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The GM model of accountability

The notion that the possibility of grant-maintained schools being subject to annual audit by the Audit Commission (TES, January 26) will mean a "tougher" regime is curious.

GM schools may have varying views on who is best placed to conduct external audit but they are united in valuing the rigour of a yearly, independent scrutiny of their financial affairs.

Of course, independent audit is only one means by which GM schools ensure accountability in their use of public funds. Each school must appoint an internal auditor, the responsible officer, who may be a governor but not a member of staff.

The Funding Agency for Schools monitors income and expenditure through quarterly returns. Grant is only paid to schools after the FAS has been provided with three-year budget forecasts, and at year end full audited accounts are examined by the agency and published for parents and other interested members of the community.

In addition, the schools themselves are subject to inspection by Customs and Excise and the Inland Revenue while the National Audit Office conducts sample surveys of GM schools annually.

Against this carefully balanced pattern of financial oversight, the inadequate monitoring and accountability of local education authority schools borders on a public scandal which should have attracted the attention of Lord Nolan.

Local authorities are, quite inappropriately, both the providers and inspectors of the proper and effective use of their schools' budgets. There is no independent audit and LEA auditors rarely visit schools more frequently than one year in three. Accounts of schools are usually published in only summary form. There is no internal audit within each school and establishments are unlikely to be inspected by other national bodies, which tend to concentrate on work in town or county hall rather than in schools themselves.

It would be refreshing to think that the educational world might retain sufficient objectivity to acknowledge that the GM sector, at least in terms of financial accountability, provides a model of good practice that should be replicated in all schools.

JOHN WILKINS Chairman Association of Heads of Grant Maintained Schools Stantonbury Campus Milton Keynes, Buckinghamshire

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