Whistleblower’s claims about Brighton and Hove bilingual free school had some substance, said funding watchdog

Janet Downs's picture
A whistleblower’s allegations about financial irregularities at the Bilingual Primary School, a free school in Brighton and Hove which opened in September 2012, had some substance, the Education Funding Agency (EFA) has found.

The EFA found no evidence of fraud but did discover £10,800 had been paid to the Chair of trustees for services “not properly procured”. In addition, the EFA found:

1Mistakes had been made which resulted in overpayment of expenses. The money was recovered before EFA began their review.

2Unauthorised minor payments to suppliers were made.

3Payments had not been made promptly. These included insurance which was only paid when the insurance company threatened to withdraw cover.

4An Action Plan agreed after the standard External Assurance visit by EFA to the free school in June 2013 had not been enacted.

“Issues are symptomatic of the problems that the academy has been experiencing in its attempts to secure relevant financial expertise within its management structure,” the EFA wrote.

But free school proposers are supposed to satisfy the Department for Education that their team has the relevant capability which includes “education and financial expertise”. It appears once again a free school was allowed to open where it later transpires such educational and fiscal know-how was lacking:

1Barnfield Moorlands Free School, part of the Barnfield Federation which was found to have claimed £1m for non-existent students, has been issued with a Financial Notice to Improve.

2Police investigations into the finances of the Kings Science Academy are on-going.

3Ofsted said Al-Madinah was set up by people with “limited knowledge and experience”.

4The inexperienced, unqualified head of Pimlico Free School left after just a few weeks of term.

5The Discovery New School (now closed) had an unqualified head and teachers.

6The two CET primary free schools relied too much on inexperienced staff.

7Inexperienced leaders contributed to the failure of an E-Act free school.

8Ofsted found the work of IES, the education provider paid to run a free school in Brandon, Suffolk, was “ineffective in raising standards or improving teaching”.

The EFA has recommended that the Bilingual Primary School take the action laid down in the June 2013 Action Plan and said all payments must comply with Academy Financial Handbook rules and proper procurement practices. The Agency is also considering what action should be taken about the payments to the Chair of Trustees.

In the meantime, the Bilingual Primary School Project Trust, which runs the Brighton and Hove Bilingual Primary School, hopes to set up another bilingual free school in London.

Notes. Ofsted has not yet inspected the Bilingual Primary School, Brighton and Hove, or Pimlico Free School which only opened in September 2013. Ofsted reports for all other schools mentioned above can be downloaded here.

UPDATE. This article originally had the heading "Whistleblower’s claims about Brighton free school had some substance, said funding watchdog." This has been changed to avoid confusion with other free schools in the area.
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Per Nordstrom's picture
Sat, 03/05/2014 - 06:29

My grandchild is at the school and I also saw the report which parents were sent. It also stated the chair of governors was "self elected" since 2010 and had not been approved by the school board in fair and clear democratic nomination or election. In State schools the Chair is only in place for maximum of 4 years which means the unelected Chair is due to end her work period. The head teacher is the "principal accounting officer" and allowed the "financial irregularities" to take place. I am surprised they are both still in place as in Denmark both would have been removed for inappropriate actions and failure to manage public money correctly in line with agreements with the government

Janet Downs's picture
Sat, 03/05/2014 - 06:43

Per, thanks for your input. Cases such as Brighton and Hove Bilingual school raise many questions about how academy and free school trusts are run, and whether due diligence takes place before these trusts set up and run schools.

The Education Funding Agency has issued two further critical reports into academy trusts since the one about Brighton and Hove was published. These raise other questions including whether the EFA will be able to cope as the number of free schools and academies rise. I wrote about it here.

Per Nordstrom's picture
Sat, 03/05/2014 - 09:10

Thanks for your kind words Janet. The other point to see is that the DfE has also been mislead when it is told that the school "had trouble recruiting suitable personnel". From October 2012 to August 2013 it had a qualified accountant in charge of the books on a part time basis who was also close friend of the Head Teacher's partner. The report was a start but still does not answer all the questions it set out to ask.

Janet Downs's picture
Sun, 04/05/2014 - 07:12

Per - I noted the Bilingual Primary Schools Trust was proposing to open another bilingual school in London. But the Trust doesn't appear on the Department for Education's list of approved academy sponsors. This raises again the question of whether the DfE/EFA can adequately monitor the hundreds of academy sponsors/chains and thousands of academy trusts that have sprung up since 2010.

Per Nordstrom's picture
Mon, 05/05/2014 - 08:59

In my hope is the wish they never all appear on the approved sponsor list. My question is can an academy which has been investigated for financial impropriety and breaking the contract with the DfE (especially after they have mislead the department as to qualified financial staff being in work at the school) be allowed to open a new academy? In an email that we got from the school the same person employed from October 2012 to August 2013 the qualified accountant has been re-employed as the "interim school business manager" (the head teachers's partners friend). Again in my hope is that academies that are less than integrity are never allowed to open a new academy as we can see there is enough financial impropriety or incompetence going on in the academies already in existing.

Janet Downs's picture
Mon, 05/05/2014 - 10:12

Per - unfortunately the DfE's list of approved sponsors contains the names of academy trusts which have been investigated and censured by the Education Funding Agency and even some which don't exist. See here for more information.

Per Nordstrom's picture
Sun, 20/07/2014 - 20:37

Hello Janet, on 18th and 19th June 2014 and inspection Ofsted happened at the school. If you search under the Ofsted website using the schools name you will find a damning report on the quality or lack of it in its teaching. It is rated overall 3 which means it is inadequate. There is also an advert out by the school for a new governor to deal with finance as senior leadership people and governors were also criticised, If you look at BLPSP trust website you will also know that they have not been successful in obtaining the new school in Lambeth. The school appears in my opinion to be trying to cover up he report as the school website is no longer listed on which they have to post their report ofsted.

Janet Downs's picture
Fri, 25/07/2014 - 09:48

Per - thanks for the information. But Grade 3 isn't Inadequate, it's Requires Improvement. The school was judged to require improvement in all three categories. The report said leaders had been preoccupied in administrative matters (eg setting up the school, finding a permanent site etc).

The school's website appears to be down, as you say.

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