MAT central teams

Trust rejects claims from head who resigned over ‘high’ top slice

Heads tells parents in letter his 'significant concerns' over 'how trust operates at its top levels'

Heads tells parents in letter his 'significant concerns' over 'how trust operates at its top levels'

An academy headteacher has told parents he is resigning over “significant concerns” about the “high amount” his trust is top-slicing from school budgets.

The case highlights the sometimes delicate process of how trusts fund their central operations and the potential for it to cause issues if heads are not aligned to plans.

Hinchingbrooke School principal Mark Patterson said in a resignation letter to parents he was “leaving because I have raised significant concerns” with the ACES trust board, which runs his school, about “how the trust operates at its top levels”.

He also said concerns were raised over the “high amount that the trust takes from the ACES schools’ budgets. 

“The trust top-slices around three-quarters of a million pounds each year from Hinchingbrooke School’s budget,” he added. 

The trust said it rejects his accusations.

Patterson’s letter stressed that he was “not retiring” and did “not have another job to go to”. If “things were different”, he would be “staying, and gladly”. 

He said: “The trustees have said that they do not share my concerns and they are not prepared to act on any of them. My concerns are shared in the other schools in the ACES trust.”

Trust’s top-slice below average for its size

Top-slice charges pay for the central services provided by academy trusts.

ACES Academies Trust does not appear to have published accounts for 2022-23. But documents for 2021-22 show it sliced four per cent off Hinchingbrooke’s budget that year.

This equated to more than £770,000, up from £383,206 the previous year. The documents stated the cash went towards central HR, financial and education support services. 

The trust’s three other academies – all of which are primaries – were charged a 6 per cent top-slice. 

The Kreston accountancy group annual report, published last month, found the average top-slice among large trusts stood at 5.4 per cent.

However, smaller trusts – like ACES – tended to slice 7.4 per cent.

Patterson claimed last summer heads of all the schools co-wrote a statement outlining concerns.

Resignation after ‘growth plans disagreement’

But a spokesperson for the trust said it “firmly rejects” the “serious accusations” about its funding structures.

The trust is “run with a focus on our pupils and their education with value for money, robust oversight and accountability as key priorities”. 

They added Patterson’s decision came after a disagreement over growth plans.

It is not the first case of trusts becoming embroiled in public spats over their central charges.

Unions called for greater scrutiny over top-slicing in 2019 after the University of Wolverhampton Multi-Academy Trust charged £376,000 to a school that was £1 million in the red – before it was later transferred to another chain.

Plans for England’s largest primary-only multi-academy trust REAch2 to centralise school reserves and funding – a method called GAG pooling – were put on ice last year following opposition over the potential job losses.

Last month, National Education Union general secretary Daniel Kebede claimed schools were left worse off by joining a trust, after it was revealed two large MATs now top-slice almost 10 per cent from budgets

However trusts refuted this – saying pooling expenditure centrally makes spending more efficient and saves schools money.

ACES said it can achieve “greater efficiencies” thanks to “increased buying power”. Schools get school improvement, IT, HR, finance and estates management services.

At Hinchingbrooke, they wanted to fund estates from the central budget because it has a Grade 1 listed building and outsourcing the cost of upkeep would be more expensive. 

ESFA says ‘no complaints’ over fund pooling

The academies handbook states either directing or pooling funds centrally can be “integral to a trust’s successful financial operating model”.

For trusts that pool their funding, rules state they must “consider funding needs” of each school and have an appeals mechanism, which can be escalated to the Education and Skills Funding Agency. The ESFA’s ruling would be final and can result in “pooling provisions being dis-applied”.

The ESFA told Schools Week after a freedom of information request it could not find any record of a complaint being lodged with them.

East Midlands Academy Trust CEO Joshua Coleman, whose seven-school chain GAG pools, said “top-slicing and management fees are [now] a fact of life”.

He added: “In terms of how you work with headteachers, I sit down with them and talk about how we want to deliver the education, what we’re trying to achieve and how we best achieve that … [and] assess what we need.

“It has to be done sensitively, professionally and it has to be managed.”

Brian Lightman, former general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, added changes to top-slices are “certainly something that needs to be consulted on and that it works for the schools”. 

Schools Week approached Patterson for comment.

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  1. Harry Hapsman

    So they’ve fallen out the CEO and Exec Heads who have finally had some push back when someone dare question them about the amount the top team are taking for themselves, then!