Exclusive: Troubled free school could go to wall without DfE financial rescue

5th January 2018 at 17:15
Parkfield School has to repay the DfE hundreds of thousands of pounds.
Accounts show DfE will have to pay for 'onerous lease' for premises Parkfield School is no longer using

The future of a troubled free school that remains without a sponsor will be in “significant doubt” if it cannot agree a plan to repay money it owes the Department for Education, its auditors have warned.

Parkfield School, which moved to a site next to Bournemouth Airport in September after four years on temporary premises, is currently run by an interim academy board, and in November was judged “requires improvement” for the second time.

Its latest financial accounts show the DfE will have to foot the bill for an “onerous lease” on its previous home, despite the fact the school is no longer using it.

The school has failed to attract the expected number of pupils for the last two years, and its accounts say the Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA), which is part of the DfE, will clawback £771,880 that was overpaid to the school as a result.

'No reserves'

The accounts say that delays moving to its permanent site were “a significant contributing factor” for the under-recruitment.

Although the accounts say the school is “confident” it can reach an agreement with the ESFA to spread the repayments over a number of years without putting it at risk, it says “nothing has been finalised yet”.

Its auditors said the school had a £278,966 deficit in 2016-17, with a further deficit expected in the current year, and warned “there are no reserves carried forward to cover the resultant cash shortfall”.

Although they anticipate the ESFA will agree a repayment plan, they add: “Should this additional support not be forthcoming there is significant doubt regarding the charitable company’s ability to continue as a going concern.”

Working with Parkfield

The Department for Education told Tes it was working with Parkfield to reach an agreement on repaying the outstanding money.

The accounts also reveal that the ESFA will have to foot the bill for “an onerous lease” for premises that the school no longer occupies.

According to Parkfield’s accounts, it owes more than £500,000 in non-cancellable lease payments over the next five years, although the document does not say how much of this relates to the school’s old site.

£272,184 is due within one year, with a further £260,200 due over the following one to five years.

Meanwhile, the school remains without a sponsor, more 15 months after the DfE was discussing plans for its to join the Ambitions Academy Trust.

A Department for Education spokesperson said: “We are currently exploring sponsor options for Parkfield School, with our main priority being to minimise the disruption to pupils’ education.”

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