14th November 2022
Single-academy Trust Must Pay Back £1.5m in Overclaimed Maintenance
Grammar school overclaimed more than £1.5 million in government handouts, then provided false information to the Department for Education about the projects
Queen Elizabeth Grammar School Penrith
Queen Elizabeth Grammar School Penrith in Cumbria has been issued with a government notice to improve by the Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA) and ordered to repay £1.5 million in government grants.
An investigation by the Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA) revealed that the school failed to return surplus condition improvement funding (CIF) to the DfE and spent it on other projects.The investigation focused on four CIF-funded projects between 2016 and 2018. It found the school had “overclaimed and been paid” £1,502,393.40 in relation to three of the four bids. The investigation also revealed that “work was undertaken without approval or where information submitted within the bid is deemed to be misrepresented”.
The school broke academy funding rules by awarding the project management contract for all four projects to the same company, with “no evidence” it invited other bids.
Trust filed false completion returns to the DfE
The accounting officer at the time of the award submitted “false completion returns to the DfE”. In addition, governing body and finance committee minutes also confirmed the school “knowingly took decisions to utilise funding on works beyond the scope of the approved bids when they were aware it should have been returned to the DfE”.
In early November 2022, recently appointed headteacher David Marchant, said the school was “saddened” by the investigation’s findings, but “accept[s] its conclusions”. He added; “We are now committed to working with the ESFA and Department of Education to learn from those conclusions in a way that will allow the school to move forward.Since I became headteacher at QEGS in September, I have been immensely impressed by the determination of the staff to always deliver the best possible education, by providing a rigorous academic curriculum that ensures our students reach their full potential.”
He said the repayment of the £1.5 million “will not in any way affect the smooth running of the school, or the learning experience of the students”.
The school received £528,234 in funding for replacement boilers, but only spent £207,892.44 on approved work. This left a disparity of £320,341.56. However, the trust confirmed the funding had been spent in full.
A repayment of £42,220 had already been made to the DfE, leaving £269,193.56 to be returned.
The trust also received £1,241,894 to demolish two mobile blocks and build a new teaching block. The trust said the blocks were used for “basic need teaching” accommodation, when in fact they were used as a dining and art display area. £395,689 was spent on fire alarms, doors and precautions work included £39,392.98 worth of work that hadn’t been part of the bid, leading to a clawback of £28,420.80.
The ESFA concluded the school had overclaimed £1,204,779.04 on the project, and also misused £35,900 in unspent funding from the boiler project to fund project management fees for the block replacements.
Queen Elizabeth Grammar School Penrith is due to be rebrokered into a nearby multi-academy trust.