Majority of Bright Tribe’s £1m ‘northern hub’ funding spent on senior staff

The Bright Tribe academy trust has already spent “the majority” of a £1 million grant to help to encourage expansion in the north of England, despite taking on only three schools in the region, Lord Agnew has revealed.

The academies minister has written to members of the parliamentary education committee in response to questions asked during a recent hearing about £1 million in “northern hub” funding paid to the trust in late 2015.

His letter reveals that “most” of the cash has already been spent on new senior staff for the trust, which is currently in discussions about walking away from all of its schools in the region.

MPs and local education officials are campaigning hard to have the £1 million returned to the government and be reinvested.

According to Agnew, the trust was given the funding so it could take on “three to five” schools in the region, the majority of which were to be rated ‘inadequate’ by Ofsted.

Since the funding was allocated in November 2015, three additional academies have opened under the trust’s sponsorship: Grindon Hall Christian School in Sunderland, and the Haltwistle Community Campus upper and lower schools in Northumberland. Both Grindon Hall and Haltwistle Upper School were previously ‘inadequate’.

The trust had been in negotiations to take on the Haydon Bridge Academy, also in Northumberland, but walked away from the school earlier this year.

In his letter, Agnew said the majority of the funding received by the trust was used to “support the development of the trust’s staffing capacity”.

This covered “a number of areas”, including the recruitment of senior educational leaders, and financial, marketing, legal, human resources, facilities, analytical and strategic staff.

Some of the money paid for the appointment of the trust’s assistant director of schools, Gary Kelly. He was appointed in August 2015, around three months before the grant was handed to the trust.

The money also paid for the recruitment of several executive principals, including Dr Judith Greene and Darren Grover.

Bright Tribe is in trouble for how it has run its schools in the north, after a series of setbacks saw it pull out of the Haydon Bridge deal and announce plans to walk away from Whitehaven Academy in Cumbria, which has been beset by difficulties.

The trust’s chief operating officer Mary McKeeman resigned last month after just 10 months in post, and Sir David Carter, the national schools commissioner, said earlier this month that discussions about pulling out of its remaining northern schools began months ago.

The issue of the £1 million forms part of those discussions, Carter said, although it is unclear whether the trust can be compelled to pay back money that has already been spent and for which the government’s requirements were technically met.

Just last week, Northumberland county council demanded the return of the funding.

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  1. There are also possible transfer costs when Grindon Hall and Haltwhistle were rebrokered with Bright Tribe. The figures aren’t included in the belated list of transfer costs published in September because both Grindon Hall and Haltwhistle were transferred after the end of the 2016/17 financial year (ie 31 March 2017).

    Transfer fees, if any, won’t be known until the DfE publishes transfer costs for the financial year 2017/18. Any FoI request will be refused on the grounds the DfE intends to publish transfer costs on an annual basis.