From today's Times
Schools run by a controversial Christian sect are under investigation after enrolling pupils at state-funded colleges for thousands of pounds.
The Department for Education (DfE) is examining whether Barnet and Southgate College and the Focus Learning Trust, which is run by the Exclusive Brethren, breached strict rules about funding for 16 to 19-year-olds.
The Brethren claim to receive no state help towards the £30 million-a-year cost of their 34 private schools. However, accounts from 2013 reveal its schools received at least £500,000 from further education colleges run by local authorities. The money came from an Education Funding Agency scheme aimed at allowing pupils to gain access to facilities or courses that their own schools cannot provide.
In one deal, Barnet and Southgate College, a further education college which received such funding, agreed with several Brethren schools to pass on this money in return for them enrolling their own high-performing pupils to study subjects including English and maths.
Leaked documents suggest that the pupils continued to be taught the same lessons by Brethren-employed teachers. Barnet College appeared to have no involvement in teaching the pupils beyond conducting “lesson observations”.
The documents also suggest that the Brethren enrolled only high-performing pupils at Barnet. “The college needs to know that they will have a good success rate,” one Brethren school document noted. “They support students on the specific courses that they expect them to achieve well in only.”
Barnet and Southgate College said it had since ended the “partnership arrangement” but offered no further comment.
A DfE spokeswoman said: “We are looking into the arrangements between Barnet College and Focus Schools Trust to ensure they meet our strict sub-contracting standards.
A Brethren spokesman said that the“historic arrangement with Barnet College was legitimate and approved” but that they were unable to comment further due to “contractually binding confidentiality”. He said the sect was not aware of the DfE investigation but would co-operate fully.
The Brethren face a separate investigation by the taxman into multimillion pound gift aid claims that help to fund their schools. This week, The Timesrevealed that more than 200 MPs had backed the sect, which some ex-members have denounced as a “cult”, in its successful bid to overturn a Charity Commission decision that could have cost millions of pounds in tax breaks.
Since overturning the regulator’s initial decision to refuse charitable status the Brethren have made at least 16 applications for free school status.