By Calum Fraser
A student is standing up to the academy chain running his school, calling on one of their top bosses to be held accountable after a government investigation found irregularities in their finances.
A schools watchdog found that the Education for the 21st Century Trust (E21C), who manage academies across South-east London and Kent, failed to deduct tax and national insurance from more than £140,000 of payments made to their then chief executive Paul Murphy.
Blackheath teen Sheldon Allen, a year 13 pupil at Coopers Secondary School which was transferred to E21C in June, has started a petition demanding that an example is made of Mr Murphy and that HMRC take action against the trust.
The 17-year-old said: “Everyone is really angry. It’s my school, I feel like it is a personal attack against my education.
“When I saw that he had been pocketing about £140,000 on top of his headteacher salary, I couldn’t believe it.
“I take Government and Politics and our teacher was off sick, they said they can’t afford a cover teacher so we just had a free period. Surely a bit of the CEO’s double pay package could have been used on this.”
The Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA), the body in charge of schools funding, describes the payments that Mr Murphy’s personal service company received as “over and above his headteacher salary, for the additional work undertaken as the CEO.” Mr Murphy was suspended as headteacher at Ravensbourne School last week.
These payments were made over a four-year period, from September 2014 to August 2018.
Coopers Secondary School was paired with the Mead Road Infant School run under the William Willett Learning Trust until that merged with E21C in May this year.
Sheldon said: “I joined this school because it was part of smaller trust that I thought was good for pupils.
“Then we merged with E21C and we’ve had a load of people popping around that we don’t recognise. This wasn’t the Coopers I signed up to last year.
“The department for education received the complaints in March, but then they allowed our school to be taken over by E21C in May. How does that make sense?”
Sheldon’s petition has more than 400 signatures.
His friend and fellow year 13 pupil Lia Ash, 18, of Eltham, said: “I want to be a police officer and I am a strong believer that people pay for their crimes.
“But we keep seeing people who commit corporate crimes just getting a little slap on the wrist and then they can worm their way out with words.
“It feels very personal, like our school was being used for someone’s profit.”
The ESFAs report, published on November 7, has reccommended that HMRC take on the investigation.
In a financial notice to the trust, the ESFA also demands a fully independent review of the trust’s governance arrangements, and an independent review of financial management and internal controls.
A spokeswoman for E21C said: “We are taking this matter extremely seriously and, working closely with the Government, have undertaken a number of actions to address it, with more to follow.
“Paul Murphy is no longer the Chief Executive Officer and remains suspended as head of The Ravensbourne School pending a disciplinary hearing. We have a new acting Chief Executive Officer and a new Chair of Trustees, while a number of experienced new Trustees are shortly to join the Board. Further actions will follow as we continue to ensure that our processes moving forward are as robust as possible.
“Our Trust is proud to deliver high-quality education to over 6,000 pupils and students in our infant school, three primary schools, four secondary schools. All of our schools have been inspected and have been rated Good or better by Ofsted.”
We approached the Department for Education for a response but did not received one.
To see the petition go to www.change.org/p/hold-paul-murphy-to-account-for-his-actions