Engage Trust: Excluded pupil academy finds £1.2m hole

The Engage Trust Image copyright Google
Image caption The Engage Trust is based at Drayton Old Lodge outside Norwich

An academy trust for vulnerable and excluded pupils has found a £1.2m black hole in its finances, documents reveal.

The Engage Trust said in its accounts the deficit was "much greater than had been previously reported".

The situation was revealed at an employment tribunal as the trust's former business manager lost a claim for constructive dismissal.

Trust bosses said the "financial challenges" had been "systematically addressed with a robust recovery plan".

Board chairman Dennis Freeman said it had launched internal and external reviews to ensure it "responded promptly and took appropriate action" after discovering the discrepancy, first reported by the Eastern Daily Press.

The Engage Trust runs 10 specialist schools across Norfolk for children outside mainstream education.

'Substantial financial problems'

The deficit was found after the Education Education and Skills Funding Agency served a notice on the trust in September 2017, saying it needed to improve its financial wellbeing or face losing its delegated powers.

It ordered an independent review into the trust's financial controls.

"That report showed there were significant and substantial financial problems to the tune of £1.2m," said employment judge Robin Postle.

"The board appeared completely unaware of this financial deficit; the size of it."

Former trust business manager Gillian Wardlow was suspended in March 2018 while allegations of "serious financial mismanagement" were investigated, said the report.

She resigned in April 2018, days after the investigation concluded she should face a disciplinary process for alleged gross misconduct.

She later claimed delays in the investigation had amounted to constructive dismissal.

Chief executive Des Reynolds was suspended at the same time. He was dismissed in December, which the trust said was on grounds of gross misconduct.

Ms Wardlow has been approached for comment. Mr Reynolds declined to comment.

Under the name of the Short Stay School for Norfolk, the Engage Trust operates Douglas Bader School in Badersfield, Locksley School in Norwich and Brooklands School in Gorleston.

It also runs the Lodestar School in Norwich and the Pinetree School in Thetford.

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