountability in our education system and put Suffolk’s pupils, staff and schools first.”
Nadine Bosse, principal at Cliff Lane in Ipswich, issued a statement to pupils and parents following last night’s documentary.
“In light of the recent press surrounding Bright Tribe, I would just like to reassure you that as principal of this school, my focus is to maintain stability regardless of what occurs outside of our control,” she said.
“We are a rapidly improving school and this is due to the great partnership we all have with each other. I am resolved that nothing will tarnish that or put in jeopardy what we have already built here.
“My allegiance lies with this wonderful school and always will.”
Suffolk County Council said it will be supporting the actions of the Department for Education and the Regional Schools Commissioner on the issue, which are responsible for academies.
Academies minister Lord Agnew said the Government “will not tolerate those who try to exploit the system for personal gain”.
He added: “Bright Tribe Trust is not representative of all academies, and more than half a million children are now in good or outstanding academies that were typically previously underperforming schools thanks to innovative trusts across the country.”
Bright Tribe’s latest statement
“Monday night’s Panorama highlighted a number of issues of serious concern which the Trusts’ new leadership – new trustees and members, a new Interim CEO and a new Interim COO – has been looking into as matters of utmost urgency since their recent appointments.
“It is clearly absolutely unacceptable if any public money has not been spent as it should or if school buildings have been unsafe. The independent investigations the new leaders have commissioned, including those referred to in the BBC report, cover every area of the Trusts’ operational work over the past few years. It is essential that there is comprehensive understanding of all areas, including health and safety, funding, procurement processes and the sharing of information to ensure value for money, transparency, good governance and oversight, and we will update as soon as possible.
“The Trusts’ leadership is committed to ensuring that students at all academies within the Trusts receive the best possible educational experience, with Principals and teachers fully supported to achieve this.”