Leigh Academies Trust (LAT) took over two primary schools in Tonbridge, Horsmonden and Paddock Wood, earlier this month but the process behind Paddock Wood’s conversion did not follow the rules, Kent Independent Education Advice says*.
Paddock Wood applied to convert on 6 December 2018 but the full governing body consent required by law had not been given. The consultation did not start until five months later in May this year. This was ‘surely a pointless exercise’, KIEA says.
The governing body’s chair admitted in a later email there should have been full governing body approval to apply for conversion ‘instead of simply a quorate for the academy working part [a governing body sub group]’. The chairman added, ‘I think this was an error.’ Surely an understatement given that the ‘academy working part’ wasn’t following the mandatory procedure.
Worse, it is alleged that governors subsequently ‘made up a fictional meeting (for which neither they nor their solicitors have been able to provide minutes) at which the resolution was supposed to have occurred’. One of the governors named as present said in writing the meeting never took place.
The Information Commissioner was ‘highly critical of various aspects of the process’. However, these concerns together with those of the local Regional Schools Commissioner and the Department for Education were ‘too late to influence proceedings’.
It is astonishing that the DfE accepted it was too late to stop academization. It surely has the final say and has in the past halted free schools at the last minute. This inaction suggests the DfE has no intention of preventing academy conversion once a school has made a decision even if it appears the conversion process flouted rules laid down by the DfE.
Leigh Academies Trust has attracted controversy in the past. Greenwich council paid £1.5m to LAT when Corelli College was rebrokered in September 2018 to settle a dispute over land. LAT was awarded £150k in transfer fees* and renamed the school Halley Academy. In April this year, LAT admitted it was making Halley staff redundant ‘to avoid a deficit’
Warwick Mansell’s website Education Uncovered, cited by KIEA in its coverage of the Paddock Wood scandal, revealed in January this year that the salary of LAT’s CEO Simon Beamish had risen by nearly 20% in academic year 2017/18 ‘’to at least £220,000’.
*Table downloadable here.
AMENDMENT: 10.26 The heading has been changed from 'Rules appear to have been broken in Leigh Academies Trust's takeover of two schools' as the article just covers one.