The new chief executives of Barnfield College say they “welcomed” the current government investigation.
Speaking exclusively to the Luton News, joint interim CEO Helen Mayhew said she felt the Department for Education (DfE) and Skills Funding Agency (SfA) probe would offer the college “a clean slate”.
The college declared financial “challenges” to the SfA earlier this year. The investigation was launched in September after serious allegations were made.
Ms Mayhew said: “We welcomed the investigation. We wanted to engage with them, we didn’t have a problem with that. We then felt it would give us a clean slate. We felt it would offer us a new start.”
Former director Sir Peter Birkett resigned from the Barnfield Federation in July and said on Thursday he was “not aware” of the government investigation. He is now CEO of GEMS Education, a company that owns and operates schools worldwide.
Co-interim CEO Stephen Hall said Sir Peter’s departure could have been one of the factors which prompted the investigation.
He said: “With such a high profile leader as Sir Peter moving on, it’s a trigger factor, part of an accumulation of things that caused the investigation.
“There have been serious allegations made and the DfE must investigate whenever there is a whistle-blower, whether there is any substance to the allegations or not.”
The investigation is now concluded and the report is expected to be published in the next four to six weeks.
In a statement released on Thursday, Sir Peter said: “I am not aware of the purpose or scope of the audit so am unable to comment on the specifics.
“What I can say is that when I moved on from Barnfield as Director General of the whole Barnfield Federation it was reported to me that the interim results were the highest ever, there were healthy financial reserves and the staffing reshaping of the college would place the organisation in a solid position moving forward.”
Mr Hall said he and Ms Mayhew do not know the details of the investigation but confirmed the college’s finances and students’ exam results are being looked at.
He said: “In January this year we declared our financial challenge to the SfA. Essentially the college has gone from operating with a surplus to not in a surplus.”
Staff have accused the college of putting too much pressure on staff following wide-spread redundancies.
Mr Hall said: “It’s a challenge when you go through any change periods. There are some areas where we are not performing the way we would want it to be but we are working very hard to get that back up to the level we think is attainable.
“Our aim is to try and get the learning progression up to standard. To find the appropriate number of staff for the appropriate number of students that we have. It’s a different style of delivery, self-driven learning with work place assessments. This time has been a transition phase for us.”
The conversion of Putteridge High School in Luton to an academy is “on pause” until the results of the investigation are published.
Ms Mayhew said: “Our aim is not to be the biggest, it isn’t about mass expansion. It’s about being really good at what we do, being the best at what we do.”
Both CEOs said they hoped to be more open in the future, and to “lose the spin”.
Mr Hall said: “We still have the same aims and aspirations but we want to make sure we do it in an open and transparent way.”