A Tory MP has ripped into Education Secretary over the “appalling” state of academies in her northern constituency, saying the nuclear industry had to step in to provide computers.
Trudy Harrison demanded action from Damian Hinds as she revealed the Whitehaven Academy in Copeland, Cumbria, had “rotten window frames” which had to be nailed shut while students were left working in 36C heat because of a faulty heating system.
The MP fumed at her party colleague, who was appearing before the powerful Commons Education Committee, that “potentially millions” of pounds had been misspent “at one school alone” by the managing multi-academy trust, Bright Tribe.
Spelling out anger over Bright Tribe’s monthly spend on IT and building maintenance, Harrison went on to call for academies, which are free from local authority control, to face greater finance transparency rules and inspections from Ofsted.
“The finances of the multi-academy trusts is what concerns me the most,” she said.
“Bright Tribe are not transparent and the parents have actually had to become part-time detectives in finding out the amount of money that is spent every month: a 9% top-slice, £10,000-a-month on IT when actually the nuclear industry is stepping in to provide the school with computers because it doesn’t have a suitable IT system, £36,000-a-month on the estate.
“I know you haven’t visited Whitehaven Academy yet but it is appalling, window frames which are rotten, the Health and Safety Executive has instructed that these windows must now be nailed shut, which means there is no ventilation in the school, the radiators were permanently on - teachers and students in classrooms with temperatures of 36C a couple of weeks ago.
“And it was the nuclear industry that stepped in because Bright Tribe absolutely failed in their duty to provide a fit-for-purpose building.”
She said Bright Tribe was given £1m to create a ‘northern hub’ but the Commons committee had uncovered that the cash had been spent on senior teachers’ salaries.
Hinds said Bright Tribe’s handling of Whitehaven Academy had been a “terrible case” and that four northern schools belonging to the trust were to be re-brokered.
He said “important lessons would be learned” about academy finances.
It comes as Labour MPs have attacked the government for school cuts which have left teachers begging parents for donations for school supplies.
Asked if he knew the salary Bright Tribe’s chief executive was paid, Hinds answered he did not, adding: “But I do know there is legitimate concern over the high salaries.”
He said the Department for Education would demand disclosure of high teacher salaries, particularly where multi-academy trust (MAT) chief executives earned more than the Prime Minister.
He added Lord Agnew, who has been examining pay, had come to agreements with some MATs to cut salaries.
Harrison continued to press the minister, however, saying some misspending by academies should be considered “criminal” and that government should be able to get compensation.
“We’re talking about millions of pounds, the last hour we have discussed how we want money to be spent on SEN, on careers support, on childcare, on early intervention... here we have millions of pounds being misspent,” she said.
“What can be done to ensure that money can be clawed back and put where it should be, into the schools?”
Hinds said he would boost transparency on spending, with invoices under a certain amount automatically being made public.
A spokesman for Bright Tribe Trust said the chain has never been listed amongst the top-paying academy trusts and has not been asked to justify their salary payments by Lord Agnew.
The spokesman added: ”Bright Tribe is aware of the problems with the school’s buildings, and has lobbied at the highest level in an attempt to secure funding for a new build school.”