Police scouring funding agencies’ reports on Barnfield Federation

Reports on the under-fire Barnfield Federation by government funding agencies have been passed onto police.

Officers in Hertfordshire are examining findings from the Skills Funding Agency (SFA) and Education Funding Agency (EFA) to see “what, if any, crimes have been committed”.

The agencies started looking at the Bedfordshire-based federation — which, according to its website, includes Barnfield College; four academies, covering ages from four to 19; and, a free school covering the ages of four to 11 — last year over allegations of grade massaging and question marks over “operational finances” . Unions have also queried federation governance and management.

The funding agencies’ investigations have concluded, but the findings have not been made public on advice from police, according to a government spokesperson on behalf of the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and the Department for Education.

She said: “A joint SFA and EFA investigation was launched last year following serious allegations relating to financial irregularities and governance at the Barnfield Federation.

“This investigation has now concluded and the reports have been passed to the police.

“The police have advised us not to publish the reports until they have concluded their assessment. It would be inappropriate to comment further at this stage.”

A Hertfordshire Police spokesperson confirmed officers were looking at documents relating to Barnfield, but said no criminal investigation had been launched.

She said: “It is extremely early days at the moment. We are assessing the reports but at this point in time an investigation into a crime has not begun.

“We are at this point assessing what, if any, crimes have been committed.”

A spokesperson for the federation declined to comment.

It comes after FE Commissioner David Collins was also sent into the federation last month, and his report is due soon.

In a letter to Labour’s Luton South MP, Gavin Shuker, Skills Minister Matthew Hancock last year said the commissioner would review the federation leaderships’s “capacity and capability” to bring in “financial control improvements within an acceptable timescale”.

Ex-NCG (formerly Newcastle College Group) chief executive Dame Jackie Fisher was appointed as the federation’s new interim chief executive this week, replacing interims Helen Mayhew and Stephen Hall.

The founder and director general of the federation, Sir Peter Birkett, left in August last year and became chief executive of GEMS Education.

He quit the international school operator around four months later with the Barnfield Federation probe under way, saying: “In order that this issue does not become an undue distraction for my colleagues and the work of GEMS Education I have decided to resign from my position.”

He has been reported in local media as declining to comment until the agencies’ reports were published.