Published: 13:08, 10 September 2021
| Updated: 15:03, 10 September 2021
An academy trust, mired in controversy, is being supported by the government in taking legal action against a number of former trustees in a bid to recover up to £2.8million of "taxpayer funds".
It took over the management of the school, previously known as the Castle Community College, in 2014 when it was placed into special measures.
It then officially took over the reins in 2016, re-branding the school in the process.
But the Department for Education stripped it of the school – and three pupil referral units it ran in Devon – in 2018 amid claims of financial mismanagement and damning Ofsted reports.
The latest revelations were revealed by news website SchoolsWeek which said the legal action was the "latest sign of the government beginning to flex its muscles" over the financial mismanagement of schools.
High Court documents, seen by KentOnline, reveal the newly-installed team behind the SchoolsCompany is taking legal action against four trustees who left between 2017 and 2018.
They include former chief executive Elias Achilleos. The grounds for legal action are not revealed but are expected to be contested.
The Department of Education wrote-off £3m of cash given to the trust prior to its implosion and is now supporting the trust in pursuing £2.8m of "lost public funds".
Following the trust's collapse, interim leaders were appointed and the schools under its control were transferred to new academy trusts.
Goodwin College is now under the management of the Thinking Schools Academy Trust.
A spokesperson for the SchoolsCompany Trust said: “Following a period of detailed investigation, we can confirm the trust has commenced legal action against some of the former directors of the trust, all of whom left the organisation before May 2018. While legal proceedings are ongoing, we are unable to comment further.”
'I have agreed for the department to provide financial support to SchoolsCompany’s legal action against its former directors, to help recover taxpayer funds'
In its latest accounts, the SchoolsCompany revealed the Education Skills and Funding Agency (ESFA) had investigated "the conduct of the former trustees which had resulted in the loss of public funds”.
Plans to dissolve the company - which is now registered as a charity - are now "pending whilst the company attempts to recover the lost public funds".
It adds "a grant funding agreement is in place with the Department for Education to ensure the company has sufficient funds to operate whilst the investigation continues".
Minister for the School System, Baroness Berridge added: “Any type of financial mismanagement in schools is completely unacceptable, which is why I have agreed for the department to provide financial support to SchoolsCompany’s legal action against its former directors, to help recover taxpayer funds.
“We put in place a strong interim leadership team at the trust and transferred the academies to high performing academy trusts. We have since introduced a number of measures to strengthen financial transparency across all academies, so we can spot irregularities much more quickly.”
SchoolsWeek quoted financial management expert Micon Metcalfe saying: "Normally we would see ESFA write off liabilities, so this seems to set something of a precedent. It sends a message trust directors must act with reasonable skill and care and in the best interests of the company.”
Education advisor, and former Gravesend head teacher, Peter Read, who runs the KentAdvice website added: "I am very concerned the government appears to happily write-off millions of pounds in a number of cases that I have seen.
"This money is supposed to be for the children's education - that's what makes me so frustrated."
Elias Achilleos could not be traced for comment.