‘There must be an inquiry into Wakefield City Academy Trust failures’

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An independent inquiry must be held into the demise of a crisis-hit academy trust, union leaders have warned, as accusations are levelled at government agencies over their responsibility for its collapse.

The Wakefield City Academy Trust (WCAT), which ran 21 schools across Yorkshire, made a shock announcement last September that it was seeking new trusts to run its schools, a new board concluding it was not able to bring about improvements its students deserved.

Reviews of the trust’s financial management and governance, dating as far back as 2015, were published this week by the Department for Education, revealing the Education and Skills Funding Agency (Esfa) had raised “urgent” concerns more than a year before its collapse. Union leaders and MPs have now questioned whether the crisis could have been averted.

Kevin Courtney of the National Education Union, said the reports, which comes three years after WCAT was first investigated, underlines a “lack of transparency and accountability of the academy programme”.

He added: “The reports themselves highlight the abject failure of the DfE and the ESFA to oversee academy trusts,

“It is clear the catastrophic failures of WCAT were not recognised by the ESFA despite evidence building up that ultimately led to the trust’s collapse in 2017.

“The DfE and its agencies are ultimately responsible for the collapse of WCAT and other high-profile academy trust failures. There needs to be an independent inquiry to learn the lessons of their own failures.”

A report in 2016 found that 16 breaches had been made, concluding it was “extremely vulnerable” as a result of “inadequate” governance, leadership and overall financial management. The board had failed to ensure good financial management or agree a balanced budget, the review found.”