Delays in LA audits of council schools risk accusations of poor oversight

Janet Downs's picture
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Thousands of schools under local authority stewardship haven’t been independently audited for more than five years, a Schools Week investigation has found.

Their findings ‘challenge claims…that councils have better oversight of their schools compared with the government’s grasp on academies’.  Academy trusts must present audited accounts to the Education and Skills Funding Agency annually by the end of December.  These must be published on trusts’ websites by the end of the following January.

LAs hit back by saying they have other ‘mechanisms’ in place to monitor school spending as well as auditing.   A Local Government Association spokesperson told Schools Week that local authorities ‘always maintain good and close ongoing relationships with schools’ that ‘in many cases go beyond the need for an audit’.

By law, LAs must report school fraud but I have been unable to find any current information about this (help, please).   In 2012/13, the first year of mandatory reporting, LAs reported 191 cases of fraud worth £2.3m concerning maintained schools.  86 of this fraud involved internal wrongdoing. 

In 2014, I wrote that LA schools may be at greater risk of internal fraud than larger organisations because they may not have the same level of supervisory checks.   Reported cases would likely increase when LAs had embedded ‘data collection arrangements for fraud committed against schools.’

But this was accompanied by a warning.   The ability of LAs to oversee schools’ finances could fall because many LAs were planning to decrease staff time allocated to this.

LAs bundle school accounts into their own audited accounts which are published.  However, these audited LA accounts don’t give a breakdown of each school’s spending.  But neither do accounts for multi-academy trusts.  And auditing alone doesn’t assess value for money or if money is spent unwisely.   Financial wrongdoing far too often relies on whistleblowers.  Auditing didn’t stop scandals at Durand, Perry Beeches or Chuckoo Hall.  LA oversight didn’t prevent fraud at Copland Community School or Battersea Park School.  And it should be remembered that the Durand scandal preceded the school becoming an academy.

The possibility of getting caught is the best deterrent.  LAs need to strengthen their stewardship of their maintained schools or lay themselves open to claims of being too lax.

 

CORRECTION 15 December 2018, 11.41.  I oringinally wrote 'By law, LAs must report school fraud to the but I have been unable to find any current information about this (help, please).'  This didn't include the name of the authority which LAs had to report to.  I couldn't find out so I should have deleted 'to the'.  But my careless proof reading allowed the two words to stay.   If anyone knows where reports of school fraud are meant to go together with any current data, I would be grateful.  

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