Heads who take on procurement risk legal backlash

24th July 2009 at 01:00

Headteachers could end up breaking the law when they start commissioning their own school improvement advice, as the Government has proposed, local education officers fear.

The recent schools white paper states that once the National Strategies are abolished in 2011, their funding will be delegated straight to schools, which can use the money to buy in the "improvement support" they want.

But strict procurement rules exist for publicly funded bodies. Aspect, a union representing local authority education professionals, argues that schools - particularly small primaries - could fall foul of those regulations because they do not have the necessary expertise.

John Chowcat, the union's general secretary, said: "There could well be legal issues. If somebody thinks there has been bias about an appointment, you are in very messy legal issues because this is about public money."

Officials at the union's annual conference in Leeds last week told The TES there was a risk that some heads might just try to get their "mates" in. School leaders have got into trouble for taking similar action in the past.

In 2005, Manchester "super-head" Dame Jean Else was criticised by the Audit Commission for paying Pounds 13,200 of Whalley Range High School's funds to a personal friend in consultancy fees.

According to the spending watchdog, no tenders were put out for the contract and governors were only informed about Pounds 9,000 of the final fee.

David Waxman, Aspect's policy development officer, said simply following proper procurement procedures could cost schools a lot of money.

They would need people with the expertise to draw up specifications, evaluate bids and monitor delivery, all of which would amount to a full-time role, he said.

Mr Chowcat said there were also questions over the quality of the improvement advice schools would receive.

A Department for Children, Schools and Families spokesman said: "Schools already can, and do, commission support from a range of providers.

"The white paper sets out our expectation that this will become the norm."

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