As the number of academies grows, can the Education Funding Agency cope with monitoring their finances?

Janet Downs's picture
A few days ago it was the Brighton and Hove Bilingual School, a free school in Brighton. Today comes news that the Education Funding Agency (EFA) has published two further critical reports into the finances of academy trusts: the Education Fellowship Trust which grew from the Education Fellowship Limited, a private for-profit company with shareholders (now dormant), and the Guru Nanak Sikh Academy Ltd (GNSA) and its sponsor the Nanaksar Thath Isher Darbar Trust (NTID). The EFA has issued both trusts with a Financial Notice to Improve.

Both investigations were detailed and thorough. The EFA found significant breaches of regulations that govern academies, companies or charities. One of the investigations, like the one at Brighton and Hove, was triggered by a whistle-blower.

The rising number of investigations into academy and free school trusts raises several questions:

1Is the EFA relying too much on whistle-blowers to raise concerns about possible financial irregularities?

2Should independent auditors of academy trust accounts be expected to make public any failure to adhere to the Academies Financial Handbook (AFH), and breaches of company and charity law thrown up in the accounts?

3Has the EFA the capacity to investigate allegations of financial impropriety as the number of academy and free school trusts grows?

4Is there a conflict of interest between the Secretary of State’s role as enthusiastic promoter of academy conversion and his role as Principal Regulator of education charities such as academy trusts as Lord Phillips warned in 2011?

5 Should the police automatically be informed when financial impropriety is brought to light?

It’s likely that more academy and free school trusts will be investigated by the EFA which may crumble under the load. This does not bode well for the proper use of public funds and, as the number of academies and free schools increases so does the potential for dodgy financial dealings to go unnoticed.

NOTES: the Financial Notice to Improve sent to the Education Fellowship Trust can be downloaded here. The Financial Notice to Improve sent to GNSA can be downloaded here.
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