Sandy Upper School denies improper use of academy conversion cash

Sandy Upper School received almost £1 million from Central Beds Council and the Department for Educa

Sandy Upper School received almost £1 million from Central Beds Council and the Department for Education amid the abandoned plan to become an academy. - Credit: Archant

Sandy Upper School has denied any impropriety surrounding the use of almost £1 million of extra funding it received amid a failed plan to become an academy.

The Department for Education and Central Beds Council pumped a total of £960,000 into Sandy Upper from 2014 to 2016.

This came after a planned academy conversion sponsored by Luton’s Barnfield College failed in 2013, months after Sandy Upper went into special measures.

Parent Mark Taylor thinks the extra cash has allowed the school off Engayne Avenue to “live beyond its means”, giving it an unfair advantage over other Central Beds schools.

He also alleges that, with a six-figure cumulative deficit forecast for the next two years, Sandy Upper’s plan to expand its age range to a secondary school is motivated by a desire to gain more local authority backing and plug the funding gap.

Mr Taylor submitted Freedom of Information requests to Central Beds Council and Sandy Upper in September, asking for details of funding since 2013, licensed deficits, budget forecasts and expected future pupil numbers.

The responses show that Sandy Upper received £460,000 from the DfE in ‘transformation funding’ over the two years – which school head Karen Hayward said was provided due to the proposed academy conversion and the school being in special measures.

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Writing to Mr Taylor, she said: “This sum is paid for additional staffing and consultants to carry out the necessary work needed to convert to any academy.

“Unfortunately, as you know the academy conversion did not occur and therefore most of this funding went into constructing a senior management team and staffing, as Barnfield pulled out all of their staff and support.”

Sandy Upper School has not answered the Comet’s query as to how much of the cash went into this senior management and staffing.

Central Beds Council records show that no other maintained school in the authority area has received such funding from the council or the DfE since 2013.

Sandy Upper is forecasting a cumulative deficit of £702,163 for 2018-19 and £621,776 for 2019-20 – and a rise in student numbers from 566 now to 857 in 2020.

A Sandy Upper School spokesman said: “We categorically refute any claim that funding has been used inappropriately by the school.

“The DfE and Central Bedfordshire Council provided additional funding to the school as a result of planned academy sponsorship being withdrawn.

“The decision to extend our age range is in response to the changes in the national curriculum and providing the best education for our students.”

The Comet asked the DfE on Monday for comment regarding the circumstances of the funding and procedure regarding failed academy conversion plans.

A spokeswoman said yesterday afternoon: “Where a school fails to convert to an academy, the department will decide on a case-by-case basis whether any funding should be recouped.”

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