Academy trusts should have mid-year audit review to prevent the public finding out about their failings, the academies minister has said.
Lord Agnew outlined his advice in a letter he sent to auditors today about academy trust financial management and governance.
The letter, published by the DfE, says the department is “particularly concerned” when it sees that issues raised by an auditor in one year “remain unresolved in the following year”.
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Lord Agnew writes: “Our view is that a simple way to avoid these failings going onto the public record is through mid-year audit reviews. This gives management teams the time to resolve them before the accounts have to be signed.”
The letter was published on the day Lord Agnew refused to give MPs details of how one of England's biggest academy trusts is using public money.
There have been long-running concerns about secrecy in the academy sector.
In January, a report from the Commons Public Accounts Committee, said academy trusts do not make enough information available for parents and local communities.
There have also been complaints about a lack of transparency about the regional schools commissioner system which oversees the academy system, which the DfE has since taken some steps to address.
In his letter, Lord Agnew anticipates that some academy trusts may raise concerns about the extra cost of carrying out mid-year audit reviews.
However, he writes: “Siren voices that complain about the cost of this action should be cause for concern in itself. Normally the failings identified will have a cost well in excess of an audit review.
“The sooner they are rectified the less risk and cost to the trust."
The minister also acknowledges that “many academy trust boards are still adjusting to the additional rigour expected of them, when compared to being a local authority school governing body”, and emphasises the role of auditors in helping such boards.
Lord Agnew’s missive follows a number of high-profile failures in the academy sector.
In today’s letter, Lord Agnew urges auditors to speak the DfE directly about “serious concerns” they may have about an academy trust, even if this is not the usual procedure they would follow.
He writes: “If you identify serious concerns about an academy trust, we would always encourage you to speak to us early in the process.
“Whilst this is a matter for your professional judgment, there may be rare occasions where delay, and reliance on the standard channels for reporting audit findings, runs the risk of significant irregularity or impropriety.”