Michael Gove accused of free school ‘fraud’ cover up

Department for Education ‘sat for months’ on report alleging financial irregularities worth more than £80,000 at flagship academy in Bradford

More than £80,000 was misused at a free school previously lauded by David Cameron, with false invoices submitted to Whitehall and taxpayers' money used to hold parties, buy furniture for staff and pay for first-class rail travel, according to a Department for Education report.

The catalogue of financial irregularities occurred as the Kings Science Academy was set up in Bradford two years ago and represents a fresh blow for the Government's key schools policy. The Education Secretary Michael Gove is accused of suppressing for five months the damning findings of the internal investigation into the school that was eventually published today.

The report alleged that invoices were fabricated and that £86,000 of government funding had not been used for its intended purpose. It also disclosed that investigators were so concerned at what they uncovered that they called in police to assess whether a crime had been committed. The Department for Education said auditors had informed police in April 2013 but that no further action was taken.

West Yorkshire Police referred the case to Action Fraud, but it concluded it did not meet the criteria for further action, a Department for Education (DfE) spokesman said.

The report claims that almost £60,000 of the school's £182,000 lead-in grant, which is intended to pay for setting-up costs, was spent without supporting documentation, while “fabricated invoices” for rent were said to account for a further £10,800.

Payments also allegedly went to cover the cost of teachers' furniture, with more than £600 spent on parties or meals and £169 given to a staff member to buy clothes. The former vice-chairman of governors was also said to have been allowed to buy first-class rail tickets.

The report queried the school's recruitment policies, pointing out that a senior member of staff appointed his brother to the board of governors and employed his sister as a senior teacher, while his wife also worked at the school and his father drove the bus. The episode is a fresh blow to the credibility of the free school programme, coming a week after the al-Madinah school in Derby was condemned as inadequate by Ofsted inspectors.

Christine Blower, the general secretary of the National Union of Teachers (NUT), said: “It is now apparent the DfE has been sitting on the report detailing financial irregularities at the Kings Science Academy since May and only released it today once it became clear the NUT had released to the press its own document outlining alleged financial irregularities at the school.

”The catalogue of irregularities in the management of the school's finances acknowledged in the DfE's investigation report is a disgrace. This makes it very clear that the DfE lacks the proper procedures to manage and oversee its free schools programme.

“Michael Gove is himself personally responsible for this position. The public can no longer have confidence in him or his education policies.”

After being contacted by a whistle-blower, the DfE ordered an inquiry into the handling of cash at the 160-pupil school. It found that not all of a lead-in grant could be accounted for, with £86,000 used for different purposes. The internal review, which was published today, five months after completion, highlighted “serious concerns in relation to internal control, financial accounting systems and payment processes in operation in the academy until November 2012”.

It said it had identified a “number of payments where we could not find invoices/documentation to support the payments”. The department said it had issued a warning notice to the school in May, instructing it to “address failings in their financial management”. A spokesman for the DfE said that it was “nonsense” to suggest there was a cover up and that “we always intended to publish the report when the school finished its investigation”.

He added that it is a requirement within the Academies Financial Handbook that the Education Funding Agency will publish reports on all its investigations.

The school has taken action to pay the money it owes, recruit new governors, appoint an experienced finance director and overhaul its financial-management systems. Earlier this year Ofsted inspectors criticised the leadership, teaching and pupil performance at Kings Academy. They concluded that the school “requires improvements” - the third-lowest of the four possible grades that Ofsted can give.

Last year the school was visited by the Prime Minister, who described it as innovative and inspiring and later praised it in a letter to its principal.

A spokesperson for the school said: “We acknowledge there were poor governance issues during the start-up due to the pace of setting up the new school in two to three months. These have since been addressed. All payments received from DfE have been fully accounted for and any sums incorrectly claimed have been repaid.”

Tristram Hunt, the shadow Education Secretary, said, “This case represents another deeply concerning episode in a string of failings of David Cameron's free school programme. Labour has long warned of the dangers that a lack of financial oversight would cause. The case of Kings Science Academy proves yet again that it is not possible for thousands of schools to be run directly from Whitehall.”

A family sit and enjoy a quiet train journey
voicesForcing us to overhear dull phone conversations is an offensive act, says Simon Kelner
Arts and Entertainment
The cast of The Big Bang Theory in a still from the show
tvBig Bang Theory filming delayed by contract dispute over actors' pay
England celebrate a wicket for Moeen Ali
sportMoeen Ali stars with five wickets as Cook's men level India series
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Morrissey pictured in 2013
Life and Style
The director of Wall-E Andrew Stanton with Angus MacLane's Lego model
gadgetsDesign made in Pixar animator’s spare time could get retail release
peopleGuitarist, who played with Aerosmith, Lou Reed and Alice Cooper among others, was 71
Robyn Lawley
i100  ... he was into holy war way before it was on trend
Arts and Entertainment
High-flyer: Chris Pratt in 'Guardians of the Galaxy'
filmThe film is surprisingly witty, but could do with taking itself more seriously, says Geoffrey Macnab
Life and Style
food + drinkVegetarians enjoy food as much as anyone else, writes Susan Elkin
Life and Style
lifeDon't get caught up on climaxing
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Education

Education Recruitment Consultant- Learning Support

£18000 - £30000 per annum + Generous commission scheme: AER Teachers: Thames T...

Supply Teachers Needed in Bungay

£21000 - £35000 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: Supply teachers neede...

Year 6 Teacher

£111 - £163 per day + £111 - £163 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: The posi...

Experienced Creche Assistant - Lambeth - September 2014

£64 - £69 per day + Competitive London rates of pay : Randstad Education Group...

Day In a Page

Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

We will remember them

Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

Acting in video games gets a makeover

David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices
Could our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?

Could smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases?

Health Kit and Google Fit have been described as "the beginning of a health revolution"
Ryanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?

Can we learn to love Ryanair again?

Four recent travellers give their verdicts on the carrier's improved customer service
Billionaire founder of Spanx launches range of jeans that offers

Spanx launches range of jeans

The jeans come in two styles, multiple cuts and three washes and will go on sale in the UK in October
10 best over-ear headphones

Aural pleasure: 10 best over-ear headphones

Listen to your favourite tracks with this selection, offering everything from lambskin earmuffs to stainless steel
Commonwealth Games 2014: David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end

Commonwealth Games

David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end
UCI Mountain Bike World Cup 2014: Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings

UCI Mountain Bike World Cup

Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings
Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star