Trust faces losing its 4 schools amid ‘serious management breakdown'

An academy trust has been warned it will be stripped of its four schools unless it takes urgent action after a “complete breakdown of trust and confidence” amid “malpractice” concerns.

Learning Link Multi Academy Trust has been issued termination warning notices for each of its four Dudley primary schools following the “collapse of the senior leadership team due to ongoing concerns over governance and malpractice”.

The notices, sent on July 23 but only published today, were sent by Andrew Warren, regional schools commissioner for West Midlands. 

It warns swift improvements are necessary or the trust risks having each academy’s funding agreement terminated. 

However a spokesperson for the trust said has since met all targets set out within the notices and is “awaiting the RSC’s decision concerning their removal”. 

Within the letters Warren sets out evidence of a “serious breakdown” in the running of the academy trust.

He states there “has been a complete breakdown of trust and confidence between members/local governing bodies and trustees” – with each school within the trust issuing a vote of no confidence in the trustees and acting CEO and their “collective approach to the strategic direction of the organisation”.

Warren warns “where a breakdown of this nature and extent has occurred, I cannot be satisfied that the trust is capable of operating effectively.”

Elsewhere the regional commissioner highlights the “collapse of the senior leadership team (SLT) due to ongoing concerns over governance and malpractice”. 

Issues include the resignation of the chair of trustees and the lack of a permanent CEO. 

Warren states the “stability at SLT level is key at any time but becomes increasingly important when a trust is facing the challenges currently faced by your trust for example, rebuilding the financial position of the trust from the cumulative deficit at the end of the 2018-19 year.”

In January the trust was issued with a financial notice to improve and warned its schools could be moved to another sponsor. 

While all academy trusts must submit financial statements by December 31, Learning Link told the Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA) it was unable to do so. 

As it was in deficit in 2017-18 it was forecast to be in further deficit the following year. 

The notice goes on to state the ESFA is concerned the trust is in breach of “various requirements” of the Academies Financial Handbook – particularly as the 2018-19 accounts have not been submitted. 

Additionally, the ESFA has not received minutes from any trustee or committee meetings.

In order to avoid termination of its schools’ funding agreements the trust has been told it must take a number of steps. 

It was instructed to appoint additional trustees from “the list of academy ambassadors and/or other turnaround consultants to make up the total number to either 7 or 9” by August 20. 

The trust was also told to appoint three additional members by the same date to “satisfy the department’s preference for 5 members”.

Elsewhere the trust was given until August 6 to update and publish its scheme for delegation and set out plans for confirming a permanent CEO. 

The local governing board from each school and members were also ordered to host another vote of confidence on August 20.

Alternatively, Warren offered the trust the chance to voluntarily transfer its schools, with a decision needed by July 29. 

A spokesperson for the trust said a reformed board, which includes six new trustees, has been in place since August and the trust was already “taking a very robust approach to ensuring they met all the expectations of their funding agreement” when it received the notices. 

James Paveley, the new chair of trustees said: ‘LLMAT has been through a difficult period with many internal challenges including those highlighted in the Regional School Commissioner’s letter.  The members appointed a new trust board last month and the new trustees all have extensive school leadership skills and knowledge.

“We are working hard to rebuild relationships between the various stakeholders and have no doubt that our combined experience will bring about the changes the Trust needs and our staff, children and communities deserve.”