After the recent Guardian story about academies paying millions of pounds to private firms for educational services there has been a surge of interest in the way schools are spending taxpayer money. It is important to remember that academies are not alone in spending tax-cash with private firms. Every school will buy items from private companies – whether stationery, or textbooks, or computers. What matters much more in the case of academies is who the money goes to and whether or not there is a dodgy link between the people operating the school and the people they are paying out to.
For example, as the Guardian article notes:
Grace Academy, which runs three schools in the Midlands and was set up by the Tory donor Lord Edmiston, has paid more than £1m either directly to or through companies owned or controlled by Edmiston, trustees’ relatives and to members of the board of trustees.
This is more problematic than your local school handing a hundred quid to whsmith for post-it notes because it suggests that decisions on how money was spent might have been based on nepotism rather than the best interests of students.
Of course, the academy founders could rightly argue that monies paid to family members did represent the best use of cash. To prove this, they should be meeting the standards described by Edward Timpson in a recent Parliamentary Question answer:
So, if journalists really wish to see what is going on with academy expenditure they need to look and see if (a) the processes for procuring items/services were competitive, and (b) if amounts paid were above market rate. If academies are not following the processes as outlined by Timpson then there is a problem.
In fact, it is worth all of us in education taking note and keeping an eye on this. Being a teacher soon tells you that people tend to behave better when they know a monitoring eye is watching.