A local authority that cleared a primary school of misspending special educational needs (SEN) funding has refused to explain seemingly serious anomalies in the school's finances.
Official figures show that Kensal Rise Primary School in west London received a 207 per cent funding increase, worth more than #163;81,000, for pupils with SEN statements in 2010-11 compared with the year before. But there were only three extra pupils - an increase of just 14 per cent (see panel, right).
The news follows claims that SEN funding at the school was misused, which Brent Council says it has "fully investigated and are totally unfounded". When asked to comment on or account for the gap between the two increases, the local authority said it did not have time to respond.
The council suspended Kensal Rise Primary's head Joyce Page at the end of January and took control of the school's budget following an "investigation into alleged breaches of financial regulation". But it says this has nothing to do with the SEN misspending allegations.
Ms Page's suspension is the third recent case of alleged financial irregularity by heads in Brent's schools. Sir Alan Davies, former head of Copland Community School in Wembley, and six other people were arrested last year on suspicion of fraud at the secondary. The council also had to deal with allegations of financial irregularity when it took control of the budget at Furness Primary School in Harlesden and sacked Alan King as head last year.
Hank Roberts, the ATL union official whose whistle-blowing led to the arrests at Copland, called on the authority to be "completely open". "Brent Council, as with every council, needs to cooperate fully when any questions of financial irregularity are raised," he said.
"It is not that Brent is particularly prone to these events. It may well be that they have been more vigilant. However, in such circumstances it is important to be completely open even if this causes some embarrassment, because not doing so will inevitably cause a lot more."
Lorraine Petersen, chief executive of Nasen, the national special educational needs association, said it would be "very unusual", though not impossible, for a mainstream primary to have three pupils with a total #163;80,000 of SEN statement funding attached. "That wouldn't normally happen," she said.
In a separate discrepancy, an email seen by TES sent by the Brent Council officer who investigated the allegations of SEN misspending at Kensal Rise Primary said the school received #163;126,000 in funding for SEN statements in 2009-10.
But according to a response from the authority to a Freedom of Information (FOI) request, Kensal Rise Primary only had #163;39,214 in funding for SEN statements that year.
On its third attempt to explain the investigator's figure, Brent Council said "the FOI figure wasn't as complete as it should have been" and had not included an extra #163;87,036 of "in-year" funding for SEN statements that the school received in 2009-10.
When asked to explain why the primary needed a 222 per cent increase in SEN statement funding partway through the year, a council spokesman refused to answer. He said he did not "understand why there is need to probe into this".
The local authority also said, in its response to the FOI request, that it did not hold information on the number of pupils at the primary school with SEN statements, despite having "thoroughly investigated" allegations that their funding was misused.
Paul Jayson, a former teaching assistant at Kensal Rise Primary who came forward with the allegations that SEN funding was misspent, said: "If Brent (Council) has investigated this properly then it should have all the facts at its fingertips."
Mr Jayson, who worked with SEN pupils at the primary throughout the 2009-10 academic year, said only two extra pupils with SEN statements had joined the school during that time. "I didn't see any more support or resources for SEN children arrive in that year," he said. "So, if all that extra money (#163;87,036) came in, then where did it go?"
There was also no significant increase in pupils with statements during the early part of the 2009-10 financial year before Mr Jayson joined the school, Department for Education figures indicate. They reveal that the number of statemented pupils at Kensal Rise Primary rose by just two, from 19 in January 2009 to 21 in January 2010.
Figures provided by Brent Council in a response to a Freedom of Information request, seen by TES, show that the local authority funding received by Kensal Rise Primary for pupils with SEN statements shot up from #163;39,214 in 2009-10 to #163;120,361 in 2010-11 - a 207 per cent rise.
Department for Education figures show that the number of SEN pupils with statements at Kensal Rise Primary rose from 21 in January 2010 to 24 in January 2011 - an increase of only 14 per cent.