Perry Beeches 'superhead' Liam Nolan guilty of misconduct

The former head of an academy trust who drew a second salary from a private company contracted to his own schools has been found guilty of unacceptable professional conduct.

A Teacher Regulation Agency misconduct panel ruled today that the actions of Liam Nolan, the former chief executive of the Perry Beeches chain, “lacked integrity”. The panel will now decide whether or not to prohibit him from teaching.

Nolan, pictured above at the 2012 Conservative Party conference, was referred to the TRA after an investigation by the Education Funding Agency found Nolan was paid £160,000 over two years on top of his £120,000 headteacher salary by Nexus Schools Limited, a procurement firm which itself was paid around £1.3 million by Perry Beeches over a number of years.

The £160,000 payment was for Nolan’s services as Perry Beeches’ CEO, a role that was subcontracted via Nexus and Liam Nolan Limited, another private company of which Nolan was the sole director.

Nolan and the rest of the Perry Beeches governing body stepped down the same year following the EFA’s investigation. The trust’s schools have since been handed to new sponsors.

Yesterday, the TRA panel heard that Nolan, a former “superhead” often praised by ministers, even signed off invoices from Nexus himself, despite receiving money from the company. Nolan accepted many of the allegations against him, but denied they amounted to dishonesty or a lack of integrity.

But following hours of deliberations at the hearing in Coventry this morning, the panel, made up of teachers Fiona Tankard and Ian Carter and chaired by lay member William Brown, ruled that his actions constituted misconduct.

The panel found that Nolan breached academy funding rules with his dual role because he failed to seek that his pay arrangements met his tax obligations and because there were no “exceptional temporary circumstances” that justified payment outside payroll.

It was also found proven that Nolan failed to ensure the payments were disclosed in his trust’s 2013-14 financial statements, which breached academy funding and Charity Commission rules. Nolan also broke the rules by failing to disclose the conflict of interest that existed around his dual role in an annual declaration of business interests, and by failing to ensure the trust had a written contract with Nexus, the panel found.

Nolan also failed to ensure the trust had a competitive tendering policy before contracting services to Nexus .

The panel concluded that Nolan’s actions were “lacking in integrity” because he signed the 2013-14 accounts and annual declaration despite the omissions. However, they ruled that he did not act “dishonestly”.

Andrew Faux, representing Nolan, said the former head was “pleased that the panel accepted that his actions were not dishonest”.

“The total of Mr Nolan’s pay and benefits package was not outside payment levels within the sector.  The payment of part of that package via a ltd company has been subject to a tax enquiry and, as noted by the panel today, there is no suggestion that his personal tax affairs were not managed correctly.

“There was a mistake in the 2013-14 accounts in relation to the disclosure of payments to Liam Nolan Ltd.  Those payment had been declared in 2012-13 and were declared in 2014-15.

“Mr Nolan’s working arrangement was created by the Trust’s directors however he did not formally declare his business interests on a form in December 2014.

“The panel’s findings today, in the main, relate to those two mistakes.”

Faux added that at the time of the mistakes, Nolan had “no developed understanding of the role of accounting officer”.

“He is an educationalist and not an accountant.

“Mr Nolan deeply regrets that his failure to understand and adhere to the high standards expected of an accounting officer led to the collapse of the educational project that he was involved in.

“He accepts the panel’s finding that his actions as an Accounting Officer demonstrate a lack of integrity.  He believes that by his actions he has let down his colleagues, the profession generally and, more importantly, the children of Birmingham.”