THE former boss of an academy trust said he is “surprised” at a Government decision which has banned him from running schools.

Nardeep Sharma had been in charge of The Thrive Academy Partnership Trust, which ran Philip Morant School and College, in Colchester, and the Colne Community School, in Brightlingsea, but was suspended in March 2018, initially for undisclosed reasons.

He formally left the role seven months later and the trust has now been dissolved.

Now a statement from the Department of Education has revealed the former head, who earned £130,000 per year, has been banned from running schools because of financial misconduct.

It said: “The Secretary of State found Mr Sharma had engaged in conduct that is so inappropriate that, in the opinion of the Secretary of State, it makes a person unsuitable to take part in the management of an independent school and because of this he is unsuitable to take part in the management of an independent school including an academy or Free School.”

The statement added: “In his role as the chief executive officer, Mr Sharma has allowed and or permitted breaches of the Academies Financial Handbook and has engaged in conduct that breaches the seven principles of public life - the Nolan principles - in particular the requirement of public office-holders to act with integrity and honesty.

“In the opinion of the Secretary of State this makes Mr Sharma unsuitable to take part in the management of an independent school.”

Speaking to The Gazette, said: “I am very surprised to learn of this decision.

“Perhaps a public inquiry will be the only way to get to the bottom of what happened at the trust.”

He can appeal the decision.

Catherine Hutley, who was executive principal of the Thrive Trust, was also suspended at the same time as Mr Sharma, and subsequently left her role.

In a damning report published last year, investigators revealed they uncovered failings and weaknesses in the financial management and governance of the trust highlighting how cash had been spent on alcohol which was sent to hotel rooms and that Mr Sharma had spent £179 of the trust’s money on gift hampers.

It highlighted how a company, redacted from the report but identified as Mackman Ltd, had been hired by the trust for extensive work including branding and website design.

Investigators claim the company was chosen despite being the most expensive of three options put forward to the board of trustees.

The trust had paid the company almost £140,000 since October 2015, not including cash paid for “additional services not quoted for.”

Links were discovered between Mackman Ltd and school staff.

The report stated the events and marketing co-ordinator of the trust’s teaching school - who was also married to the assistant principal at Philip Morant - was the brother of one of the company’s directors.

The report also found alcohol had been charged to hotel rooms and Mr Sharma had spent £179 of the trust’s money on four “thank you” gift hampers.

The hampers, three of which included alcohol, were presented to the executive principal, a previous chair of the trust, a previous trustee and the former chair of Colne local governing body.

Mr Sharma took home a salary between £130,000 and £135,000 and received up to £25,000 in pension contributions during his time at the trust.