This week the government faced questions in the House of Commons over its handling of allegations of fraud at one of its first flagship free schools.
MPs focused on the Kings Science Academy (KSA) in Bradford, the subject of an internal audit highlighting large sums of missing money. This is teamed allegations of mismanagement and possible fraud, which includes fabricated invoices in order to claim thousands of pounds of public money.
KSA was one of the first free schools approved by the Department for Education (DfE), and opened in September 2011, as a science-focused secondary school for up to 800 pupils between ages 11 and 16. It moved to a new £10m building in the Lidget Green area last year.
Earlier this year, Ofsted inspectors gave KSA a “requires improvement” grade in teaching and management.
Last month the DfE published a redacted report from its own internal audit of the academy. It revealed that a whistleblower at the school had admitted that it had submitted fabricated invoices to the DfE.
The report also found that £86,335 of a lead-in grant given by the department to help set up the free school had not been spent on what it was intended for.
The investigation comes hard on the heels of the ongoing controversy at the Al-Madinah free school in Derby, which also involved allegations of financial mismanagement and which announced the resignation of the chair of its board of governors. “We found serious failings in financial management at the Kings Science Academy. We informed the police who decided no further action was necessary,” said a spokesman for the DfE.
The spokesman said a plan was in place to recover the misued funds, and that the school was undertaking its own investigation. “Any necessary disciplinary action is a matter for the school,” he said.
However, it has since emerged that the DfE reported the matter to Action Fraud – the UK’s national fraud reporting centre in April. A Home Office confirmed that an ‘administrative error’ by Action Fraud led to it being classed an information report. Since the mistake came to light West Yorkshire Police has launched its own investigation.
The Home Office says the “administrative error” was only discovered at the beginning of this month.
Bradford’s Liberal Democrat MP David Ward and Respect MP George Galloway have both questioned why the DfE failed to realise that the matter had not been properly passed onto the police sooner.
Between them the two MPs have submitted more than 20 written Parliamentary questions to Education Secretary Michael Gove and Home Secretary Theresa May regarding the Kings Science Academy case.