Police probe finances of failed Schools Company academy trust

Police are investigating the finances of the failed Schools Company academy trust, according to reports.

A BBC Inside Out South West investigation, which airs tonight, will report that Kent police are looking into the chain, which collapsed in 2018 after it was stripped of its four schools by ministers.

The Schools Company Trust (SCT) ran three pupil referral units in Devon and a secondary school in Kent.

Schools Week investigations have revealed safeguarding breaches, unsafe premises and inadequate staff were among the failings at the schools.

We also reported last year that the Education and Skills Funding Agency was forced to write off £3 million of debt owed to it by the stricken trust.

The trust’s latest accounts show the government has been alerted to alleged impropriety over a failure under the trust’s former leadership to declare payments to companies they were linked to.

The collapse of the trust prompted an investigation by the ESFA and a new executive team sent in by ministers to deal with the chain’s difficulties.

In relation to the police probe, Lord Agnew, the academies minister, said: “Any type of financial mismanagement in schools is completely unacceptable and although it is rare, where is does occur we will take strong action.

“In the case of Schools Company Trust, we took robust action, putting in a strong interim leadership team and transferring the academies to high performing academy trusts. These trusts are already improving standards at the schools.”

Agnew said his department’s investigation remained “ongoing” and was “actively following several lines of inquiry”.

“However we are unable to comment further at this time so as not to jeopardise our legal position. Once complete, we will publish the findings and will not hesitate to take further action to hold those responsible to account.”

Kent police would not confirm whether it is investigating. Former SCT trustees did not respond to a request for comment by the BBC.

A spokesperson for Schools Company Trust said: “The way the trust was run previously was unacceptable.

“The interim leaders’ outstanding work quickly stabilised all aspects of the trust’s four academies, including finances and safeguarding, while rapidly improving the quality of education. This also contributed to all of the academies in the trust being transferred to strong new sponsors.

“Investigations into conduct prior to January 2018 are ongoing and while this is the case, it is not possible to comment further.”

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  1. meg morrison

    The TV programme was disappointing in that it applied little rigour to the investigation. To imply that “inadequate staff” were part of the problem is to completely miss the point that it was leadership that was poor, self-serving and totally unsupportive of the hard working teachers and TAs. Student behaviour was dangerous at one of the centres because staff were not supported by management and unable to do anything other that look on.
    Croneyism was rife and money was creamed off to fund who knows what.

    The report also failed to mention that the interim Academy was poor beyond belief and didn’t last long. Their senior staff were unpleasant and arrogant. At least two members of this Academy have since been forced to resign – this is in the public domain. The Academy chain now running these centres is not the “interim” Academy and distinction should be made.

  2. Mark Watson

    I struggled to find the website of SchoolsCompany Limited. It doesn’t appear on the first few pages of a Google search, and I only found it after typing into the browser (a lucky guess). It’s not a very professional looking website. I didn’t see references to any names schools/academies on the website – maybe as a result of media pressure. However given the amateur feel of the website it was probably not kept up to date beforehand.

    Had a quick look on Companies House at the accounts for SchoolsCompany Limited. Hardly a financial powerhouse, we’re looking at figures in the hundreds and low thousands. Clearly not a vehicle for significant financial transactions in the same way as a Durand Education Trust.

    What I’m rather more interested in is SchoolsCompany Trust. Looking at their last published accounts (to 31 August 2018), it seems that at the start of the 2017/18 academic year, and for the whole of the 2016/17 academic year, a majority of the Trustees were paid employees of the Trust. This is SO far away from the usual model whereby most Trusts have none or one Trustee who’s an employee (usually the CEO), and only a few have two. Who thought that this was appropriate?

      • Mark Watson

        My pleasure, but I would suggest that a degree of precision is needed – there is no such entity as ‘SchoolsCompany’.

        There is ‘The SchoolsCompany Trust’ which is the the academy trust that used to operate the four schools which have now been rebrokered. It is a company limited by guarantee, and established on the basis that it cannot distribute monies to its members or its trustees (other than in relation to any trustee’s separate employment contract). Its current Board is led by Angela Barry, the well-known troubleshooter who DfE parachutes in to wind up troubled MATs (e..g Bright Tribe). I would expect that this company will be wound up once all the issues relating to these rebrokerages are finalised.

        The other entity is SchoolsCompany Limited, a private ‘profit making’ company limited by shares. It seems to be owned and run by Elias Achilleos and his wife. It has no legal link or constitutional link to The SchoolsCompany Trust, other than Elias Achilleos used to be a director of both companies (until he left The SchoolsCompany Trust). The fact that The SchoolsCompany Trust has no schools, and may well be wound up, has no impact on SchoolsCompany Limited which is free to carry on trading.

        Where the issues are, and what we wait to see, is what if any monies passed from The SchoolsCompany Trust to SchoolsCompany Limited. I.e. what money flowed out of the public sector company run by Elias Achilleos into the pockets of the private sector company owned by Elias Achilleos.

  3. You will find much more about SchoolsCompany, SchoolsCompany Trust and SchoolsCompany Ltd written from the perspective of the Deal secondary school – Castle Community College – with its Outstanding Ofsted in 2011, down to Special Measures under SchoolsCompany in 2014 at, and multiple previous articles. It was by then called SchoolsCompany Goodwin Academy.