Fresh concerns raised over Barnfield College

Teaching unions have raised further concerns about the governance and management of a troubled college which is being investigated by the government.

The National Union of Teachers (NUT) has written to Ofsted about Barnfield College, in Bedfordshire, in the same week as the Skills Funding Agency and the Department for Education confirmed they were investigating allegations that are being taken “very seriously”.

Bodrul Amin, NUT Luton branch co-secretary, said the organisation welcomed the news of the investigation.

He said: “We can also confirm that the Luton NUT has written to Ofsted in order for them to look into the management and governance at Barnfield College and Barnfield Federation.”

The college is part of the Barnfield Federation, which incorporates four primary school academies and six secondary school academies.

The director general of the federation, Sir Peter Birkett, resigned in July, and the college recently completed a major restructure.

Mr Amin said the union had been concerned by the strategy the federation seemed to have been pursuing while Sir Peter Birkett was in charge.

He said: “Sir Peter Birkett, the ex-director general, made it very clear that he wanted Barnfield in the future to be a profit-making entity.

“If we go down this route, this is what can happen because people will put profit before education.”

A Barnfield spokesperson said: “This audit is about what’s happened in the past and we are fully engaged with it to ensure that we learn lessons for the future.

“Meanwhile, our focus continues to be on our students, parents and staff. They are our priority always and we are re-shaping Barnfield to ensure we provide excellent education. That’s what the future is about.”

Gavin Shuker, MP for Luton South, and Kelvin Hopkins, MP for Luton North, have written to the government after receiving anonymous but “specific allegations” about “financial mismanagement”.

Sir Peter Birkett said he was not aware of the scope or purpose of the investigation, but defended the state of the college during his time there.

“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,” he said.

“Policy and practices were regularly internally and externally reviewed and if they were found in need of improvement then action was taken immediately.”

The investigation is expected to last up to six weeks.

A joint DfE and SFA statement said: “The Department for Education and the Skills Funding Agency have received allegations relating to Barnfield College and the Barnfield Federation. We are taking these seriously and are investigating.”

It added: “We do not comment on ongoing investigations.”