Academies

Harris looks set to take over troubled East London Science School

Trust and school are well-known for high-profile political connections

Trust and school are well-known for high-profile political connections

11 Feb 2022, 14:25

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The Harris Federation is set to take over the troubled East London Science School (ELSS), despite calls for a more local trust to take the reins, Schools Week understands.

Both the multi-academy trust and free school are well-known for high-profile political connections.

Conservative donor Lord Harris founded England’s sixth largest trust, while trustees at the specialist science school have included chancellor Rishi Sunak and Adam Atashzai, a former adviser to David Cameron.

The school, once praised by ministers, was placed in special measures late last year. Its founding principal, David Perks, also quit, a year after strict controls were placed on its “weak” finances.

Regional schools commissioners (RSCs) typically force struggling academies to join other trusts.

Several sources told Schools Week the local RSC plans to hand ELSS to Harris, although the school and government said this had not been confirmed.

School should join ‘local MAT’

Sarah Ruiz, the cabinet member for education in Labour-controlled Newham, said: “We’ll be writing to the RSC to express our disappointment.

“The best thing would be for the school to join a local, community MAT. There’s a huge amount of work to be done. I can’t believe Harris will have the same level of understanding.”

She feared Harris’ approach would be too “centralised”.

Harris, which operates across London, did not respond to request for comment.

An ELSS spokesperson said it was awaiting the RSC’s next steps. “The process of determining the organisation we will be working with in future is ongoing.”

The school had “worked tirelessly” to improve financially and expected to balance its books “in the very near future”.

Accounts show £26,000 deficit

New accounts show no free reserves and a £26,000 unrestricted fund deficit. It had made “significant savings” in the hope of lifting the government’s financial notice, limiting overhead costs to “essential items”.

Accounts also show “failure to apply regularity, propriety and value for money”.

They acknowledge instances of unauthorised debit card spending, breached procedures in one large purchase, and failure to disclose some interests and related-party dealings.

A government investigation last year rapped the school over a £1,600 drone it bought to market photos. Individuals linked to Perks were also “improperly” appointed.

A Department for Education spokesperson said it was working with ELSS to “secure the necessary improvements” in the interests of pupils and community.

“This may involve transferring the school to a new trust with the capacity to drive and sustain the necessary changes, though no decision has yet been made.”

It is understood any transfer remains subject to RSC advisory board sign-off.

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