Parents ‘angered’ after Essex academy allegedly failed to carry out fire safety improvements despite £255k funding
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Angry parents are demanding answers after allegations an Essex academy misused hundreds of thousands of pounds of public money it had been awarded to carry out building and fire safety work.
A Panorama investigation into alleged financial irregularities at Bright Tribe included claims the trust had been given £566,000 to demolish and rebuild unstable walls in Colchester Academy’s sports centre, but instead carried out a cheap repairs estimated at just £60,000.
The programme, which aired last night, also alleged Bright Tribe failed to fully carry out fire safety improvements at the school, despite claiming £255,000 in funding.
Lawyers for Bright Tribe, which also runs Alde Valley Academy in Leiston and Castle Hill and Cliff Lane primary schools in Ipswich, as well as several in the north of England, have denied the allegations. The trust added that it had appointed new leadership and was working with the Department for Education (DfE) to address “matters as swiftly as possible”.
However parents of children attending the school have been left shocked by the Panorama claims – and questioned why politicians and authorities had not intervened sooner.
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Kevin, who asked not to be named in full to protect child’s identity, said he and other parents were “angry” about the findings.
“I want to know why my daughter was allowed to go to a school where a fire could easily just have swept through the building,” he added.
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“I’m also annoyed by all that this issue now appears to be used for cheap party political point scoring.
“The councils and MP and should be working together on this and looking at how they could have averted what could have been a total disaster, instead of trying to score cheap points.”
Former governor Julie Young, who is also a county and borough councillor, said she had been raising concerns about Bright Tribe ever since it took over the school in 2015 – and is now calling for Essex County Council’s multi-academy trust to takeover at the school.
She claims to have been sacked from the governing body by Bright Tribe chief executive Mike Dwan because she would not be a “flag waver” for the trust.
Mrs Young said she was “apoplectic” to learn that Bright Tribe had been awarded £255,000 for fire safety improvements it had allegedly failed to complete in full.
“I was shocked by the scale of what the Panorama show has revealed,” she added.
“This is a national scandal.
“I’ve personally raised my concerns with Essex County Council on more than one occasion.
“I asked them to take the school back in 2015 and I’ve asked them again more recently.
“I’m also asking for an urgent fire safety inspection to be carried out.”
Colchester MP Will Quince tweeted: “I have written to the Secretary of State for Education and Schools Minister requesting a meeting to discuss the issues raised on Panorama last night relating to Bright Tribe and Colchester Academy.”
Bright Tribe’s latest statement on the allegations
“Monday night’s Panorama highlighted a number of issues of serious concern which the Trusts’ new leadership – new trustees and members, a new Interim CEO and a new Interim COO – has been looking into as matters of utmost urgency since their recent appointments.
“It is clearly absolutely unacceptable if any public money has not been spent as it should or if school buildings have been unsafe. The independent investigations the new leaders have commissioned, including those referred to in the BBC report, cover every area of the Trusts’ operational work over the past few years. It is essential that there is comprehensive understanding of all areas, including health and safety, funding, procurement processes and the sharing of information to ensure value for money, transparency, good governance and oversight, and we will update as soon as possible.
“The Trusts’ leadership is committed to ensuring that students at all academies within the Trusts receive the best possible educational experience, with Principals and teachers fully supported to achieve this.”