The Department for Education has been forced to go to Parliament for emergency funding after exceeding its budget by over £3bn.
This is the second year in a row in which the Department has had to seek a vote for excess funds, fuelling claims that public money is being “wasted” through poor accounting.
Labour have accused the Department of breaching its budget – which stands at around £60bn in total – and failing to admit to the problem until the “last possible moment”.
The Government insists the matter is not indicative of a cash overspend, however, but rather a quirk of the accounting process, since the DfE and academy school trusts operate using different financial years.
Every year, Government departments that are about to exceed their expenditure limit must request an excess vote from Parliament to have more money granted to them.
In its annual Statement of Excesses, the Treasury said the DfE was the only government department to request excess funding this year.
The Department was unable to meet the statutory deadline for presenting its 2014-15 financial statements to Parliament, it added, when it overspent by £3.07bn.
Presenting evidence to the Public Accounts Committee, DfE permanent secretary, Jonathan Slater, said the problem had arisen because the Department was “not yet on top of” the consolidation of the growing number of academy schools and trusts in England.
The most expensive schools in the world
The most expensive schools in the world
1/10 La Rosey, Switzerland
This prestigious Swiss boarding school is believed to be the most expensive in the world. Le Rosey hosts pupils from seven to 18 and has been co-educational since 1967. The school takes in pupils from more than 60 countries, but allows no more than 10 per cent of its students to come from any one country in order to prevent a single nationality dominating. The school has two campuses – winter is spent in Gstaad, where pupils can make use of the ski slopes after their morning lessons. Come spring, the whole school will uproot to the Chataeau du Rosey in the village of Rolle by Lake Geneva. Le Rosey also boats a 1,000 seat concert hall, equestrian centre and 38-foot yacht. Notable alumni: Shah of Iran, Prince Rainier of Monaco and King Farouk of Egypt. Sir Roger Moore and Elizabeth Taylor also send their children here, along with John Lennon’s son Sean and Winston Churchill’s grandson. Fees: approx. £86,657 pa
2/10 Aiglon College, Switzerland
With a view of Mont Blanc, this high altitude school lends itself to outdoor pursuits. The school caters for boys and girls aged nine to 18 and is modelled on the traditional British Boarding school. Unlike most schools, however, the whole school body comes together for 20 minutes of meditation on three mornings each week. Notable alumni: Actor Michel Gill, Princess Tatiana of Greece and Denmark, Sheherazade Goldsmith Fees: up to £80,810 per year (upper school boarding)
3/10 Collège Alpin International Beau Soleil
Founded in 1910, Beau Soleil is one of the oldest private boarding schools in Switzerland. It is positioned 1,350 metres above sea level on the Swiss Alps and hosts pupils from more than 40 different nationalities aged 11-18. The curriculum is taught in both French and English and focuses on outdoor sports, with a ski slope and ice skating rink on site. Notable alumni: Racing driver Jacques Villeneuve, Princess Marie of Denmark, Prince Guillaume, Hereditary Grand Duke of Luxembourg Fees: £79,528
Collège Alpin International Beau Soleil
4/10 Collège du Léman International School, Switzerland
Taking in children from as young as one year old, College du Leman teaches a bilingual programme of French and English up to age 18. The school campus stretches out across eight hectares and offers access to both Geneva city and the mountains. Pupils from more than 100 nationalities attend. Noteable alumni: Anna Ovcharova, Swiss, Russian figure skater Fees: £68,960 pa
5/10 Leysin American School, Switzerland
Another high-profile Swiss school, popular for its exclusive ski and snowboard facilities. LAS Students are allowed to spend Tuesday and Thursday afternoons on the mountain for sports. Despite its name, around 12 per cent of students are from the US. Notable alumni: According to Bloomberg, alumni include members of Saudi Arabia’s royal family, the Rockefellers and Vanderbilts. Fees: Approx £66,700 per year
Leysin American School
6/10 Institut auf dem Rosenberg
7/10 Think Global School
The world’s first “travelling high school” takes pupils to four different countries each year – allowing pupils to experience subjects out in the field. The school has one teacher for every three students and has a 100 per cent pass rate for the International Baccalaureate qualification. Notable alumni: The school is only seven years old, but will no doubt become a popular choice with the next generation of rock stars’ children. Fees: £63,980. Sliding-scale scholarships offered.
8/10 The American school in Switzerland (TASIS)
The first US boarding school to be set up in Europe, TASIS lies on the Dollina d’Oro in the Swiss mountains. Fine art is central to the school curriculum and TASIS hosts its own Spring Arts Festival which attracts a number of famous artists and musicians each year. Notable alumni: American mountain climber Francys Arsentiev, Performer Jeanie Cunningham and Italian-American film director Francesca Gregorini Fees: £63,561 pa
9/10 Brillantmont, Switzerland
A family-run, traditional Swiss school for 130 years, Brillantmont overlooks Lake Geneva and sits just a five-minute walk away from Lausanne. Brillantmont boasts that 100 per cent of its students continue their studies to higher education. Notable alumni: kept suspiciously on the down-low Fees: £52,010 - £59,680 pa
10/10 Hurtwood house, Surrey
Hurtwood house, surrey Several of the best UK boarding schools top their fees around this mark. Set in an Edwardian mansion with 200 acres of grounds, Hurtwood House is one of the most unique. The school hosts just 340 pupils and is known for its focus on creativity and the arts – a recent school production of Chicago cost £75,000 to stage, according to Tatler. Notable alumni: Emily Blunt, Jack Huston, Hans Zimmer Fees: £39,555 pa
Mr Slater said: “The Department is consolidating thousands of academy trusts that operate a different system of accounting from Government… because they are charities and we are not, they value their assets on a different basis than we do, to a different timeframe than we do.
“We need to put that right. We need their help. The problem is not that we are not getting their help. The problem has been that we are learning as we go.”
The comments come amid high debate over the accountability of academy trusts in England.
In a Select Committee report published last month, MPs said multi-academy trusts (MATs) had been able to expand too quickly, and warned there was not enough evidence to warrant their further expansion, as proposed by the Government.
The DfE has one of the largest accounts in Whitehall, in part due to the thousands of school buildings under its care.
The Treasury reported that in 2014-15 the Department overspent by over £3 billion, partly due to financing school building repairs.
In the 2015-16 financial year, the Department breached both its capital and resource expenditure limit by over £290m.
An NAO report last month recommended another £6.7bn was needed in order to bring all existing school buildings up to a “satisfactory” standard – a problem that is forecasted worsen as the majority of the school estate was built more than 40 years ago.
Commenting on the expenditures, Mike Kane, the shadow schools minister, said: “This is exactly what we have come to expect from a department riddled with accounting problems and totally unwilling to properly fund our children’s education.
“Theresa May needs to get a grip on her Department for Education which time and again is failing to account properly and putting education in this country at grave risk.”
A DfE spokesman said the accusations were “a complete misunderstanding of the accounting process”, however, but added that the issue “would not be happening again”.
He said: “It is misleading to describe this as a cash overspend – this issue refers to the way spending is accounted for. We conducted a review of the way we accounted for academy trust land and buildings and made a number of changes.
“The timing of this review meant that we couldn’t amend our budgets with the corrected accounting, giving rise to this issue. The Public Accounts Committee has accepted this explanation and we do not expect these issues to re-occur.”