The National Audit Office (NAO) understands that Academies must account for themselves to parents and pupils as much as to the Department for Education. They also recognise that parents matter and they have placed them at the heart of their financial accountability framework.
No matter where you sit on the political spectrum, it would be reassuring to think that whoever is running the country is overseeing the spending of taxpayers’ money wisely and carefully. That’s why I do like an occasional glance at the National Audit Office (NAO) website, just to see which bit of the public purse they are scrutinising and what their conclusions are.
On searching the NAO website for publications on education recently, I was surprised to find that, in January of this year, they ‘qualified’ the Department of Education’s (DfE) 2013-14 accounts. As a former auditor myself, I consider this to be a big deal! This means that the NAO did not consider the DfE’s financial statements to provide a true and fair view of financial activity: that they deemed the level of error and uncertainty in the statements to be both material and pervasive, and in sum, the DfE was unable to produce an explanation of financial activity for this period which the NAO could corroborate.
And whilst I found it worrying that the NAO put this down to the difficulties in consolidating the accounts of the 2,585 Academy Trusts (which have August year ends) into the DfE accounts (which have March year ends), I did find it comforting that they didn’t find specific material errors in the individual Trust accounts themselves.
And then, further reassurance, I found that the NAO publishes guidance to the auditors of individual Academy Trusts – the most recent version published in September. Not only that, but at the very foundation of that guidance and the building block upon which the entire framework is built, is accountability to parents (Figure 1)!
Phew! At least the NAO understands that Academies must account for themselves to parents and pupils as much as to the DfE and the NAO. Because whilst the consolidation of DfE group accounts is important at a national level (of course it is), and the qualification of the 2013-14 accounts is quite simply shocking, without an accountability to parents and pupils the Academy Trust model has no strength. Parents are at the heart of the financial accountability framework published by the NAO.
I am looking forward to seeing how Academy Trusts, the DfE, and the NAO seek to positively engage with parents on this going forward. As the NAO recognises: parents matter.
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