Disabled children in one of the region’s most deprived communities are being penalised at their school because of a police investigation into the misuse of up to £162,000, an MP has claimed.
Easington MP Grahame Morris said pupils at Glendene Arts Academy in Easington Colliery, County Durham, were the “innocent victims” in the latest scandal involving an academy school.
Officials are in the process of recovering funds after an inquiry found money had been misspent.
But the MP said the cash should be returned to the school so it could be spent on teaching staff, support staff and equipment for the children, as originally intended. The Department for Education’s Internal Audit Investigation Team, acting on warnings from a whistleblower, found that a private business was set up to raise funds for the school – but the reality was that the school had been providing resources to the business, which has not been named.
The inquiry report warned: “We cannot identify any discernible benefit for the academy in this arrangement; it has resulted in the loss of over £162,000 that should have been used for the benefit of the academy pupils.” It added: “Governors of the academy reported the matter to the police, who we understand are investigating the case.”
Most of the lost funding involved staff working full time for the business while their salaries were paid by the school, which serves 175 children between two and 19 with a range of learning difficulties. It makes Glendene Arts Academy that latest in a series of troubled academies. But the Department for Education insisted there was no widespread problem with the management of the schools.
A spokesman said: “Fraud is unacceptable wherever it occurs, but it is false to imply fraud is more common in academies than in council-run schools. Last year alone, the Audit Commission identified 191 separate instances of fraud in council-run schools.”
Mr Morris said he welcomed steps to identify any wrongdoing but added: “The Education Funding Agency have already effectively fined the school over £160,000, and that’s money that should go into providing teaching staff, support and equipment for some of the most vulnerable children.
“If there is misappropriation of funds, then the individuals responsible should be held accountable.”
Rob Wright, the new chair of governors at Glendale, said: “We are trying to understand and unravel complex issues which came to light in the first audit following conversion to academy status.
“I am confident now that our academy has strong leadership.”