Burying bad news: a dishonourable tradition

The DfE has continued the tradition of publishing bad news at a time when it presumably hopes many won’t be looking. However, in the current digital age the tradition of burying bad news on a Friday afternoon before a school holiday no longer really works. Thus, even though the adverse report by the Education Funding Agency on the Cuckoo Hall Academy Trust plus the Financial Notice to improve appeared on Friday 13th February on the EFA website (under respectively transparency data and correspondence for anyone having difficulty finding the details), they didn’t go un-noticed.

Cuckoo Hall Academy Trust was one of Gove’s flagship convertor schools and an early sponsor of ‘free schools’ in parts of Enfield, the North London borough.

Indeed, Gove visited the school and the head teacher was on the panel set up by Gove as Secretary of State to review teaching standards. As a result, the investigations of the goings-on at the Trust makes uncomfortable reading in what must been seen as a Tory flagship Trust.

As Cuckoo Hall has also been at the forefront of some of the school-led innovations in teacher training the findings regarding the approach to employing staff without current DBS checks has hopefully also been investigated by the NCTL to ensure that the same shortcomings haven’t been happening with respect to those taken onto teacher preparation courses and not shown as employees by the Trust.

The previous week to the Cuckoo Hall publication the EFA published the heavily redacted report on the Park View Academy Trust. There are now 10 reports on one part of the EFA website in a list first published in March 2014.  But, that isn’t the full list ofreviews, as there is another list covering investigations into financial management and governance at academies that was started at the same time, but that now contains 15 reports including some schools and trusts not on the other list.

Some schools have always broken the rules and these remain a small minority of academy trusts, but the risks remain high that governance arrangements and audit trails don’t always seem to be good enough. Too frequently the mis-use of credit cards appears in the reports and good leaders seem too often to succumb to a failure to manage basic operational procedures in the correct manner.

One solution would be to require all internal management auditing to be brought back into government with local authority teams auditing academies as well as maintained schools.  It might also help if there was a common accounting year for schools of all types as maintaining two different periods as the NAO has shown can also lead to a lack of understanding and poor control.

The other development should be to ensure all schools have a properly trained bursar with the power to refer any anxieties about compliance matters to an external regulator. Ofsted should be retained for teaching and learning compliance issues but financial and other matters needs a mechanism that will encourage the highest standards of public life across the board in education.

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