Auditor criticises DfE boarding school plan while Accounts Committee wonders if DfE understands value for money

Janet Downs's picture
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Durand Academy is one of the Education Secretary’s favourite schools. He regularly praises the academy even though the results at other similar Lambeth schools are the same or better. So Michael Gove has supported Durand’s plans to turn a disused ex-private school into a weekly boarding school for Lambeth secondary age children since the plan was first mooted. The Department for Education (DfE) pledged £17.3 million to the project.

But the proposal has been criticised by the National Audit Office (NAO). The Independent has seen a letter from the NAO which says the Department’s plan “lacks sufficiently robust estimates of the financial risk of the project”.

The Independent reports that DfE officials had been told the refurbishment of the school would cost £22 million and the shortfall would be provided by the Durand Educational (sic) Trust*. But independent financial analysis estimated that the true cost could be more than double.

The Auditor accused the DfE of lacking “sufficient appreciation of the scale of financial and operating risk associated with the project” when it agreed to confirm funding in April 2011.

The criticisms follow an earlier NAO report which discovered a £1 billion overspend on the academies programme, a critical Public Accounts Committee (PAC) report which found that £400 million had been taken from money intended for intervention in underperforming schools and a further PAC report which concluded:

“The Department does not have a good enough understanding of what value for money would look like in the delivery of school places.”

In October last year Michael Gove attacked both the NAO and PAC. But these bodies are set up to examine whether taxpayers’ money is being spent wisely.

Perhaps he doesn’t like it when these watchdogs discover money is being wasted.

 

*Companies House lists Durand Education Trust as a dormant company whose accounts are overdue. Source: Companies House WebCheck accessed 1 July 2013.

 
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