‘Honest academies’ can restore public faith

A FORMER academy chief who purchased sex games with a school credit card has ‘brought education into disrepute’ but ‘trustworthy’ local academies can restore faith, their leaders claim.

Barry Day, whose Greenwood Dale Foundation Trust sponsors a number of academies, including Skegness, was disheartened when he learnt that ‘serious failings’ had been identified at the unrelated Priory Federation of Academies in Lincoln.

He said: “Whatever has happened at the Priory, whether it has been committed by one individual or a number of people, has not done the academy movement any favours - this is why those of us who operate within the statutes with honesty and integrity are going to have to work harder to restore the public’s faith.”

A Department for Education investigation revealed that the Priory Federation’s former chief executive Richard Gilliland used a school credit card to buy sex games, lavish Christmas dinners and paid for his son’s equestrian lessons with school funds.

Lincolnshire based academy opposition group Save Our Schools ‘reacted with horror’ to the report, which it believes to have highlighted the very problems in the academy system it has been fighting against.

Group chairman Sarah Dodds said: “The lack of accountability, the failure of governance, and the individual levels of greed involved clearly vindicate why SOS have been so concerned about the privatisation of our schools for so long.”

However Mr Day claims the GFDT has numerous levels of internal and external scrutiny to prevent any of its staff making illegitimate financial gains from the organisation’s accounts.

He said: “Any decisions that are made are scrutinised by a completely independent committee, so there’s absolutely no chance that what has happened at the Priory could happen here.”

The region’s other main academy sponsor, the David Ross Foundation has expressed similar claims to Mr Day’s.

Its chief executive Wendy Marshall said: “Our job is to get the maximum resources on the frontline for the benefit of the pupils’ education and to support the best outcome for young people, so we are very prudent with our expenses”

Mr Day and Ms Marshall have outlined numerous financial practices which are carried out to ensure no one can gain personally. Neither foundation allows company credit cards and both require expense claims to be rigorously justified while permitting travelling employees to stay only in budget accommodation to ensure the organisation provides best value for money.

Following the backlash which The Priory report has unleashed, Mr Day expects the DfE to carry out an extensive financial review of many more academies.

He said: “I look forward to working with the DfE to bring confidence back into the system.”