Free School–‘financial misconduct’

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KINGS Science Academy in Bradford, one of the government’s flagship free schools, has been accused of serious financial mismanagement.

An Education Funding Agency (EFA) report reveals allegations of financial irregularities and even possible fraud at the school.

Kings Science Academy, which is a co-educational school for 11 to 18-year-olds, opened in September 2011 and was one of England’s first free schools.

It was set up by Bradford-born teacher Sajid Raza.

The school has been praised by Cameron and Education Secretary Gove, both of whom have visited it.

Alan Lewis, a successful businessman and the Tory Party’s vice-chairman, was a key benefactor and supporter. The school is built on land owned by Lewis and leased to it by his company at a cost of £296,000 a year for 20 years.

A leaked draft EFA report has published a redacted final version on its website.

In a statement attached to the redacted report, the Department for Education said: ‘We found serious failings in financial management at the Kings Science Academy (KSA). We informed the police who decided no further action was necessary.

‘We required KSA to address these failings urgently. A plan is in place to recover funds and the school is undertaking its own investigation. Any necessary disciplinary action is a matter for the school.’

In response to whistleblower’s concerns in late 2012, the DfE, on an already scheduled visit, arranged to look at the school’s financial management.

The findings of that visit combined with the school’s own review of its accounting triggered a forensic investigation in early 2013.

The school was paid a £182,933 grant when it opened in September 2011.

The EFA investigation found that £59,560 of payments were not supported by any evidence of payments being made, and £10,800 of this was supported by fabricated invoices for rent.

There was also a total of £26,775 which had been over-claimed against payments which had been made legitimately.

Therefore, there was a total of £86,335 which had not been used for its intended purpose.

The DfE said that when the academy was spoken to about the discrepancies it was able to provide some evidence of legitimate payments which resulted in the total amount which could not be justified being reduced to £76,933.

The DfE says there is a plan in place for the school to pay back that amount.

The EFA report noted that a number of Raza’s family members were hired to work at the school, and that some staff were appointed without interviews.

l Meanwhile, it has emerged that checks on inexperienced staff who want to be head teachers at free schools have been scrapped, despite warnings from civil servants.

A leaked DfE document says: ‘Without the Principal Designate Assessment Centres some free school projects may appoint inexperienced principal designates who are not suitable which would significantly undermine the success of the school.’

The document shows that education secretary Gove and schools minister Laws approved the scrapping of the requirement to attend assessment centres in February this year.

They also approved allowing free school trusts to arrange their own pre-registration checks with Ofsted.

The DfE is also reducing the ‘financial analysis in support of the free school programme’, the document shows.

The paper warns: ‘The risk is that free school proposals will not be subject to financial scrutiny.’