MPs question the financial skills of governing bodies
Concerns about the ability of governing bodies to ensure good financial management in schools have been raised by the Commons Public Accounts Committee.
In its latest report on accountability and oversight of education, the committee of MPs says that the Department for Education looks to governing bodies to ensure local authority maintained schools and academies have sound financial management and achieve value for money, but that governance is not always strong.
‘We are concerned that weak governance in some schools is leading to inadequate scrutiny of, and challenge to, school leadership,’ says the report. It adds that the DfE, local authorities and the Young People’s Learning Agency (YPLA) ‘need to identify and challenge instances of poor financial governance in particular, and promote strong oversight and challenge by governors with the necessary financial expertise’.
The committee has recommended that the DfE should review the operation of the Schools Financial Value Standard (SFVS) by September this year to evaluate whether it is providing sufficient assurance over governance and financial management at school level. The SFVS only applies to maintained schools, but the committee wants a similar review of the effectiveness of the Financial Management and Governance Evaluation for academies.
A second recommendation calls for the government to encourage all schools to recruit and train sufficient numbers of governors with financial expertise. In expressing its concerns, the committee cited last year’s report by the National Audit Office in which a survey found that 27% of local authorities thought that only a few of their primary schools had governing bodies with sufficient financial expertise.
The Public Accounts Committee also voiced concern that, in some cases, close relationships between governors and school management could lead to inadequate scrutiny of, and challenge to, a school's leadership over its use of funds.
Away from its specific concerns about governance, the committee questioned the DfE’s latest draft accountability statement, saying it remained very concerned at the weakness of the proposed arrangements to ensure accountability and value for money.
By David Gordon