Police ‘looking at’ collapsed academy trust

Wakefield City Academy
Wakefield City Academy

Information about An academy chain is being ‘looked at’ by police after claims it stripped millions of pounds from its schools before its collapse.

Wakefield City Academies Trust (WCAT) was accused of transferring cash from schools’ savings into its own centralised account, during a Wakefield Council meeting last month.

Councillors including leader Coun Peter Box called for a police investigation into the trust, which ran 21 schools including eight in the district. After hearing that three could lose a total of more than £1.5m, they called for the “full restitution” of any money transferred.

This week West Yorkshire Police confirmed it was “looking at” information relating to the trust. In a statement, the force said: “Following further discussions with the local council, information has been now passed to us which we are looking at.

“No crimes have been recorded at this stage and consultations are ongoing with relevant authorities.”

WCAT made a shock announcement in September that it would cease running all of its schools, stating it could not bring about “rapid improvement” its academies needed.

It emerged this week that this was decided two months prior, in July. But a deliberate decision was made not to tell parents until days into the new school year in September.

Vicky Beer, the Regional Schools Commissioner for Lancashire and West Yorkshire, who monitors the performance of academies in the area, told a meeting of parliament’s education committee on Tuesday that the Department for Education first intervened in September 2016. By July this year, the trust’s board recognised it “didn’t have the appropriate capacity to meet the needs of all its schools”, she said.

But “given it was so close to the end of the summer term”, the board decided it was “better to wait” to make the announcement in September.

Committee member MP Lucy Powell asked her if she was “happy” with the way it was dealt with, saying parents and children were left “shocked and concerned” about the future of their schools at the start of a new academic year.

Ms Beer said: “Any sort of news like this is always going to be destabilising initially.”

Sir David Carter, the national schools commissioner, admitted that the DfE had given WCAT an “impossible” task by allocating the trust 14 schools in special measures in just 32 months. He said he was “confident” lessons had been learned.

When asked about this week’s revelations, the DfE referred the Express back to its most recent comment.

This stated: “Our priority is to make sure all children receive the best possible education, and it is because we wanted to see better and faster improvement for these schools that we stepped in.

“We will continue to discuss this with parents, governors, staff and MPs.”

The DfE said it plans to transfer all WCAT academies to new trusts by the end of the academic year. All WCAT’s Wakefield schools could be taken on by the Outwood Grange Academies Trust.