Former academy CEO barred for 'failing to act with integrity and honesty'

A former academy chief executive has been barred from running schools by the government for “failing to act with integrity and honesty” following payments to a firm connected to trust staff.

It’s the latest sign that government is finally flexing its powers to ban rule-breaking academy bosses.

Nardeep Sharma has been barred from holding a school management or governance position by education secretary Gavin Williamson.

The notice, published today, stated Sharma had “allowed” breaches of academy rules.

A government investigation last year found Thrive Partnership Academy Trust, his former trust which has now been wound up, had spent almost £140,000 on website design services from a company connected to school staff. This was despite the firm submitting the most expensive bid.

The trust was also rapped for spending money on gift hampers, alcohol ordered to hotel rooms and unapproved severance payments.

The barring notice stated Sharma had “engaged in conduct that breaches” the Nolan principles (ethical standards expected of public office holders), “in particular the requirement .. to act with integrity and honest”.

“In the opinion of the Secretary of State this makes Mr Sharma unsuitable to take part in the management of an independent school,” the notice stated.

The notice follows publication of two other barring orders for academy scandal heads earlier this month.

The orders, for Liam Nolan and Thomas Marshall, were the first time banning powers had been used for those implicated in academy scandals.

Under section 128 of the Education and Skills Act 2008, the education secretary may give a direction prohibiting a person from taking part in the management of an independent school on prescribed grounds connected with the person’s suitability.

The orders also prevent them from serving as governors of local authority maintained schools.

The government investigation into the Thrive trust followed allegations of “inappropriate conduct and financial mismanagement”.

The report found a “number of significant findings and breaches of the academies financial handbook” including “poor oversight, poor procurement practices, questionable recruitment and severance processes and instances of irregular expenditure”.

Thrive transferred its two schools into Sigma Trust in January last year and has since closed.

Sharma has three months to appeal from the date on the decision letter (September 9).