The Academy Head, the £4,500 desk and the £170k salary

Henry Stewart's picture
Academies have provided new levels of autonomy to schools. But some have perhaps used this a bit too creatively. At one London academy trust, consisting of two primary schools, the Head is now paid £170,000, the ICT support contract has been given to the Chair of Governor's company and the furniture spend includes almost £4,500 on a desk and £5,000 on a conference table.

How much has your Head spent on their desk? Maybe £200 for a basic one, £500 for something a bit special? At Silver Birch Academy Trust in Waltham Forest they spent £4,487 on the Headteacher's desk, £4,887 on a conference table, £4,967 on a wall unit, £1,687 on a fridge unit and £780 on four plant pots. This came to light from an EFA investigation, after they were contacted by two whistle-blowers in the school. In classic civil service understatement, the report states "we have not seen a business case to support the assertion that these represented value for money."

The furniture, totalling £46,490, was bought without being put out to tender. Although the school policy is to take quotes for spending above £5,000 and the above purchase consisted of 14 invoices, each below the threshold. The Head stated "that there was no intention to split payments and this was not an attempt to avoid the need for written quotations". The fact that so many of the items are for just under £5,000 (including 3 more not listed above) is pure coincidence. On a single day a total of £24,315 was invoiced but these were split into 7 invoices, each under £5,000.

The school's defence is that they can generate income by renting out the rooms that the furniture is in. I submitted a Freedom of Information request a month ago to ask how often they have managed to rent out the headteacher's office, to make full use of that desk, but have received no reply to date.

ICT Services awarded to Chair of Governor's Company

The EFA report also covers the awarding of an ICT services contract, which was won by a company where the Chair of Governors works - despite theirs being the most expensive of the three bids submitted. The investigation, although detailing that the higher bid reflected more services, notes "a lack of clear documentation to support the decision to award the contract".

The £170,000 salary: From public money

The Silver Birch Academy Trust is based in Waltham Forest in East London and consists of just two primary schools. Chingford Hall and Whittingham. They seem to be doing a good job, with Chingford Hall rated Outstandng and Whittingham rated Good. However the trust accounts (download from here, p29) reveal that Executive Headteacher Patricia Davies was paid between £170,000 and £175,000 in the year 2012/13. This is around three times the average salary for a primary headteacher and £30,000 more than the Prime Minister earns. Between the two schools there are just 750 students, and each school also has its own headteacher.

Academy Trusts are free to set salaries as they wish and also to buy whatever equipment and furniture they judge is necessary. However, as Tory MP Richard Bacon thundered when the Public Accounts Committee examined the financial accountability of academies, "this is public money".

The EFA report did not find evidence of fraud and simply proposed a tightening up of financial procedures and governance. But it was outside its remit to address whether the trust was making good use of public money.

Is it really appropriate that our education budget be spent on a £170k salary for a primary headteacher (even an "Executive Headteacher"), £5,000 conference tables and £4,500 desks?


Note: I came across the Silver Birch Academy Trust through involvement in the successful campaign of parents at Snaresbrook Primary School to resist becoming an academy. Silver Birch was the proposed trust for Snaresbrook. I was alerted to the above EFA report by a Snaresbrook parent, who felt very relieved that Snaresbrook had avoided the fate of becoming part of this Trust.



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Rob Jones's picture
Sun, 19/10/2014 - 11:48

The evidence appears to point to corruption which has no place in British society. If it is is found that this is the case, beyond any reasonable doubt, then action should be taken at central government level to give the robust message that this will not be tolerated. Presumably this also points to a failure of governance?

Henry Stewart's picture
Sun, 19/10/2014 - 13:21

Sadly the official report on the matter, from the EFA (Education Funding Agency), included all these details but asked only for a tightening of financial systems. No sense at all that central government would not tolerate such activity.

Alan Stanton's picture
Sun, 19/10/2014 - 11:58

It would be very interesting to know which other community schools have at some time been suggested by DfE "brokers" for takeover by The Silver Birch Academy Trust. And their experience of the contacts they had with the Trust.

Phil Taylor's picture
Sun, 19/10/2014 - 12:23

I suspect this is the tip of the iceberg. This kind of thing would have been almost impossible before the advent of LMS. Even after LMS and prior to Academies, such follies often came to light (e.g. the well publicised case of the head who is to date the only Dame to have her Damehood revoked).

It's taking an awful long time to get there, but there will have to be some proper oversight rather than the absurd free for all that has been created.

Gill's picture
Sun, 19/10/2014 - 21:36

I blew the whistle about what was going on in my school after it was taken over (with the LEA's blessing). We were an outstanding Special School. An Ed PSych I knew told me tht next time OFSTED came in we would go into Special Measures and be taken over within 18 months. He was perfectly right. He told me "THere is an agenda, we know all about it."

I blew the whistle on bullying, financial anomalies (people losing pay mysteriously) and a total lack of Duty of Care to pupils and staff. Colleagues were bullied out of post, as was I. I ended up on Prozac for eight months but I consider myself fortunate in comparison with the guy who was under a psychiatrist for suicidal tendencies. On the other hand, he got £10,000 for signing a gagging clause which they didn't even bother to ASK me to sign. They knew me by then, as my whistle-blowing letter had been leaked back to them adn was used as fuel in a trumped-up disciplinary. APparently not being offered a bribe is some sort of breach of my rights, but I consider myself well out of there. The stench of corruption is strong. Even my last pay packet was wrong. In the end I sent a letter to my LEA telling them that if I didn't get what I was owed, I would sue. A cheque arrived by return of post. No letter, of course, nothing admitting liability. But still...

Sadly, I doubt any of this will surprise anybody reading.

Bob Davies's picture
Sun, 19/10/2014 - 12:54

Ask them about her first class ticket to Australia last year

Henry Stewart's picture
Sun, 19/10/2014 - 13:20

Pardon? Whose first class ticket to australia? Do tell more

Andy's picture
Sun, 19/10/2014 - 14:48

Thank you for sharing this Henry. It is absolutely scandalous and warrants rather more than an EFA investigation. Next stop should be for the CEO of the Trust and Executive Head to appear before the select education committee and thence EFA terminate the funding and a formal investigation for fraud. This could easily be described a daylight robbery.

Roger Titcombe's picture
Sun, 19/10/2014 - 15:31

Why are such things happening? It can only be because of a lack of regulation. Come along Tristram, this is a barn door sized open goal.

Andy's picture
Sun, 19/10/2014 - 16:45

Before we start down the purely political route I think it is worth noting that fraudulent use of public funds in schools has been around for a long time and the historical record would support a viewpoint that suggested it has pre-dated academisation.

Yes, academy chains and standalone MATs have earned justified scrutiny and criticism of the way public funds are allocated and expended but and it is a big BUT fraud is not the sole preserve of academies (or free schools). To illustrate this point I would float in the following maintained/LA schools that have hit the news in recent times:

Copland Community School, Brent
(prior to conversion to ARK Academy chain Sep 14)

Malorees Junior School, Brent
Kensal Rise Primary School, Kilburn
Furness Primary School, Harlsden

What is crucial here is the mismanagement of resources and downright fraudulent use of taxpayers funding for education that means pupils don't receive the support they are entitled because money is misappropriated or inappropriately used. It is not about party politics. Lets face it no political party has angels wings in relation to unsullied use of taxpayers money, let alone in education.

It's about ensuring that all organisations receiving state funding having rigorous accounting and audit practices. The latter being scrutinised by qualified external independent bodies.

Lets see some focused action from the select committees - education and finance.

Roger Titcombe's picture
Sun, 19/10/2014 - 17:22

Andy - I never met anything remotely like serious fraud in any state school in my career, all of which was in the era of LEAs. Unless it was at the LA level I don't see how it would be possible. All school budgets and accounts were audited and monitored by LEA officers as well as governors, some of whom were always elected local councillors. There was I suppose more scope after Local Management of Schools, but even then not much.

Just because there have been some financial scandals in LA schools does not mean that marketisation and Academisation of the education system have not played a part in corrupting the public service culture. Commercial incentives are part of the ideology. Looking outside education, major financial corruption in local government going back decades has always involved a private sector partner in crime. At least I can't think of any examples to the contrary.

Another factor is likely to have been the changing nature of school leadership structures and the growing use of the terms 'executive' and 'director' in school leadership job titles. Concentrations of power in management cliques within structures lacking transparency, sound governance and an element of democratic accountability ramp up the risks of things going wrong.

Roger Titcombe's picture
Sun, 19/10/2014 - 17:26

Andy - I certainly agree that the issue of corruption transcends Party Politics. Some of the biggest historic scandals have been in northern Labour strongholds. Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.

Gill's picture
Sun, 19/10/2014 - 21:18

Ah, what can I say in a public forum? Just that I cannot WAIT until ALL ACADEMIES are subject to financial scrutiny... Oh, the tales which will be told...

Alan Stanton's picture
Mon, 20/10/2014 - 01:20

Where are the checks and balances when the Government abolishes the "middle tier" of education? Or where heads are lionised by Government ministers and appear to amass overweening power. Including hiring people on fixed term contracts.

It seems to me that it's no coincidence that our friend Julie Davies, Secretary of Haringey N.U.T. has been targeted by Haringey Council. She is currently suspended on what - in my personal view - amount to trumped-up and trivial charges.

Haringey N.U.T. website:

Julie is an effective and formidable advocate for her members

The right-wing leadership of the London Borough of Haringey appear not to understand or value the role of independent trade unions as part of the essential checks and balances. The role of trades unions as a vital part of consulting and acting fairly and reasonably on pay and conditions; and on HR issues; And in ensuring financial probity. (Including support for whistle blowers.)

I am worried to see that a few head teachers appear to believe they should have the right to stipulate who trade union members can elect to represent them. In other words to have a "company union".

Julie Davies was an indefatigable supporter of the Downhills Primary School resistance to the Harris Federation. Although that battle was lost - it helped bring the issue of forced academies into national prominence and encouraged campaigns elsewhere.

Not surprisingly this made her a target for right-wing interests. What is surprising though, is the acceptance of this right-wing agenda by councillors and others who describe themselves as Progressive or on the Left, and who are themselves at least nominally members of trades unions.

Janet Downs's picture
Mon, 20/10/2014 - 07:06

Andy - while it's true that non-academies can misuse public money, this doesn't appear to be on the same scale as in academies. Remember E-Act's culture of extravagance? AET awarding trustees unusual payments? All those related-party transactions roundly condemned by the Public Accounts Committee? The Guardian revelations about taxpayers' money being sent to companies connected to trustees?

Academy accounts are supposed to audited by external independent accountants. But these aren't expected to judge value for money, only that accounts have been made up correctly. Neither are they expected to raise concerns about accounts publicly - only to academy trustees.

Both the Education Select Committee and the Public Finance Committee are investigating academies.

Janet Downs's picture
Mon, 20/10/2014 - 07:11

The story about huge salaries being paid to academies' executive principals happens to coincide with the story featured in Academies Week that women in primary academies are paid an average of £1,000 less than women in primary non-academies and the gap between men and women doing equivalent work is wider in primary academies.

Andy V's picture
Mon, 20/10/2014 - 09:51

Janet, I am aware of these matter and in no way shape or form attempting to excuse academies/free schools. In this regard I would invite attention to my comments:

"What is crucial here is the mismanagement of resources and downright fraudulent use of taxpayers funding for education that means pupils don’t receive the support they are entitled because money is misappropriated or inappropriately used. It is not about party politics ... It’s about ensuring that all organisations receiving state funding having rigorous accounting and audit practices. The latter being scrutinised by qualified external independent bodies. Lets see some focused action from the select committees – education and finance."

Rather I was highlighting that misappropriation/inappropriate use of school funding is not exclusive to academies/free schools and needs to be dealt with: irrespective of the type of state school and/or political party in power. Hence I believe that pressure/lobbying be used to get the appropriate select committees to be the motivators of and for the necessary changes.

What I am against is the use of this issue in a partisan way by any of the political parties involved (Conservative, Labour or LibDem). The appropriate and transparent use of taxpayer funding should always transcend party politics.

Henry Stewart's picture
Mon, 20/10/2014 - 10:24

Reflecting on this story (which the Daily Mail has picked up this morning), the bigger issue is the lack of financial accountability for academies.

It is not that the funding agency were unaware of these points, as I got the story from the report by the Education Funding Agency.

But the EFA had nothing to say about a primary head being paid £170K and expressed only mild displeasure about what are clearly absurd amounts to spend on office furniture. Even the transparent use of 14 different invoices to get round the £5k limit on unapproved spending caused little reaction.

The spending highlighted here will seem to most people to be unreasonable, but the message from the EFA is that, even when investigated, academies will not be brought to account for such use of public money,

Andy V's picture
Mon, 20/10/2014 - 10:39

And that only serves to compound the scandalous nature of the issue.

Roger Titcombe's picture
Mon, 20/10/2014 - 10:58

Andy - Like you I am sure that financial propriety in public services should transcend party politics. However this issue is not about general financial impropriety but specifically about the regulation of Academies (and Free Schools). Academies are in your face, mainstream ideological politics. They are a deeply political creation and therefore a political response to them is absolutely appropriate and necessary.

The problem is that there has never been one as far as the mainstream media are concerned because of collusion and agreement between the three main Parties Henry's post is an attempt to do something about that. The only national Party policy that addresses the core issues is that of the Greens. Next, and up to now a very sad, long way behind comes Labour.

Andy V's picture
Mon, 20/10/2014 - 11:15

I get Henry's post. I am also well aware that the 3 main parties have played instrumental parts in creating this lamentable situation. On that basis I cannot subscribe to the view that , "Academies are in your face, mainstream ideological politics. They are a deeply political creation and therefore a political response to them is absolutely appropriate and necessary." If there is to be a political response it must come from the Select Committee framework, which is a mechanism to redress party ideologies and inherent errors/excesses. Thus for me, calls for TH to make political hay with the situation falls well short of the mark and creates a perception of party political partisanship.

Janet Downs's picture
Tue, 21/10/2014 - 14:55

The Guardian's exposed what might be considered further extravagant use of public money by an academy trust:

1 £420 for a Vera Wang tea set.

2 £2,775 for a table.

3 £752 for a desk.

4 £1,211 for a cupboard.

5 £3,400 for two “Boss” armchairs and £2,600 for a “Boss” sofa.

6 £746 for a third armchair and £316 on a glass coffee table,

The Guardian said the trust concerned 'later gained a £600 discount on the furniture'.

In addition, £666 was spent on 'dinner for the glitterati of East Anglia at the Norfolk Club'.

The Trust concerned? It's the Inspiration Academies Trust, a rapidly-growing trust whose trustees include Tory donor Theodore Agnew who chairs the DfE’s academies board and Dame Rachel De Souza who was exonerated by an Ofsted investigation after claims she knew about forthcoming inspections of her academies before the official notification period. The Guardian, however, has seen emails which suggest she did, indeed, have prior knowledge.

Dame Rachel said the expenditure outlined above was 'reasonable'.

Andy's picture
Tue, 21/10/2014 - 15:05

As galling as some of the purchases are, this begs the question as to whether there going to be exposés of how maintained schools and LAs spend their taxpayer funding or is this purely an attack on academies and free schools come what may? Let's face it there are good and bad senior leaders and managers in all walks of public life.

Roger Titcombe's picture
Tue, 21/10/2014 - 15:47

Andy - You are missing the point. LA schools have transparent financial processes. All spending decisions appear in documents that are formally shared with governors, some of whom are elected parents and members of staff, as well as locally elected councillors. Minutes of governors meetings including sub-committees are public documents that can be inspected at the school by anybody by prior arrangement. If it is doing its job properly then, although financial decision making is delegated to schools, LAs and therefore elected councillors still have oversight.

None of this applies to Academies or Free Schools.

Janet Downs's picture
Tue, 21/10/2014 - 16:02

Andy - the auditing arrangements for LA maintained schools require LA auditors to consider value for money. I would hope that LAs would raise eyebrows at the purchase of a table costing nearly £3000 when you can buy a conference table for 8-10 people for £370 from ESPO.

If not the LA, then parent governors may think the money could be better spent on education not grandiose offices.

You're right, however, there are bad leaders and managers everywhere. But the academy system, with its trustees and chains, seems particularly vulnerable. And academy auditors don't have to consider value for money.

Andy's picture
Tue, 21/10/2014 - 16:04

Ah, ha, so the cases I cited above are all figments of my imagination and I didn't find them on TES via Google!

There are clear financial orders for all publicly funded school and there will always be someone willing to flout them.

My position is that all financial impropriety in schools is wrong no matter which category they fall into.

It is not I who is "missing the point" here.

I suspect there is some reverse psychology at play here: maintained schools = good / academies and free schools = bad. Simples!

Andy's picture
Tue, 21/10/2014 - 16:20

For the purpose of avoiding misunderstanding may last comment (4.04 pm) was in response to Roger's at 3.47 pm.

Andy V's picture
Tue, 21/10/2014 - 16:28

Janet, I do not dispute that the headline grabbing cases have focused on academies and free schools. Neither would I dispute that the EFA have yet to use their teeth to get stuck into the largesses that have come to light.

However, for some to suggest or in any way infer that the maintained schools are the only ones with published financial protocols and practices is close to being risible.

Academies financial handbook 2014

Page 19

2.3 Internal control

The academy trust must have in place sound internal control, risk management and assurance processes.

2.3.1 Internal control

2.3.2 The academy trust must establish a control framework that recognises public expectations about governance, standards and openness.

2.3.3 The trust’s internal control framework must include:

co-ordinating the planning and budgeting processes;
applying discipline in financial management, including managing banking, debt and cash flow, with appropriate segregation of duties;
preparation of timely monthly management accounts, including income and expenditure reports on an accruals basis, cash flow forecasts and balance sheets as appropriate;
ensuring that delegated financial authorities are respected;
effective planning and oversight of any capital projects;
the management and oversight of assets;
the propriety and regularity of financial transactions;
reducing the risk of fraud and theft;
ensuring efficiency and value for money in the organisation’s activities; and
a process for independent checking of financial controls, systems, transactions and risks.

Page 44

“Value for money: Achieving the best possible educational and wider societal outcomes through the economic, efficient and effective use of all the resources in the trust’s charge, the avoidance of waste and extravagance, and prudent and economical administration.”

The above content are a snapshot of the weighty Handbook, and I unashamedly couldn't bring myself to read it from cover to cover.

I have no qualms about airing impropriety but neither will I standby and acquiesce to witch hunts or rank bias particularly when it appears (for some contributors) to be rooted in political partisanship.

Roger Titcombe's picture
Tue, 21/10/2014 - 17:22

Andy - There is no shortage of protocols. What there is, is a dire shortage of effective regulation. I thought that was generally accepted in terms of the lack of an effective 'middle tier'.

When it comes to public services of course I believe in public sector good - private sector bad - regardless of any proliferation of protocols. Privatisation of public services is characterised by inflated rewards for owners and bosses with degraded conditions of service and pay for employees resulting in worse service at greater cost to the taxpayer. Examples of grotesque private sector failures in relation to the management and stewardship of public services are too many to list, starting with the aptly named 1987 'Herald of Free Enterprise' sailing with the bow doors open to save time disaster, progressing through many literal as well as metaphorical train crashes following the privatisation of British Rail, to prisons, care homes, court translation services, illegal immigrant detention centres, breast augmentation services, eye surgery, Olympic Games security, misselling of pensions and insurance etc. I am sure I have forgotten many other examples.

LEA and LA schools are in general better regulated than Academies and Free schools and are therefore beset with fewer financial scandals in relation to the number of pupils served.

Do you believe this to be a fact or not?

Andy V's picture
Wed, 22/10/2014 - 05:18

I rest my case.

My focus was and remains education but others just cannot contain their personal vendettas rooted exclusively in partisan and therefore utterly biased political positions. Faced with that it is impossible to hold a rational reasoned discussion and as such I have no intention of wasting my time trying.

Your reference to the Herald of Free Enterprise disaster renders you beneath contempt. The causes of that tragic ad fatal even had two parts:

1. The assistant bosun charged with responsibility for closing the bow doors slept through the call to harbour stations and hence the doors were not closed
2. A failure of systematic processes to check that this crucial task had been completed

It was not then a wilful or deliberate action of sailing "to save time". Shame on you for perpetrating such a falsehood. In light of that level of research and recklessness you should perhaps be a politician.

Brian's picture
Wed, 22/10/2014 - 07:26

Read sections 11.1. - 11.3 of the Herald investigation report (Part 1) before concluding so completely that sailing 'to save time' wasn't a contributory factor and that Roger has totally misrepresented the facts.

Janet Downs's picture
Wed, 22/10/2014 - 09:40

Andy - as far as I'm aware there have been no 'headline grabbing' case of a non-academy claiming £1m for non-existent students (Barnfield Federation), operating in a culture of extravagance (E-Act) or using taxpayers' money to do up a flat on an equestrian site, fund trips to governors to a site in France and bought sex-toys and games (Priory Federation - the police are still investigating). Neither am I aware that LA schools have been told by their LA to have contracts with companies linked to councillors.

The Secretary of State for Education is the Principal Regulator of academies, voluntary-aided and some voluntary-controlled schools. That's nearly 10,000 schools. The Education Funding Agency is supposed to monitor the performance of academies (including reviewing their financial management self-assessments (note the word 'self-assessment') and intervening where there are 'instances of ineffective or improper governance'.

It's already a concern that the EFA can't regulate these schools effectively. It's not being partisan to point out that it's easier to misuse public money in an academy or free school or Foundation school than in an LA community school.

Information re the DfE and exempt charities is here.

agov's picture
Wed, 22/10/2014 - 10:00

Of course, it might be said that a mere £46,490 for furniture is jolly good value compared to the odd half million in large part on cheap shoes -

Janet Downs's picture
Wed, 22/10/2014 - 10:50

agov - I note the school's grant-maintained (GM) status between January 1993 and September 1999 gave the shoe-obsessed head the freedom 'to steal without fear of discovery'. As the Guardian points out, GM schools were able to buy services from any source (like academies are now). The school chose not to use the LA's auditors. The two firms of auditors employed by the school missed the head's stealing spree. But when the LA eventually saw the accounts (after the school lost its GM status and reverted to LA stewardship), the LA auditors noticed 'gaping holes' so large the Judge said they were obvious 'within a day of looking at the books.'

In 1995, when there were several GM schools, one GM head wrote to the TES concerned that the Grant Maintained Schools Centre, 'established by the Government to advise and protect the interests of opted-out schools', to which she paid an annual subscription was holding on to the EU milk subsidy which should have come to the school.

GMSC denied this but still received €1,536 in milk subsidies in 2001 and 2002 after GM schools ceased to exist, according to FarmSubsidy.Org

Roger Titcombe's picture
Wed, 22/10/2014 - 11:30

Andy - You don't like people disagreeing with you do you? I don't understand why you resort to vitriolic personal attacks, accusing me of 'personal vendettas' and being 'beneath contempt'. I am never rude to you and don't propose to start now. Of course I have a political position, as I have made clear. No-one that reads my posts could be in any doubt about that.

As for the Herald of Free Enterprise disaster, I seem to recall at the time that leaving port with the bow doors open had been noted by witnesses as taking place on other occasions. However, in any event, I fail to see why any ship would leave port with the bow doors open, without 'time saving' being a factor. Of course there were individual and procedural failures.

This thread is primarily about culture. I am asserting that privatisation, including privatisation of schools (Academies and Free Schools are legally Independent schools regardless of where the funding comes from) risks changing the culture of a public service organisation. It is such cultural failings that result in bad things happening in public services. This was the conclusion of the Francis Report into the failings of the Mid-Staffordhire hospital trust, and I think it is a universal principle.

I note that you haven't commented on any of my other examples of bad things happening as a result of privatisations of public services. I have thought of a few more - Energy Supply companies and Utility companies.

As far as my politics are concerned, I believe in a mixed economy in which public services are not corrupted by commercial interests and alongside which which properly regulated capitalist enterprises are supported and encouraged to create wealth. I don't think that is 'an utterly biased political position'. In fact I suspect (and certainly hope) that it still has majority support in the UK.

Of recent Prime Ministers, the one whose economic policies conformed most closely to those values in my view, was Edward Heath.

Roger Titcombe's picture
Wed, 22/10/2014 - 12:36

agov - You raise an important point. It is not just Academies and Free Schools that have evaded proper democratic scrutiny and regulation.

The school in question was a Grant Maintained RC College. GM status was the successor to the Conservative's Direct Grant schools. Back in the 1990s GM status was touted by the Labour government in much the same way as Academy conversion is now. Various 'freedoms' became available but these related more to freedom from financial regulation and freedom to decide your own Admissions Policy, than any meaningful curriculum freedoms.

In hindsight, GM status looks like a New Labour 'trial' for the Academies principle.

According to the Guardian article, the scandal only came to light after GM status ceased and the school reverted to LA financial oversight. The first LA audit uncovered it.

The lesson is the same - introducing an entrepreneurial culture into a public service risks changing the culture in a bad way - even when God is on the side of those in charge.

Roger Titcombe's picture
Wed, 22/10/2014 - 12:42

My apologies are due. My memory was failing me.

Grant-maintained status was created by the Education Reform Act 1988, as part of the programme of the Conservative government to create greater diversity in educational provision and to weaken the influence of Local Education Authorities. GM schools would be owned and managed by their own boards of school governors, rather than the local authority.

I have maligned the 1997 Labour government - Very sorry. However they still look like prototypes for the Academies programme.

Janet Downs's picture
Wed, 22/10/2014 - 16:39

Roger - according to the ex-SoS Michael Gove, the academies programme flowed from City Technology Colleges and GM schools. Returning GM schools to LA stewardship (always presented as 'control' or, in the words of Tony Blair, as 'politically correct interference from state or municipality') was a grave mistake.

But the extra freedoms available to academies don't actually amount to much. There is one freedom, however, which can result in taxpayers' money being used inappropriately or being sent to companies linked to academy trustees: the freedom from external supervision of expenditure. The SoS is supposed to be the Principal Regulator of academy trusts and the EFA is supposed to oversee them. But the EFA can't effectively monitor them all. And the much-cited 'external audit' of academies by independent auditors doesn't have to consider value-for-money. Neither do they have to publicise any concerns about accounts - these only have to be raised with the trustees who might be the ones causing the concern!

So keen was Gove to link academies to GM schools that he thought up a tortuous route whereby GM organisations (defunct after 1999) became linked with the Freedom and Autonomy for Schools - National Association (FASNA) which he claimed was 20 years old but had actually only been incorporated in 2004 (see here and here).

Roger Titcombe's picture
Wed, 22/10/2014 - 16:55

Janet - Thank you for that and for clarifying the link with the 1997 Labour government.

Andy V's picture
Wed, 22/10/2014 - 17:23

Noted with thanks Brian.

I have wish to appear rude but on and hand I do not wish to become immersed in a detailed discussion on this tragic incident because, and with all due respect to those who lost their lives and survivors who live with the event, it is a divergence from the thread. I stand by my comment regarding the two parts that contributed to the tragedy. The question of departing the berth at the earliest moment is a moot one that can be debated until the proverbial cows come home. For example, the wording and context is such that it might be argued that ferries should depart as soon as possible after loading was complete. The securing of bow and/or stern doors is part of the 'completion' process and therefore no-one was suggesting let alone directing that a ferry sail with either set of doors open. Others may of course take a different line. To introduce such a topic randomly into a discussion about financial impropriety in state funded schools is - for me - insightful about the debating style of the author. To then ignore the principle findings of the inquiry and project a viewpoint in such as way as to reinforce a personal opinion is to say the least unbalanced and biased.

It is also noteworthy that the same author of this contribution frequently switches direction and introduces unrelated issued in discussion - purely, as he sees it, to prove his point. On this occasion the trigger appears to have been my comment, "I suspect there is some reverse psychology at play here: maintained schools = good / academies and free schools = bad", which among other ripostes got the litany of private service provider issues culminating in public services = good and private services bad. The balance of this approach can immediately be seen by the absence of references to regrettable issues in the public sector:

Dr Shipman was an NHS GP not private practitioner
Liverpool Alder Hey Children's Hospital organs scandal
Pre Privatisation rail disasters

What does this prove? Nothing more and nothing less than history (reality) reflects that tragic incidents and accidents have occurred in private and publicly owned services. That is to say such events are not the sole preserve of one or the other. Sadly, this seems to escape some contributors.

Andy V's picture
Wed, 22/10/2014 - 17:37

I knew that was coming. It is your usual strategy.

I am very happy for your to believe your take on things and have no intention of rebutting your skewed take on things (e.g. robust and to the point versus vitriolic).

Andy V's picture
Thu, 23/10/2014 - 08:07

Janet, As previously highlighted I am not supporting any financial impropriety whether it arises in academies/free schools or maintained schools. Neither am I against robust and rigorous financial accountancy and audit practices: indeed I welcome the latter. I have also stated that I believe that the appropriate select committees have the position and clout to initiate change.

With regard to external audit may I invite attention to pages 37-39 of the Academies Financial Handbook:

My position then is that all incidences of financial impropriety should be dealt with firmly and consistently no matter what the category of school. It is then interesting to note that expenditure at the Priory Federation is still under investigation by the police. This indicates that rigour does exist and does led to robust action. Perhaps the NAO and PAC should pay more attention to the audited accounts and conduct random inspections/verifications of these accounts.

Roger Titcombe's picture
Thu, 23/10/2014 - 08:19

Andy - Parliamentary Select Committees, nor the other bodies you suggest, can be expected to regulate thousands of schools.

The obviously solution is for LAs to have regulatory oversight of the accounts of all the schools serving its children that are supported from the public purse.

The issue is one of regulation, not policing.

Andy V's picture
Thu, 23/10/2014 - 08:33

I didn't say they should take on all academies/free schools. I did suggest random inspections but I have consistently suggested that the PSCs are the right vehicles to bring about change.

What is "obvious" to you is not so to me.

Indeed, if it were only about regulation then there wouldn't be an issue: there is more than enough regulation. What is missing is the clout to ensure that regulation is followed and where it isn't tangible consequences are incurred. To me the latter is policing. Ergo both are required and where the system is weakest is where the policing is spread to thinly and ceases to be effective.

Andy V's picture
Thu, 23/10/2014 - 08:13

Janet, Please see may comments at 4.28 pm on 21 Oct regarding value for money. It follows that the external auditors role includes reviewing what internal controls are in operation and how/whether they are being applied. For example, see page 38 para 4.2.2

Janet Downs's picture
Thu, 23/10/2014 - 09:30

Andy - you refer to the lengthy tome, the Academies Handbook. This does indeed put duties on academy trustees but, as we have seen, these duties are not always followed. The Handbook says academy trusts must 'appoint an auditor, to certify whether the accounts present a true and fair view of the trust’s financial performance.'

In other words, the appointed external auditor is only required to consider 'whether the accounts present a true and fair view trust's financial performance'. But, as Steven Bundred, ex-Chief Executive of the Audit Commission said, the auditors are NOT required to assess value for money. This responsibility is with academy trustees and they may well consider a table costing £4,000+ is 'value for money', the principal's eye-watering salary is 'value for money' or a contract given to a company linked to an academy trustee is 'value for money'.

Andy V's picture
Thu, 23/10/2014 - 09:45

Janet, I identified particular pages and paragraph pertinent to value for money. In two contributions to the thread I have highlighted the requirement for value for money as part of the internal controls, which I quoted verbatim on 21 Oct @ 4.28 and then page 38 para 4.2.2. today @ 8.13 am. May I politely ask whether you read them? Just in case you didn't here is the latter:

"4.2.2 An accounting officer’s statement on regularity, propriety and compliance must be
included in the academy trust’s annual report. This is a formal declaration by the
trust’s accounting officer that they have met their personal responsibilities to
Parliament for the resources under their control during the year. It includes a
responsibility to ensure that:

public money is spent for the purposes intended by Parliament (regularity);
appropriate standards of conduct, behaviour and corporate governance are
maintained when applying the funds under their control (propriety); and
there is efficient and effective use of resources in their charge (value for

If you click on the blued value for money it takes you to the following:

"Value for money: Achieving the best possible educational and wider societal
outcomes through the economic, efficient and effective use of all
the resources in the trust’s charge, the avoidance of waste and
extravagance, and prudent and economical administration."

For me this demonstrates that there are clearly defined internal and external controls both of which include reference to value for money and an embedded link to amplify what this means.

I have no wish to appear antagonistic but in light of this I must say that I cannot see why/how you persist in insisting that academies/free schools are not bound by the need to operate and demonstrate value for money.

The regulations are clear but what - to me - what is lacking is the teeth to consistently police them. It does not need to be 100% inspection; indeed sufficiency of random checks and controls should produce appropriate benefice for the taxpayer.

Roger Titcombe's picture
Thu, 23/10/2014 - 11:59

Andy - I agree that there is no shortage of regulations and protocols. However regulation requires more than the existence of regulations.

As I have argued, I believe the key issue to be one of culture. I remain of the view that all publicly funded schools should be open to the continuous scrutiny of LAs, especially in regard to financial probity. This is not about control. Also needed is statutory whistleblower protection and a 'duty of candour' as has been introduced in the NHS.

In the case of Academies it is also necessary for 'chains' and 'sponsors' to be inspected and regulated by OfSTED in the same way as are LAs. The Chief Inspector is right and should be supported in his persistent argument for this. In every case of a rogue head, there must be a corresponding failure of scrutiny by the body to whom the head is directly and contractually accountable. Of course OfSTED inspections of the schools themselves are also part of the required regulation. Obviously it would be necessary for OfSTED inspectors to notice and to look at individual school's accounts themselves.

Andy V's picture
Thu, 23/10/2014 - 12:24

I stand by my previous comment. There is more than ample regulation and what is lacking is the teeth in relation to policing the operation and compliance with those regulation. I do not believe that this must be undertaken by LAs, which incidentally is not the same as saying cannot be done by LAs for academies/free schools.

All schools (maintained, non-maintained and non-association independent) are statutorily required to have and publish a whistleblowers policy.

It is not part of the section 5 inspection to look at a schools accounts, and in my view neither should inspectors (HMI or AI) be expected to undertake this function. It is however a moot point/suggest as to whether the appropriate PSC could lobby government for Ofsted's remit to be widened to cover this but in a limited and targeted scope with the people recruited to perform the task having the relevant training and clear focus (i.e. not a separate full audit but one that scrutinises a prescribed range of expenditure such as furniture, expenses, etc).

Janet Downs's picture
Thu, 23/10/2014 - 13:40

Andy - you're talking about the academy trust's accounting officer - that's an internal appointment. I'm talking about the external auditor who is employed by the academy trust to 'certify whether the accounts present a true and fair view of the trust’s financial performance.’

If the internally-appointed accounting officer thinks spending thousands on a desk is value-for-money, or the executive principal's £170k salary is value-for-money, or that it's OK for the trustees to give a contract to a company connected to trustees then there's every possibility this wouldn't be regarded as anything out of the ordinary by the external auditor (who may even think such expenditure isn't anything special).

There's every chance, of course, that an external auditor may not wish to make too many waves because the auditor wouldn't get the contract to audit the accounts again. Schools under the stewardship of a local authority on the other hand have their accounts looked at by LA auditors who have to comment on value for money and publicly report any concerns.


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