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
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.