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.”