Tuesday, October 29, 2013

More than invoices: the investigation report at the King’s Science Academy should raise more questions

The free schools programme was again in the news on Friday with the Newsnight report into the Kings Science Academy in Bradford. Likewise Saturday’s newspapers asked whether there had been a “cover-up” of the findings of an Education Funding Agency audit report (pdf of the report available here).

While most of the media coverage was about allegedly misclaimed funding (so-called “false invoices”) and the repayment of about £70,000 by the project to the Department for Education, the Education Funding Agency audit report was far more wide-ranging in its scrutiny of governance and financial management at the free school.

The report identified that business interests did not appear to be declared when they should have been:
  •  [redacted] (a Director) is the brother of the Principal, [redacted] ;
  •  [redacted] and [redacted], the former FD, have links with the company [redacted] , used by the Academy to engage [redacted];
  • [redacted] has a number of family members working for the Academy and a brother who is a member of the GB;
  • The links with the [redacted] – who leased the land and [redacted]  role as [redacted].

Maybe these connections were not evidence of cronyism. But transparency becomes especially vital when situations are complicated.

There were also significant blurring of roles. A former Chair was acting as a “benefactor/advisor” which had no legal standing and effectively duplicated the Chair’s role of overseeing governance. The Companies House entries for the company were out-of-date with year old changes in directorships not being shown.

In the fields of personnel and procurement, there appeared to be weaknesses.

The report goes beyond matters of compliance and procedure. More generally, it found that the directors were failing to perform key elements of their governance role:

The lack of understanding of responsibilities and the experience of running a school resulted in an acceptance of the way the GB was being run (e.g. no notice of meetings, lack of adequate minutes etc. already raised by the [redacted] review and the FMGE validation). In relation to the finance area in particular there was no challenge where the lack of expected reports such as management accounts and balance sheets was not being presented to the GB, which are important for understanding the Academy’s finances and for monitoring financial health.

These are serious failings. Let us hope that this was a unique failure of governance at an academy. Perhaps it isn’t.

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