Agenda

28th February 2003 at 00:00
Answers your questions.

As a parent governor I was approached by a parent who said she was sure one of our more expensive trips last year had shown a big surplus, but nothing had been returned to the families concerned.

The bursar says all school trips are lumped together in the "unofficial fund" accounts which we will be asked to approve at the end of the financial year. The trip did show a surplus, but the overall "journeys" account was slightly in deficit, with only one small event to come. I'm new and not even on the finance committee, but it didn't seem right that the parents paying for this trip should subsidise other trips. Can you advise please?

I agree with you, though I'm sure the bursar and staff in your school and many other schools will see nothing wrong with the way your journey finances are managed.

It is easy to take the line that the price of these trips is based on a cost estimate which will never be exactly right. It's tedious to have to return what may be small sums to a large number of families. Also the likelihood is that overall losses and gains will cancel out.

But I don't think it's right not to refund, where significant sums are involved. We need greater transparency and meticulous care in our unofficial school accounts used for fundraising, trips and so on. The Audit Commission has told us that any money passing through a school must now be accounted for as carefully as though it were public money, even if it's not officially part of the budget.

I have met this issue before and the governors in the school concerned did decide that they wanted the balance sheet for each trip separately shown, and any significant underspend returned to parents concerned. However, if the surplus per child is pennies rather than pounds then it should be retained and if possible put towards something that will benefit the year-group in question.

Tedious maybe, but it is not easy for some families to pay for trips and even a small refund may be welcome. Show this answer to your chair.

Send questions to Joan Sallis, The TES, Admiral House, 66-68 East Smithfield, London E1W 1BX, fax 0171 782 3202, or see www.tes.co.ukgovernorsask_the_expert

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