School trust needs ‘to be held to account’ claims parent

Chief executive of the Samuel Ward Academy Trust,  Dr Tim Coulson
Chief executive of the Samuel Ward Academy Trust, Dr Tim Coulson

A parent of one of the 83 pupils effected by Samuel Ward Academy Trust’s (SWAT) decision to withdraw free school transport has raised concerns about its financial management.

Rachel Cannon, who is also chair of governors for the Hundon and Thurlow Primary Federation, has written to Sue Baldwin, the Regional Schools Commissioner for the East of England North East London.

Mrs Cannon, whose daughter is a Year 11 pupil at Samuel Ward Academy, expressed particular concern over how the trust spends the grant it receives from the Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA), the body responsible for funding academies.

The concerns centre around SWAT’s decision to axe the free transport it provided for 83 pupils living primarily in Hundon, Glemsford and Clare and asking parents to start paying £10 per child per week for a bus to school – despite being told in March that the five-year-old arrangement would continue for 2017-18.

That decision amounted to a breach of contractual agreement between the trust and parents, added Mrs Cannon in her letter, and would cause some of those families financial hardship.

The letter had now been passed on to Mike Parish, chairman of the SWAT board, and a response was expected next week, said Mrs Cannon.

In her letter, Mrs Cannon, who lives in Stradishall Road, Hundon, said: “Should the General Annual Grant ever have been used to provide free home-to-school transport for pupils?

“Would it not have been more appropriate to come to an agreement with SCC (Suffolk County Council) regarding transport for pupils, or informed parents of the full cost when they applied.”

Mrs Cannon also claimed that SWAT was wrong to have previously actively encouraged admission applications from families whose children lived in the Castle Manor Academy catchment area and to subsequently provide a free bus to take them to Samuel Ward Academy.

This approach, she said, led to Samuel Ward’s pupil numbers rising, but with funding for those extra pupils now delayed Samuel Ward had been left with a bigger budget deficit (£921,000), leading to the removal of the free transport as a cost-cutting measure.

Mrs Cannon added in her letter: “I feel that SWAT must take responsibility for the financial hardship and disadvantage for pupils in these rural communities.

“They have used public funds to advance strategic expansion and to secure pupil numbers in a way that has proven to be unsustainable, and to the detriment of some pupils’ education.

“I believe they should be held to account for this and made to honour their contractual agreement with parents.”

Dr Tim Coulson, Chief Executive of SWAT, said: “We can confirm that we have received a letter from Rachel Cannon and we will be responding to it as a matter of priority.”