Three senior staff left an academy trust after investigators found an “undisclosed conflict of interest” over £379,000 paid to a supply teacher agency run by a relative.
The Lime Trust, which runs eight special and primary schools in London and Cambridgeshire, hired supply teachers from ChoSEN Teacher Recruitment during the 2021-22 academic year.
However, an internal audit “discovered that there had been an undisclosed conflict of interest”.
The trust called in an external investigator and said “it became evident [the conflict of interest] was intentional and the trust immediately suspended all dealings with the company and individuals involved”.
‘Individuals no longer work for academy trust’
The Education and Skills Funding Agency and regional schools directors at the DfE were informed “and those individuals no longer work for the trust”.
Trusts have to declare any related-party transactions. This applies to people deemed to have control or significant influence over the academy trust, such as trustees or the chief executive. The three staff members were leaders at school level.
However, academy rules state that trusts must ensure “propriety in the use of public funds, including in relation to any actual or perceived conflicts of interest”.
A spokesperson for the trust said that the ESFA was “satisfied with the decisive and appropriate action taken and assured that the trust operates with the highest standards of probity and transparency”.
Probe didn’t find ‘any loss of funds or failure to achieve value for money’
Lime’s accounts for last year, published in January, said an external investigator carried out a “detailed investigation” after the trust “identified a conflict of interest with the supplier”.
They added that the trust and investigator did not identify “any loss of funds or any failure to achieve value for money”.
“However, benefit could have arisen from the preferential use of the supplier and therefore the academy trust has taken appropriate action in response to the incident including reviewing its controls in this area.”
The spokesperson added the incident was “prior to the arrival” of the current chief executive.
Trio held senior roles
Accounts show the trust had an operational deficit of £161,000 in the year to last August. However, this was down from £972,000 the year before.
Schools Week has established that the three staff who left are brothers Ben, Billy and James Hawes. They held senior leadership positions in 2021 and 2022.
Ben was headteacher of Lime Academy Hornbeam between September 2021 and December 2022. Billy was the school’s deputy head. James also served in Lime’s leadership team from January 2021 to December 2022. He was at one point deputy head of Lime Academy Forest Approach.
Schools Week approached the three for comment, but received no response.
Academy trust reviews supply cover spend
Schools Week has also established through searches of national records that Jacqueline Neville, the sole director of ChoSEN Teacher Recuitment, is related to the brothers. The company, which is being wound up, did not respond to a request for comment.
In its accounts, the trust said it was now “reviewing school spend on supply cover, reducing the use of agency staff and negotiating better daily rates with a range of suppliers. During the next reporting period, the trust will be using the DfE framework agreement to get even better prices.”
Accounts show the trust’s agency staff costs grew from £502,000 in 2021 to £863,000 in 2022.
A government spokesperson said the “primary responsibility for the oversight of trusts rests with the trustees themselves, supported by clear financial management and governance requirements set by the department”.
The ESFA was “made aware of this case regarding Lime Trust and is satisfied that the trust has taken actions to address the issues and to prevent this from happening in future.”
The department “expects academy trustees to deliver strong governance and monitor the financial health of their trust or school and ensure it remains a going concern”.