Friday, 25 October 2013

'Free' in schools shouldn't be free of controls

A few weeks ago I discussed the allegations made in the press about al-Madinah free school - I questioned whether some of the allegations were justified. The allegations included conflicts of interest and lack of processes.

Then this week I discussed the increases in fraud and particularly in procurement. Tonight, we see a convergence of free schools and fraud. Fabricated invoices and money spent without supporting documentation. The latest allegations date back two years (apparently suppressed).

To me these problems all relate to Start-up and possibly naivety. There needs to be more attention given to getting procurement policies, processes and procedures in place together with the appropriate controls at Start-up. But perhaps it is unreasonable to assume that those who are setting up free schools will have the clarity of vision and even know-how to develop and put in place appropriate procurement policies, processes and procedures - that's why we seem to hear of problems after the event.

Now having said that, while Free Schools are the focus at the present, the same problems are surely just around the corner with Clinical Commissioning Groups.

Part of the solution lies in providing a really good start-up toolkit, training and support. Correct me if I'm wrong, but it doesn't look as if that support has/is being provided - if that's the case, it is a false economy and poor risk management.

Freedom may be a good thing but there needs to be protection against chaos. Sometimes even the free need to be protected from the pitfalls.

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