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Government says trust where £1.2m black hole was uncovered is back in good financial health

Rachel Thornberry, head of Norfolk Short Stay Schools, and Katrina Warren, head of Norfolk Short Stay Specialist Schools, part of the Engage Trust. Picture: Engage Trust

Rachel Thornberry, head of Norfolk Short Stay Schools, and Katrina Warren, head of Norfolk Short Stay Specialist Schools, part of the Engage Trust. Picture: Engage Trust

Engage Trust

An academy trust where a £1.2m black hole was revealed has been taken out of financial special measures.

The Engage Trust, based in Drayton, was handed a financial notice to improve by the Education and Skills Funding Agency in March 2018 after concerns were raised about financial wellbeing and management.

An investigation into its finances, revealed at an employment tribunal brought by its former finance director, uncovered a deficit of £1.2m which the finance director and the trust's former chief executive were said to have down played to board members.

But after a strenuous 18 months, the trust announced this week that the financial notice had finally been lifted.

However, the ESFA said it must continue to embed better financial practises and exercise "strong financial oversight".

A spokeswoman for the Engage Trust said the lifting of the notice was a recognition of significant developments in management and operations and praised the "outstanding work and commitment by staff" at Engage and the Unity Education Trust (UET), with which it has been working for the past year.

It will also strengthen the trust's position ahead of its merger with the Dereham-based UET, which is set to take place in the new year.

The Engage Trust has more than 350 pupils and runs the Short Stay School for Norfolk, which looks after children who have been excluded from mainstream and specialist schools and those with social, emotional and behavioural problems.

Following the investigation into its finances, board chairman Dennis Freeman said prompt action had been taken to address financial issues.

The trust had its Ofsted rating upgraded from requires improvement to good in July. Speaking at the time, chief executive Glyn Hambling said the trust was in better financial health and that, despite challenges, its teaching and support for pupils had not been compromised by the deficit.

He said the Ofsted report was a "springboard" which would give the trust momentum to continue improving, adding: "We are all in a really challenging educational climate but we are nimble enough to be able to respond."

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