Ashwell Academy Trust given financial notice to improve

An academy trust in Hull has been hit with a financial notice to improve for failing to submit audited financial statements to the Education and Skills Funding Agency last year.

Ashwell Academy Trust, which runs Ashwell Academy, an 11-to-16 alternative provision setting rated ‘requires improvement’ by Ofsted, broke the terms of its funding agreement by not submitting the required financial information by December 31.

Mike Pettifer, director of academies and maintained schools group at the ESFA, wrote to the trust’s chair of governors, Eunice Evans, on April 10, to raise concerns that it continued to operate an “in-year and cumulative deficit position”.

The trust was already under scrutiny from the ESFA because of problems with its financial management and governance.

A monitoring report published by Ofsted in February last year found that the principal was “absent”, leaving an assistant headteacher in charge. The vice-principal had recently left the school.

Senior leaders and governors are not taking effective action to tackle the areas requiring improvement identified,” the report said.

In his letter Pettifer said he acknowledged “the steps that the trust is taking to work with the ESFA”, but noted that Ashwell had “not adhered to an agreed repayment plan to pay off debts owed to Hull County Council”.

As a result, Ashwell Academy Trust was required to supply monthly financial management accounts to the ESFA, starting in April 2018 and continuing for a minimum of six months.

It was asked to provide evidence to the ESFA of “improved and robust measures to ensure compliance” and submit a revised financial recovery plan to show the economies being made.

Pettifer also said the trust must give evidence of improving financial projections in its next budget forecast return, and make sure the correct information was published on its website.

The ESFA deployed a school efficiency adviser to work with the trust in March, to help leaders to produce “a robust integrated curriculum and financial plan”.

Ashwell was asked to work with the Department for Education to strengthen its governance arrangements and to ensure all financial returns were completed by the dates required in the future.

“The ESFA must be satisfied that the trust is doing everything it can to rectify the weaknesses identified,” Pettifer wrote.

The trust was approached for comment.