DfE refuses to release investigations into high-profile academy trusts

DfE refuses to release investigations into high-profile academy trusts

Ministers are refusing to release finance investigations into two high-profile academy trusts – one a government “top-performing” chain and the other now defunct.

The Department for Education has refused under the Freedom of Information Act to publish financial management and governance reviews into the Wakefield City Academies Trust (WCAT) and the Lilac Sky Schools Academy Trust (LSSAT).

WCAT was one of five “top-performing” sponsors named by the government in 2015 and given £500,000 additional funding to take over failing schools in the north of England.

Documents seen by Schools Week show the WCAT review highlighted related-party transactions, projected deficits and concerns over the removal of trustees.

Greater regulation and transparency is needed to ensure public confidence that all multi-academy trusts operate effectively

But the government said it would not release the WCAT investigation as it was “likely to prejudice the commercial interests of the trust” by affecting its “bargaining position with contractors”.

No further information was given on the contractors’ identity or which commercial interests were being protected.

A similar investigation into Bright Tribe – another of the government’s “top-performing” trusts – was published last year after Peter Lauener, chief executive of the Education Funding Agency, admitted there was extensive public and media interest in the report.

Micon Metcalfe, finance director at Dunraven School in south London, said it was unfair that some reviews were published, while others were not, but said publication could be “unhelpful in terms of an academy’s ability to improve”, and that similar internal audits of maintained schools were not regularly published by councils.

WCAT has since said that it has tightened its internal procedures.

However, Chris Keates, general secretary of the NASUWT, said the refusals highlighted a “worrying lack of democractic oversight” of trusts.

“Greater regulation and transparency is needed to ensure public confidence that all multi-academy trusts operate effectively and in the public interest.”

Meanwhile, LSSAT’s report has also been suppressed. The chain’s nine schools were forcibly handed to other trusts last year, and it is now in the process of closure.

Ministers refused to release the investigation as it was still in draft form and releasing into the public domain could be “misleading”. The department did not say when the investigation would be concluded, or if it would be published in its final form.

In a response to Schools Week, Tanya Arkle, a deputy director at the Education Funding Agency, said that it was in the public’s interest to be fair and transparent over how public money was spent, and reports would be published “where it is appropriate to do so”.

LSSAT’s founders also had a government contract to help regional schools commissioners judge the quality of struggling schools.