The government reported one of its controversial free schools to the police over tens of thousands of pounds of misspent taxpayers' money, it emerged this evening.
A Department for Education investigation found that the Kings Science Academy in Bradford spent £59,560 of a government grant without any evidence of what it was used for, including £10,800 which was “supported by fabricated invoices for rent”.
A further £26,775 was over-claimed as part of otherwise legitimate payments in what the DfE described as “serious failings in financial management”.
Police were informed in April 2013 but decided not to take action. A warning notice was issued to the school by the DfE the following month.
It will be particularly embarrassing for the government as Prime Minister David Cameron had given the Bradford school a personal endorsement with an official visit on budget day in March 2012. The news comes in the midst of renewed controversy over the whole free school programme.
Last week Ofsted reported that the Al-Madinah Free School in Derby was "in chaos" while there has also been a Coalition split over the use of unqualified teachers in such schools.
Kings Science Academy, one of the first free schools, was deemed to require improvement by Ofsted this summer.
By then – “in late 2012” – a whistleblower had already made allegations about “governance arrangements” at the Bradford free school, the DfE revealed tonight.
Further inquires led to the government conducting a “forensic investigation” into the school. An interim report was produced in March and DfE auditors completed their final report in May, which has only now been published.
It reveals that the school's former chair of governors was paid £2,400 for chairing three meetings in 2011 and £500 for “travel costs to Scotland” in August in the same year.
The school is also criticised for failing to declare business interests of those running it.
The report reveals that a director is the brother of the principal and that the former financial director had links with a company used by the school.
It says that the father, wife and sister of a person whose name has been redacted from the published report were recruited as staff. The investigators were told that some staff were employed without applying for posts, including two vice principals.
A DfE spokesman said: “We found serious failings in financial management at the Kings Science Academy.
“We informed the police who decided no further action was necessary. We required KSA to address these failings urgently. A plan is in place to recover funds and the school is undertaking its own investigation. Any necessary disciplinary action is a matter for the school.”