What Price Financial Accountability in Education?

£9k Fees and Cuts?

The continuing saga of ‘superhead’ Jo Shuter continues to rumble on, following the news that she had been suspended pending an investigation by the Department for Education into financial irregularities. According to Camden New Journal, “The award-winning head teacher of Quintin Kynaston school has been reinstated after being suspended from the job for eight months.”

The news of Shuter’s reinstatement, along with a final written warning, came after the investigation by the DofE “identified significant weaknesses in the financial oversight and the proper and regular use of public funds” at Quintin Kynaston school. In particular, the report raised questions “with regard to Ms Shuter’s role as the Accounting Officer and her responsibility for the prudent and economical administration of Academy business.”

Academies aren’t the only education establishments that seem to be experiencing a rush of blood to the head where financial accountability is concerned. The Independent reported recently that Durham University has been “criticised for spending £1.4 million on art including works by Pablo Picasso and Andy Warhol while it charges students £9,000-a-year and pays hundreds of staff less than the Living Wage.”

This spending is clearly controversial, because, as reported the next day in The Telegraph, “the amount of lecture and tutorial time in universities has barely changed over the last six years despite a nine-fold hike in annual tuition fees.” All of which means, as The Guardian reported in March, that “England’s universities could suffer from the perception that they are “awash with cash”, as the Treasury seeks cuts of £1 billion in the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills’ 2015-16 budget.”

In January Kent Online reported that Christ Church University vice-chancellor was “forced to resign from his £200,000 post” after he “blew thousands on business class flights, luxury hotels and even flowers.” According to Kent Online “Prof Robin Baker left his job on October 22 last year, amid talk of relationships with women at the university. The institution has close links with the Church of England and has the Archbishop of Canterbury as its chancellor. But the 59-year-old, who earned £203,000 a year as the university’s principal officer, ran up £15,000 on credit card spending, it’s been revealed. As his students struggled to pay thousands of pounds in tuition fees, Prof Baker paid for business class flights around the world, dinners in some of Canterbury’s finest restaurants, luxury hotels and even flowers. He even whipped out his corporate credit card to pay for shopping from Waitrose, refreshments from sandwich shops, such as Pret a Manger and Upper Crust and hundreds of pounds on opera tickets.”

Professor Baker hit the news in 2011 after Canterbury Christ Church University “admitted it spent more than £200,000 recruiting Robin Baker as its vice-chancellor and [then] creating a “palatial” office for him.” According to Kent Online “It was equipped with an executive washroom and shower, a kitchen, a photocopying room, waiting area and an office for a personal assistant. New furniture for the office cost another £1,300.”

In another development, the Manchester Evening News is reporting that the University of Salford “faces a huge legal bill after performing an embarrassing u-turn over its bid to sue a former lecturer for criticising bosses in a blog.” According to the report, the University of Salford has “slashed more than 400 jobs in four years,” and “refuses to rule out future redundancies”. The legal bill comes after “a probe into an alleged bust-up involving second-in-command Dr Adrian Graves.” University bosses have announced a “climbdown over their costly libel action against former part-time lecturer Dr Gary Duke – two days after the M.E.N. posed a series of questions about the affair.” Vice-chancellor Martin Hall has “sent an email to staff saying he had finally decided to pull the plug on the three-year battle – which had already cost £150,000 at a time when hundreds of people were being made redundant – to save further expensive solicitor bills”.

As universities, colleges and schools are being pushed to act in ever more commercial ways, questions about accountability and good-governance of public funds are increasingly going to  come to the public’s attention. Without rigorous and transparent accountability, are we likely to see more examples of waste and extravagance in our education institutions? As Alasdair Smith of the Anti-Acadamies Alliance says “A big part of [the problem] is the rise of the cult of the personality in school leadership. Our schools are among the best in the world but they have been denigrated and our teaching standards have been besmirched. Jo Shuter was one of a number of school leaders lauded as being the new broom needed to sweep away all of the detritus and make us all shiny and new. Perhaps they felt invincible?”

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