Birmingham & Black Country

Perry Beeches Academy Trust: Critical EFA report delayed

Gove and Cameron at Perry Beeches
Image caption Former Prime Minister David Cameron and then Education Secretary Michael Gove were at the opening of Perry Beeches III free school in 2013

An education watchdog delayed publication of a critical report into a flagship academy trust once praised by David Cameron, the BBC has learnt.

The Education Funding Agency (EFA) gave Perry Beeches The Academy Trust 24 hours' notice of its report on "weakness in financial management".

But the trust's request for a "grace period" was granted - and publication delayed by a further two days.

The EFA said it "always" gave notice of publication.

The trust, which runs five schools and looks after 2,400 pupils in Birmingham, said its request was to give it chance to talk to "all interested parties".

The EFA investigation found an additional salary of £160,000 was paid to the trust's chief executive and former head Liam Nolan, over two years, through a third-party agreement - on top of his £120,000-a-year salary.

It was issued with a financial notice to improve.

An email chain between the EFA and the trust, released after a BBC Freedom of Information request, showed the EFA first suggested publishing its report on Tuesday 22 March, and pushed that back two days after the trust asked.

Image caption On the left is the email from Perry Beeches, on the right is the reply from the Education Funding Agency agreeing to delay the critical report

That was despite the EFA reply saying it "only ever gave 24 hours' notice" to trusts issued with a financial notice to improve.

'Irregular dispensation'

During the delay, the trust employed a PR company to push out a press release saying its "trailblazing superhead" would step down from the commercial side of the trust. He has since resigned.

The press release mentioned the financial notice to improve but none of the EFA's other findings.

Chris McGovern, chairman of the Campaign for Real Education, said the trust should not have asked for what he called an "irregular, special dispensation".

"The consequence of asking for a delay is very damaging to the trust's own credibility and the consequence of it being agreed to, will damage public confidence in the academy programme," Mr McGovern said.

"Trusts should welcome publication of these reports for public confidence and transparency."

Paul Wheeler, the trust's current acting chief executive officer, said: "The request to delay publication...was to provide the trust time to inform its staff and all stakeholders."

He said the PR firm was a "sensible precaution" to "deal with the inevitable press interest".

Image caption The trust said all trustees in place in March had stepped down, including Liam Nolan (above), and it had made a "conscious effort to move away from the high profile leadership style"

The EFA said it was working with the trust on an "action plan to fix weaknesses".

A spokesperson said: "Academy trusts operate under a strict system of oversight and accountability - more robust than in council-run schools — which has enabled us to identify these issues and take swift action."

The trust has been praised by the government in the past with David Cameron and then education minister Michael Gove attending the opening of Perry Beeches III in 2013.

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