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Getting the facts right – How we really supported the Bright Tribe and Adventure Learning Academy Trusts

22nd October 2018

Following the broadcast on Monday 10th September 2018 of the BBC’s Panorama programme ‘Profits before Pupils. The Academies Scandal’ and the disappointing and sensationalist journalism this represented, we wanted to address the untrue claims and scapegoating of Michael Dwan by anti-academy groups and individuals with a poor memory for school conditions prior to them converting to an academy under Bright Tribe Trust and Adventure Learning Academy Trust.  All of the allegations raised in this programme have been and will continue to be strenuously denied. The programme was completely one-sided, insufficiently researched and carefully edited to present an unbalanced and overall inaccurate position. Despite numerous requests no evidence has been provided by the BBC to support their very serious claims.

The programme producers first contacted Michael a few weeks before the broadcast with some very general questions about his involvement with the Trusts. Michael replied outlining why some of the questions were incorrect or misleading in their assumptions. This was followed by four further letters by the programme producers setting out some very serious allegations and despite numerous requests, no evidence to support such claims was ever provided. These questions also highlighted a basic lack of understanding about how the sector is regulated and supported our view that either little research had been undertaken prior to broadcast or that this was a very structured and deliberate method to misrepresent what had actually taken place. We pointed out that some of the allegations had already been proven to be without foundation following previous detailed audits by the Education Funding Agency, the oversight body for the sector, and provided copies whilst highlighting that they were already publicly available.

There remain a small number of individuals who repeat these unfounded allegations in the hope that repetition will make them true.

Michael Dwan continued to point out that these allegations were without foundation and no evidence had ever been presented by any party including the BBC to support them. Michael and his legal team replied in full to each allegation, explaining why they were untrue and without foundation and provided evidence in support of the points which were being made. Michael’s legal team also repeatedly asked for any evidence to support the allegations which were being made but even now, such evidence has not been provided.

As part of this process Michael offered to provide an on-camera interview. The date for this was agreed. However, the BBC ran a promotion for the programme content repeating some of the allegations before Michael had even been interviewed.

This indicated the BBC’s desire to broadcast a programme despite evidence to the contrary and before Michael had stated his position because we believe it made for a better story.

We became increasingly concerned that the evidence we had provided was irrelevant to the Panorama production team. They clearly wanted to produce a programme which maliciously targeted Michael Dwan for reasons that even today we cannot understand.

Michael gave a 35 minute on camera interview on the 4th September 2018 in which he attempted to explain his position on the allegations raised.

The vast majority of these answers were not fully broadcast. They had mounted a camera which was not brought to our attention prior to filming and which continued to film Michael even when he asked for filming to pause, for example, when he needed to take a drink.

The final edit and compilation of this interview is biased, one-sided and grossly misleading to suit the story which the Panorama programme team wished to portray. Fortunately, we filmed the entire interview ourselves for our own records. Michael is repeatedly defamed in sections not shown and this will form part of our evidence as we move forward.

The Facts

  • Michael Dwan was the sponsor representative of Bright Tribe Trust and Adventure Learning Academy Trust
  • He personally donated many millions of pounds to support the establishment of these Trusts and urgent works required on some of the schools to make them safe and legally compliant.
  • Michael has never profited from the academies or the Trusts.
  • Michael has never been in control of the Trusts, but he has, as sponsor, been an active adviser and provided much needed expert resource and skills from his connected companies to give schools in the Trust the urgent support they required.
  • All connected companies’ relationships were ‘at cost or below’ as defined by the Academies Financial Handbook. The basis of cost or less is evidenced by a very detailed analysis of actual costs for each and every individual, materials and so on. This information has been subjected to external audit and scrutiny by the Trust Auditors and the EFA who found no concerns of financial mismanagement and who commented in their report that there was ‘no evidence of funds being directed other than for the purpose intended by Parliament”
  • The ‘shoddy’ workmanship and incomplete works portrayed in the programme are false, wholly misrepresentative and deliberately misleading. For example:
    • The sports hall doors in Colchester Academy shown in the programme are accommodation doors and not fire doors. The space identified supposedly to show structural works is in fact the wrong space, a clear misrepresentation.
    • There is no indication of where the ceiling tiles that show supposed lack of fire stopping were located. In any event, during September 2018, Essex fire service attended Colchester Academy and declared the fire safety satisfactory. There are only two outcomes for the enforcing authority (fire service), either; ‘unsatisfactory’ with improvement, enforcement or prohibition notices or ‘satisfactory’.  Claims otherwise have therefore been proven to be unfounded. (https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-45666260)
    • The filming of supposed general disrepair at The Whitehaven Academy took place well after Michael Dwan’s and any connected company’s involvement supporting this school estate. Michael Dwan’s active involvement with the Trust as sponsor representative ended October 2017, however his companies ceased to provide services from October 2016. Post this date we cannot comment on the estate maintenance provision which had been provided in-house by the Trust since end of 2016 or whether the area shown was in fact a mothballed part of the estate.

In this very one-sided programme, it is disappointing that no mention was made of the areas where major estate improvements had been made to schools within the Trust, nor was there any reference to the positive feedback received from staff and the community at the time such works were undertaken.

We have included with this post a summary of the extensive works undertaken at The Whitehaven Academy, Colchester Academy and Fowey River Academy to highlight the extent of the works done and to give assurance that all grant funds were spent on improvement works across the school estate.

On this basis and with the wealth of evidence we have to support our position, each and every claim raised by the BBC Panorama production team is completely denied and where necessary legal action is being pursued.

Speaking in support of Michael Dwan, Kathy Kirkham, previous Deputy Director at the Education Funding Agency and former Chief Operating Officer of the Bright Tribe Trust until early 2017 said;

“Mr Dwan’s companies supported the Trust’s early development. This was crucial because the schools inherited by the Trust were in a very poor condition, not compliant to safe or legal standards and with a backlog of serious underinvestment in their school estate. We needed urgent services, yet the schools were in financial deficit.

Companies connected to Mr Dwan were able to deliver works at cost or less, meaning value for money was assured. Where the schools could not afford urgent works to make them safe, Mr Dwan as sponsor representative of the Trust provided funds and resources free of charge. Mr Dwan’s donations ran to many millions more than any payments his companies received. At the time the Trust was always satisfied that the companies provided the work to the specifications requested and we were grateful for that generous support.”

We recognise that Academies are a hot topic for debate now, but these false claims are a gross misrepresentation and will continue to be strenuously denied.

It is a great sadness that all those schools who benefitted from this support appear to have no memory of the conditions they were allowed to operate in under Local Authority control.

We remain proud of the work Equity Solutions Group companies did to support these schools. Out of 13 of these schools, 12 have all rapidly improved results including 2 schools being recognised for awards in their region. In addition, we are confident in 2016 when group companies ceased providing estate management services to these schools, they were left in a better condition

These amazing achievements seem to be overshadowed but shouldn’t be forgotten.

Notes:

Michael Dwan has previously published a statement about his involvement with Bright Tribe and Adventure Learning Academy Trust via the Helping Hands Trust website, the previous sponsor of the Trusts.

You can view this HERE

The following summaries aim to highlight the extensive amount of support and work undertaken at the three schools identified in these false allegations.

The Whitehaven Academy – summary of works

Colchester Academy – summary of works

Fowey River Academy – summary of works

Any media enquiries relating to this post and interview should be directed to Michaela Keating, Brockwell Communications michaela.keating@brockwellcommunications.co.uk


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