In recent weeks a number of residents have contacted me to raise their various concerns regarding E21C, a local multi-academy trust of which five schools in Bromley and Chislehurst are members.
Paul Murphy, who until recently served as the Trust’s CEO, has already stood down from this post as a result of the financial irregularities that have been uncovered, and remains suspended as headmaster of The Ravensbourne School. There also remain a number of other serious allegations that must be fully addressed, not least claims of a culture of bullying towards members of staff.
This issue was first brought to my attention privately a number of months ago, and since then it is something I have discussed with former governors, Bromley Council, and senior officials at the Department for Education. I also raised it directly with the Education Secretary, Damian Hinds, in the Commons last month:
On 20 November, I attended a very productive meeting with the Regional Schools Commissioner and the Deputy Director of the Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA) to discuss the future of E21C. As stated in the ‘Financial Notice to Improve’ sent to the current trustees, the ESFA is closely monitoring the financial management, control and governance of E21C, effectively meaning that all decisions have to be centrally signed off. The ESFA has also assured me that a number of separate and thorough investigations are underway to ensure all allegations made against the Trust are fully addressed, something officials will keep me updated on.
Since that meeting, the Trust has appointed three new trustees, all of whom have prior experience of turning around educational establishments. These new trustees have had no prior involvement with E21C or any of the Trust’s current or former employees, making them ideal candidates to provide the independent and rigorous oversight needed. From what I understand, all three attended their first meeting of the Trust board on Monday, and it is the ESFA’s intention that one of these new members will replace the acting chair in due course.
From the conversations I have had, I am confident that the Department for Education is taking the necessary steps to refresh the governance of E21C, putting in place as swiftly as possible the proper checks and balances required for a multi-academy trust of this size. Ultimately, it will be for the new trust board to decide on the future of the executive team, and it would not be right for the Department for Education to seek to pre-empt that. However, I have made my own views very clear that a clean slate is required to restore confidence in the Trust.
I will, of course, continue to closely monitor progress on this matter.