Form's demise gives me festive glow

24th December 2010 at 00:00

I thought Christmas had come early when I heard FMSiS had been consigned to oblivion. What's FMSiS? Well, unless you are a head, bursar or admin officer you wouldn't know, so let me explain ...

I enjoy working out the school budget each April. There is pleasure to be had from discussing how we will spend the money, what our priorities will be and what new ventures we might be able to afford. And I take pride in making sure every available penny benefits the children in some way.

I never used to mind the annual audit, either. The auditor would visit in March and examine how we spent our money. He would check the receipts and ensure our financial systems were sound. He would look through my stock book, pick some items of equipment and ask to see them, checking the serial numbers against the ones I had written down. He would want to know who signed for equipment when it arrived, how spending decisions were made and how obsolete equipment was disposed of. It worked very well indeed. Which is probably why the Government decided to muck it up.

For the past few years, we've suffered a system called the Financial Management Standard in Schools (FMSiS), designed by PricewaterhouseCoopers at astronomical cost. I can only assume the consultancy hadn't the slightest experience of how finances in the average primary school operate, and didn't bother to find out.

Bewildered by the new package, I headed for the FMSiS website first. It was just like every other government site. Information overload, stacks of documents, and advice on FMSiS form-filling that would take forever to read. And my mouth dropped open in astonishment when I downloaded the form that had to be filled in before the auditor arrived: 25 pages, 120 questions.

Many of the questions were irrelevant. Others were best not approached on a Friday afternoon after a hard week, unless you had the whisky and valium handy. "Show that the completed self-evaluation matrices indicate the school has the full range of financial management competencies," said one of them.

Competency matrices? Well, this involved the school governors giving themselves a test, to see who was competent enough to join the finance committee. Even this had 42 questions and every answer had to be placed into one of four categories - each of which had five parameters. One of my governors struggled for 20 minutes, gave up and made the form into a paper hat.

Admin staff invariably take care of the financial matters in a primary school. FMSiS, however, was aimed squarely at the governors. None of my governors has any experience of how school finance works, and what they have learned on courses is quickly forgotten because, unlike me, they aren't doing it on a daily basis.

When the auditor eventually arrived, you merely presented him with the pile of forms. He wasn't required to check your invoices, stock book, ordering procedures, budgeting or what you spent your money on. It was an unbelievably stupid system. I could have booked a holiday in the Bahamas and nobody would have known.

And now, unworkable, FMSiS has been consigned to the rubbish bin. Next time the Government has a wheeze like this, perhaps it would be an idea to ask a few schools whether it is likely to work. In the meantime, I'll enjoy this early Christmas present.

Mike Kent is headteacher at Comber Grove Primary, Camberwell, south London. Email:

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