Above: Nolan at the 2012 Tory Conference
The Birmingham academy chain praised by David Cameron, Michael Gove and the present Education Secretary Nicky Morgan, is in serious financial crisis, leaving five schools in a state of uncertainty and 2,400 pupils and their parents, not knowing what the future holds.
Liam Nolan, the “Superhead” of Perry beaches Academy Trust, who has been on sick leave since Easter, when the Education Funding Agency (EFA) reported on serious financial mismanagement, has now resigned.
Mr Nolan was one of three executive headteachers at the Trust, and was also the trust’s Accounting Officer and Chief Executive. He received a salary of £120,000 directly from the Trust.
But the EFA, which oversees education spending for the Government, launched an investigation after it received claims from a whistleblower that “an additional second salary” was paid to Mr Nolan.
It has published a report saying that it discovered the trust had made payments of £1.297 million over two years to a business called Nexus Schools Ltd, which in return provides a range of services to the trust – including the services of its chief executive (CEO), Mr Nolan.
The report said £160,000 had been paid specifically for the work of the chief executive over two years (ie in addition to his £120,000 salary as Executive Head).
It said: “The trust pays Nexus for providing the services of a CEO for Perry Beeches multi-academy trust. Nexus then sub contracts this role to Liam Nolan Ltd, whose sole director is the Accounting Officer (ie Liam Nolan).“The Accounting Officer is also paid for his concurrent role as Executive Headteacher separately through payroll at £120,000 per annum in 2014/15.
“The academy paid Nexus £72,000, including VAT in 2013/14 and £88,800 plus VAT in 2014/15 for the CEO role.”
The payments were not transparent, the report said.
It said: “The payments made to the Accounting Officer, through Nexus and then Liam Nolan Ltd, for CEO services were not disclosed in the 2013/14 financial statements.”
And it also warned that there was no written contract with Nexus.
It said: “The trust spent £1.297m with Nexus over 2 years, without a written contract or a formal procurement exercise to demonstrate value for money.”
Mr Nolan’s niece and nephew were both employed by the Trust in the 12 months up to August 31 2015.
Debts at the trust are estimated to be in excess of £1.8 million, and rising each month, making it difficult to attract new private sponsors.
The Trust was also accused of claiming up to £2.8 million for children on free school meals, “where no evidence of eligibility exists” and has been ordered to repay £118,291.
David Cameron praised the Trust when he visited Perry Beeches III in 2013.
He said at the time: “Here in Birmingham it is particularly exciting because we have Perry Beaches. The original school was the most improved school ever, which went from 20 per cent to 80 per cent A-star to C grades in six or seven years, so we have got a brilliant team here which is embracing this.”
Liam Nolan has presented his resignation from the post of CEO/executive headteacher at the Perry Beeches academy trust. He has made this decision to allow the necessary changes required to move the trust forward.
The decision by Mr Nolan and the governors to stand down leaves the management of the trust’s five schools in the hands of the Department for Education, while a search begins for new sponsors.
In 2013, Cameron described Mr Nolan and Perry Beeches as “a brilliant team” running “one of the most successful comprehensive schools ever in Britain”.
As well as being a prominent supporter of the Tories’ academies and Free Schools programme, Nolan was also careful to keep on good terms with local Labour MPs:
Last month Birmingham website The Chamberlain Files reported that three Birmingham Labour MPs each received £5,000 from the trust towards the cost of running their offices. The MPs – Gisela Stuart (Edgbaston), Jack Dromey (Erdington) and Shabanah Mahmood (Ladywood) agreed to repay the money.
Perry Beeches Academy Trust runs Perry Beeches Academy and four other schools, named Perry Beeches II, III, IV and V. Plans for two new free schools had been given approval by the DfE but will not now go ahead.
Perry Beeches Academy Trust joins Cuckoo Hall Academies Trust, Durand Academy Trust and Barnfield Federation as trusts highly praised by the Tories, but which have been criticised for their financial arrangements.
Mr Nolan has said “I’m not a businessman, I’m a Headmaster”.