Luton-based Barnfield College claimed £1m for students ‘it did not have on record’
Richard Garner has been Education Editor of The Independent for 12 years and writing about the subject for 34 years. Before becoming a journalist, he worked as a disc jockey in London pubs and clubs and for a hospital radio station. His main hobbies are cricket (watching these days) and theatre. On his days off, he is most likelt to be found at Lord’s or the King’s Head Theatre Club.
Wednesday 19 February 2014
A college claimed nearly £1m in government funding for students it had no record of teaching, an investigation has uncovered.
A dossier on the financing of the Luton-based Barnfield College, jointly compiled by the Skills Funding Agency (SFA) and the Education Funding Agency, has been passed to the police for a possible criminal investigation.
Barnfield was the first further education college in the country to sponsor academies. Today, the Barnfield Federation, the umbrella body for the academies, runs four academies and a free school. News of the investigation comes to light in the same week The Independent disclosed that police are also looking into allegations of financial irregularities at Glendene Arts Academy, a special school in Easington Colliery, County Durham. A leaked SFA report, which was sent to BBC Three Counties Radio, reveals that Barnfield claimed £464,176 for funding 16 to 18-year-olds, which was not matched by information gleaned from attendance registers, and £477,000 for its adult skills budget.
The report talks of “substantial pay rises” granted to senior executives “without proper oversight”. It also looked at payments made to former chief executive Sir Peter Birkett, who resigned in May. He had requested only a “few days extra holiday in excess of his contractual requirement” but was given a lump sum equivalent to his annual bonus, a further lump sum “as an incentive to sign a compromise agreement” and an additional month’s holiday.
A spokesman for the SFA said: “A joint SFA and EFA investigation was launched last year following serious allegations relating to financial irregularities and governance at the Barnfield Federation. This investigation has concluded and has been passed to the police. The police have advised us not to publish the reports until they have concluded their assessment. It would be inappropriate to comment further at this stage.”
Hertfordshire Police said it was reviewing the information it had been sent. Barnfield said it would not comment until the report had been officially published.
The Department for Education said that financial regulations governing free schools and academies were more stringent than those for local authority-maintained schools. A spokeswoman added that there had been 191 cases alleging financial irregularities in the maintained sector in the past year.
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