Top bosses cash in as Hackney’s famed privatised education authority prepares to end contract

Michael Gove visits Mossbourne Academy, Hackney - part of The Learning Trust

Michael Gove at Hackney's Mossbourne Academy // Photo: usembassylondon

In 2002, Hackney council became the first authority to be ordered to privatise its education services. Now, as the 10 year contract comes to a close, directors at The Learning Trust have pocketed huge pay increases – while dishing redundancies to their staff.

Bosses at The Learning Trust have seen their salaries rise by up to £74,269 since 2005, with the highest paid director now earning £217,102 a year.

But cuts at the education authority led to more than a hundred teachers and staff leaving their jobs last year after a series of redundancies. And 30 more jobs are set to be cut, including two primary school teacher posts, according to union sources.

One specialist primary school teacher, who works with gypsy children, has been told he will lose a day and a half from his working week. The change would cut his salary by about £20,000 a year.

Meanwhile, almost exactly the same sum of money was used to boost the total salary payments for Trust directors last year.

The National Union of Teachers is set to meet officials from The Learning Trust, but a source said it was their policy to strike when compulsory redundancies are made.

The private company, which is responsible for education in Hackney, is headed by Richard Hardie, Vice Chair of Swiss bank UBS. When the company transfers power back to the council this summer, directors will get to keep the high salaries they have awarded themselves because protection provided by employment laws – leaving the council to foot the bill.

Figures show that The Learning Trust paid out more than £600,000 to its directors last financial year.

Transfer

Hackney council lost control over education management after it was branded the worst in the country back in 1997. The American-style school board system forced on to the borough by New Labour has overseen the setting up of the famed Mossbourne Academy in one of the most deprived areas of London. The school has been rated “outstanding” by Ofsted, with Education Secretary Michael Gove describing headteacher Michael Wilshaw a “hero”.

But the dramatic improvements have largely been credited to the new system and Wilshaw himself, rather than the removal of the old one that was failing to meet its statutory responsibilities. And, while press reports have tended to focus on the successes of Mossbourne, other schools in the area have seen standards slip.

Contrary to the efficiency of private companies Tory politicians speak of, The Learning Trust managed to spend more that £121m on “administrative expenses” in just one year. Financial details were outlined in the latest accounts published.

The company also manages to dodge transparency and accountability laws that public education authorities are subject to. Although Freedom of Information requests are accepted, the company is not obliged to comply with legislation, meaning that any complaints about transparency cannot be investigated by the Information Commissioner.

The authority has said: “The Learning Trust is not bound by the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act.  However as a body exercising public functions The Learning Trust is committed to doing so openly and transparently.  The Learning Trust has developed a policy which, so far as its constitution allows, complies with the provisions of the Act.”

Education services are set to be handed back to Hackney council in August as the 10 year contract comes to a close.

 

Update:  The Learning Trust have claimed that the term “administrative expenses”  is just an “accounting description”. A press officer said that it “covers all of our expenditure and so includes grant payments and government funds paid to school via the Trust.”