A SCHOOL trust which educates almost 2,000 Barnsley youngsters at nine primaries across the town has admitted it’s facing sector-wide financial trouble after whistleblowers claimed dozens of employees are fearing for their jobs.

St Mary’s Academy Trust (SMAT) oversee All Saints’ Academy in Darfield, Darton Primary, Dodworth St John’s, Elsecar Holy Trinity, Queens Road Academy, Royston St John’s, The Mill Academy, West Meadows and St Mary’s Church of England Primary.

The Chronicle can reveal ‘budgetary’ shortfalls have been blamed on hiked energy bills, increasing staff costs and reducing pupil numbers, with demands ‘likely to increase’ over the coming years.

The majority of the trust’s income is obtained from the Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA) in the form of recurrent grants the use of which is restricted to particular purposes but a total of £12,051,492 was spent at the schools in 2022, latest accounts show.

However, they also show incoming resources reduced by £172,000 while resources expended increased by £341,000.

One employee, who did not wish to be named, told the Chronicle that staff have been warned their jobs are not secure while a review is carried out after a leadership change occurred when ex-chief executive Melanie Priestley left in September.

“It’s been deteriorating since last September and we’re all at risk,” they added.

“Staff are devastated by what’s gone on and how it’s been handled, yet parents seemingly do not know a thing about the goings-on in the trust’s schools.

“There’s a history of overspending and we’re the ones who are paying for those mistakes.

“We’re in limbo, we’ve effectively got nooses around our necks and we’re expected to work day in, day out as if nothing’s going on.

“Colleagues are losing sleep over this and it’s having a detrimental impact on our mental health.”

One source told the Chronicle St Mary’s now had some breathing space to sort out its issues.

But they added in the worst case scenario, it could be broken up, with other trusts offered the chance to take on running the schools.

In the trust’s annual account statement, it warned ‘longer-term pressures from unfunded pay awards, together with significantly increased energy costs and general inflation, are creating unsustainable pressures for schools and academy trusts’.

It said: “Demands on the trust are likely to increase over the coming years due to the impact of energy bills and the increasing staff costs, combined with reducing pupil numbers.

“The board will develop a long-term policy to ensure there is sufficient working capital and reserves to cover potential contingencies.

“Without increases in per-pupil funding to offset these cost increases, there is uncertainty around the medium to long-term outlook of many schools and trusts, including our own.

“This is a sector-wide issue that will need to be addressed by funding decisions from central government.”

Documents show bosses filed four directors’ terminations of appointments on January 25 Ms Priestley, Sharon Cook, Nigel Leader and Stephen Race according to Companies House.

Tamara Gulliver came in as its interim chief executive in November last year.

She added: “Like many schools around the country, St Mary’s Academy Trust is facing budgetary constraints for a number of reasons.

“We are committed to making sure the trust continues to provide a high level of effective education for all our students.

“We’ve been working with various agencies including the Department for Education (DfE) and the ESFA very closely since September 2023.

“We are moving in a positive direction and will continue to have the needs and interests of our pupils at the heart of what we do.”

Barnsley Central MP Dan Jarvis vowed to support schools’ staff.

He said: “The reports surrounding St Mary’s Academy Trust are very concerning and affect a number of schools across our town.

“I’m encouraged to hear that talks are ongoing to resolve the situation.

“I will do whatever I can to ensure that local children’s education is not in any way affected and local jobs are protected.”

Coun Trevor Cave, cabinet spokesperson for children’s services, said advice is being provided to SMAT.

“When a maintained school converts to an academy status the school becomes independent from the local authority the relationship then sits directly with the multi-academy trust it aligns to, and the DfE,” he added.

“The Barnsley Schools’ Alliance promotes a cohesive approach to improving education for all our children and young people.

“We achieve this by working together via collaborative and partnership arrangements.

“Barnsley Council, through its role in the Barnsley Schools’ Alliance, is providing St Mary’s Academy Trust with advice as they navigate some budgetary constraints.”

Stephanie Peacock, MP for Barnsley East, told the Chronicle she has been in contact with both the trust and the DfE.

“The news about St Mary’s Academy Trust is really concerning I know staff and parents will be really worried.

“I have been in contact with Barnsley Council and reached out to the trust and the DfE regarding this matter.

“It is positive to hear that the trust are in talks.

“If I can help in anyway as the local MP to ensure children’s education is prioritised and jobs are protected I will.”

The Public Accounts Committee which probes government spending says a lack of transparency in local academy financial information is harming parents’ ability to hold their local academy leaders and the DfE to account, for the services they provide to pupils or for their use of public funds.

Dame Meg Hillier MP, chair of the Public Accounts Committee, said: “Parents deserve a lot more visibility and clarity over exactly what is being provided to their children, in what facilities, for the vast amounts of public money pumped into the school system.

“This unacceptable lack of transparency and accountability to parents and taxpayers must be resolved.”