The recent resignation of the Academy Head Teacher, Jo Shuter reinforces not only the need for tight financial controls in academies, but also that while the governors of an academy may well be satisfied that everything is in order, the EFA’s ultimate view rings loud in everyone’s ears.  If you’re not already familiar with it, the Jo Shuter case is a real example of no matter what the internal view is, the EFA view hangs over an academy.

Jo Shuter was highly respected by Tony Blair and labeled as a trailblazing head teacher not so long ago and now she’s resigned from her position against a backdrop of alleged financial mismanagement.  The press reported numerous accusations of misuse of academy funds last year, which led the governors of the academy she ran to carry out a long and indepth disciplinary process.  Notwithstanding these events, the governing body finally reinstated this previous Head Teacher of the Year, only to have her present her resignation.

The accusations made against Ms Shuter included the diverting of academy funds for inappropriate purposes and the employment of family members.  Significant sums of money at the academy were allegedly used for non-school business and although some of the funds were subsequently repaid, in her joint role as head teacher and school accounting officer there is little doubt that there appears to have been some less than desirable dealings.

This case reinforces the need for clear and accurate accounting procedures within an academy in order to avoid any possible blurring of personal and professional roles.  In the year 2012/2013 the EFA has called for an Accounting Officer’s declaration to explain how academies have offered value for money.  This is a personal statement that will be signed and annexed to the Accounting Officers overall statement that makes up part of the school’s annual accounts.   This type of direct statement will no doubt reduce the chances of any sort of widespread misuse of academy funds, but for the good of all, it is imperative to have the right systems and procedures in place to protect your academy from being hung out to dry, either by a misguided insider or by someone on the outside.

Here are our Top Tips for making sure your academy governance cuts the mustard:

  1. Make sure your team isn’t too big, isn’t too small and has a broad skills set as well as a clear and shared vision.
  2. Take time to ensure that every member of the team fully understands their role and is committed to working towards the common goals of the academy.
  3. Make sure your goals, from high to low level, are clear, understood and embraced by every member of your team.
  4. Seek commitment that your team will work objectively and with integrity at all times, ignoring any personal goal or pursuit.
  5. Encourage open communication and transparency in all acts.
  6. Concentrate your team’s efforts on financial planning and financial performance monitoring.

By sticking to these broad principles and by adopting the DoE guidelines on governance, you shouldn’t go far wrong.