Blacklisted academy bosses were a one-off, says DfE

Academy bosses being secretly banned from running other schools has happened on just the one occasion, the government claims.

Schools Week revealed last month the Education and Skills Funding Agency wrote to former leaders of two collapsed Manchester free school trusts “strongly discouraging” them from “further involvement in schools”.

Lord Agnew, the academies minister, also ordered regional schools commissioners to blow the whistle if they found Raja Miah, Alun Morgan or Mohib Uddin – who were linked to both trusts – “within schools in their regions”.

The disclosure that Agnew had secretly blacklisted school leaders was news to the sector. But evidence provided by the ESFA suggests this is the only time such action has been taken.

In response to a freedom of information request asking for details of correspondence relating to such bans, the government said just three letters from the ESFA were issued on May 24, 2019, and one letter from Lord Agnew to regional school commissioners was issued on May 28, 2019.

Although the response did not name individuals or academy trusts, these fit into the time scale of the Manchester case.

The Manchester Creative Studio and Collective Spirit Free School were closed in 2018 and 2017 respectively amid concerns about deficits, financial transactions and falling pupil numbers.

A government investigation published in May cast “significant doubts” on the legitimacy of money paid to one company connected to Miah, the former head of both schools. But official correspondence from Agnew to MPs, seen by Schools Week, said there had been “insufficient evidence” to formally ban the schools’ leaders.

A Schools Week investigation last month then found more than £2 million was paid from the schools to multiple companies linked to Miah.

Although the Department for Education can ban people from  being state school governors, this has only happened four times.

The government is also still investigating a number of high-profile academy failures.

Fraud police have opened a formal investigation into Bright Tribe Trust, City of London police has confirmed. A spokesperson said the investigation is focused on “alleged fraud involving public funds”.

The trust is in the process of being closed down after a series of scandals involving the condition of school buildings and finances at its schools.

Meanwhile the ESFA is investigating the finances of the Schools Company Trust which is in the process of closing after serious concerns over its three alternative provision academies. One was deemed so unsafe that it was told to remove its older pupils immediately.

The government has also failed to meet its own pledge to publish an investigation into the Lilac Sky Schools Academy Trust, which shut in 2017 amid allegations of financial malpractice.

Schools Week revealed later that year how annual accounts exposed misdemeanours including staff paid severance cash before being rehired the next day and public money spent on “luxury” booze.