The Department for Education is dragging its feet on publishing the long-delayed report into the defunct Lilac Sky Schools Academy Trust. The trust was closed in 2017 following claims of financial mismanagement which first surfaced in 2016.
The Education and Skills Financial Agency (ESFA) launched an investigation but its completed report still has not been published.
Schools Week filed a Freedom of Information request asking for the report but this was turned down because ESFA intended to publish it during the academic year 2018/19.
We are now one term into the new academic year 2019/20 and the report is still hidden.
In a letter* I have seen, ESFA uses the following excuses to justify not publishing the report:
‘…we intend to publish the final version of the report on the gov.uk website, in line with our investigations policy. I recognised there has been a long delay; however, it is important that we investigate allegations thoroughly and this can take time. We will release the report as soon as possible following our established fair and proper process for fact checking.’
The first excuse – that the report will be published in accordance with ESFA’s publication policy – could be justified. The policy says reports will not be published if this ‘could prejudice other law enforcement or other regulatory investigations or proceedings’. But this would only be relevant if the case had been sent to the police. ESFA says it ‘cannot speculate as to exactly what enforcement action will be taken’.
The other excuses don’t stand up. The investigation report was completed months ago. Checking the accuracy of any report would have already been done.
Schools minister Lord Agnew often says the public ‘can be certain that an unprecedented level of accountability and transparency has been brought into academy finances.’ He promised ‘robust processes’ which will allow ESFA ‘to spot financial mismanagement quickly and intervene where we need to.’
But it’s two years since a Financial Notice to Improve was served on LSSAT. This said ‘significant irregular financial and governance practice’ had been going on ‘over a number of years’. LSSAT has been bailed out by ESFA and £500k written off.
Yet the long-awaited report has not appeared. This is hardly the ‘robust’ and speedy intervention promised.
*The letter is now reproduced in a link in this article on Kent Independent Education Advice.