Bright Tribe probe ‘will be published’, vows academies minister

An investigation by the Education and Skills Funding Agency into allegations of wrongdoing at the doomed Bright Tribe trust will be made public after all of the chain’s schools have moved to new sponsors, the academies minister has pledged.

In an exclusive interview with Schools Week, Lord Agnew said the under-fire trust had been “too ambitious” in taking on “too many really, really difficult schools too quickly”, and admitted the Department for Education “probably wasn’t tough enough in restricting that”.

He also spoke of his sadness at the collapse of the trust, which ran 10 schools.

When you take on these schools, you’ve got to have capacity from somewhere. And if you take on a bunch of failing schools simultaneously, it is an incredibly difficult job

“We don’t take these things lightly,” he said. “I hate these things. It’s really upsetting when these things go wrong.”

The government is in the process of rebrokering all of the schools run by Bright Tribe and its sister trust the Adventure Learning Academy Trust, after a long-running dispute over the condition and performance of a number of their schools came to a head earlier this year.

Several investigations are being carried out by the interim leadership team sent in by the Department for Education to wind up the trusts, while other issues are being considered by the ESFA itself.

This week, Agnew revealed the ESFA was investigating claims made by BBC Panorama of repeated false claims for building and maintenance grants.

The programme claimed Bright Tribe received public money for building work, lighting upgrades and fire safety improvements that were either not finished or never started in the first place.

Agnew confirmed the government had invoiced the trust for some of the money, and pointed to “an ongoing ESFA report”.

“They’ll publish it after the schools have all gone,” he said.

The minister said Bright Tribe had grown too quickly and was “badly set geographically”. The trust ran 10 schools in the north-east, north-west and east of England, while its sister trust ALAT only had five schools in Cornwall.

“When you take on these schools, you’ve got to have capacity from somewhere. And if you take on a bunch of failing schools simultaneously, it is an incredibly difficult job,” Agnew concluded.