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I AM on the finance committee and I have a question about the school fund. Our chairman does not know the answer and has agreed that I should write.

Our budget is properly set out and I have no problems with that. But a lot of money comes in and out of the school which does not come through the local education authority, so is presumably not official. We do have a statement each term but it is not very formal or in my view informative. It is pages long and just lists cheques received and paid with a brief indication, such as "uniform items purchased at open evening" or "payment made for booking band at summer fete".

There is nothing about regular donations, which I know many parents make, nothing about how school trips are financed, payments for tickets for the Christmas concert, or refreshments for parents' evenings. You could not tell what profit was made on a school fund-raising event or whether a school trip covered its costs. Am I being fussy?

NO, not at all. I am just amazed that after so many years of schools managing their own money there is still the odd school where these issues come up. The Audit Commission has said that all money that goes through a school must be treated as public money and just as transparently accounted for. I am not suggesting there is anything amiss in the financial affairs of your school. But there was a long tradition of schools' unofficial money being rather casually treated and it has taken quite a long time to get across the message that it is really important. As you quite rightly say, anyone should be able to see that the school is careful about all the money it handles. Your school is, it seems, a bit behind.

All income and outgoings should be combined under clear headings with enough comment to make it intelligible to an outsider looking at annual accounts. I also think that governors themselves should see the more detailed accounts of how individual school trips, for example, worked out financially, since it is not satisfactory in my view for one event to subsidise another when parents are paying their share for the individual trip - significant surpluses should either be returned to the family or used for some agreed purpose, preferably benefiting the students concerned.

Perhaps someone from your LEA's finance department could spare time to give you a little help with improving your presentation of the unofficial fund accounts in time for the end-of-year statements? It is true that it is not public money in the same sense as the school budget, but it is clear that public authorities expect it to be similarly transparent because it has come from parents and other supporters of the school and is, in any case, evidence that the school is being well managed.

The TES welcomes your queries. Joan Sallis does her best to answer all letters, but please keep requests for private replies to a minimum, since we aim to provide helpful information for ALL readers and always protect the identity of schools and individuals. Questions for Joan Sallis should be sent to The TES, Admiral House, 66-68 East Smithfield, London E1W 1BX, fax 0171 782 32023205, or see

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