THE chairman of an academy trust has stressed a deficit financial situation will not impact children's education, and has hit out "inflammatory comments" over its age-change plan.

The Department for Education has also failed to answer the Evesham Journal's query on whether an investigation has been launched into Avonreach Academy Trust's (AAT) financial situation, that recently came to light after the release of the Trust's latest financial statement.

Earlier this month the Journal reported on the statement that revealed a reduction in sixth form funding and unfunded costs imposed by the government had drained the reserves of one of the Trust's schools, Pershore High School.

The statement said that the reserves of AAT, which also includes Cherry Orchard, Inkberrow and Norton Juxta Kempsey first schools, had now been "exhausted" with the Trust's financial position being "a risk".

Parents expressed concerns at the statement, that covers the period between August 2017 and 2018, and some also speculated that AAT's age-change plan - with first schools taking on year 5 and 6 pupils and Pershore High squeezing middle schools in the other direction by taking on year 7 pupils - had been introduced as a way to raise cash.

In the latest AAT newsletter, Andrew Longdon chairman of the Trust, said Trustees had been "well aware" of the deficit situation for some time and it was not uncommon.

Mr Longdon said: "The main cause, besides the well publicised low levels of government funding in education generally, is a temporary fall in pupil numbers currently in the secondary phase year groups within the high school.

"This is not an uncommon situation, with recent reports suggesting that almost one-third of LA Maintained Secondary schools across the country are working with deficit budgets.

"Members of the Trust finance team have been working with the DfE for many months on a plan to cover this period, with an in-year surplus position expected during the academic year 2019/20.

"This plan, which quite clearly affects the high school only, endeavours to ensure that this does not impact on the education of the children within all of the Avonreach schools.

"A recovery in pupil numbers is very firmly forecast and the financial future for the high school, and the Trust as a whole, beyond these current short term situation is very positive."

On the age-change rumours, Mr Longden added: "Unfortunately, due to ill-informed and/or inflammatory comments from various groups, we need to stress, again, that the age-range change was not financially motivated."

Following speculation that the schools commissioner had launched an investigation into AAT's financial situation, the Journal approached the Department of Education to confirm or deny this.

The DofE failed to answer, with a spokesman sending us this statement: "We trust academies to manage their own budgets and the vast majority are operating with a cumulative surplus, with only a small percentage having a deficit.

“Where an academy trust requires additional support, the Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA) will work with the Trust to build its capacity and help it reach a stronger position.

"Where there is a risk to public funds, the ESFA will intervene in a way that is proportionate to the risk and preserves the effective education of children.”

READ MORE: Parents raise concerns over Avonreach Academy Trust's finances