Monday 23 July 2012

Brent Council warns governors on headteachers' pay and procurement

Brent Council has written to governors, clerks to governor bodies and school leadership teams warniong them of the need to comply with regulations on the pay of headteachers.

Clive Heaphy, Director of Finance and Corporate Services, wrotes that the Council's recent survey has:
...revealed that a significant proportion of (Brent) Governing Bodies have approved salaries for head teachers that exceeds the levels permitted by the school's head teacher group as defined by the school's pupil numbers...
He goes on to say that schools that have set an Indiivudal School Range above the headteacher groups are:
 ...on average remunerating headteachers in excess of an additional 10% per annum - much more in many cases. While some schools have provided acceptable reasons for paying above the cap, the review has demonstrated that a large number of Governing Bodies have allowed incremental increases in head teacher pay either without good reasons or  factors outside the  criteria set out in the School Teachers Pay and Conditions guidance.
 Heaphy says if the Governing Body becomes aware that this is the situation it is incumbent on them to take appropriate action to remedy the situation within a reasonable period of time.

He concludes:
I apologise if this letter is direct but the situation within Brent schools is a serious one and I need to be sure as the person ultimately responsible for all school spending in the Borough, that Governors, Clerks and Leadership Teams are fully aware of the framework under which you operate.
Last week Heaphy and the Brent Audit Team experienced close questioning at the Children and Families Overview and Scrutiny Committee over this issue and the problem of excessive and exploitative procurement and leasing agreements entered into by schools.

Clive Heaphy frankly told the meeting that he was not confident of schools' capacity to take action on these issues. Stating that he was 'not happy with the state of things'  he said he would continue to put pressure on schools.In future he would be requiring local authority schools to make an annual return on headteacher pay. Brent had no statutory authority over academies or free schools.

Cllr Michal Pavey asked if this amounted to a admission that before these actions the authority's monitoring had been 'inadequate'. Heaphy denied this stating that other local authorities, uncovering similar issues, were coming to Brent for advice. Lesley Gouldbourne for the teacher associations welcomed the 'very full' report given to the Committee and congratulated the council on its proactive approach. She warned if the impact of financial mismanagement on both on schools' reputations and on taking money away from children's learning resources. Gouldbourne asked for more resources to be devoted to auditing but Cllr Mary Arnold (lead member for Children and Families) said Brent already devoted more hours to school audits than other boroughs.

Several councillors declared an interest at the beginning of the meeting as they were governors of various schools in the borough. Cllr Michael Pavey was particularly forensic asking if the headteacher's responsibility to advise governors on the regulations about headteacher pay was not in itself a conflict of interest.

It emerged that no secondary school and only half of Brent's primary schools now use Brent Council's  in-house payroll system and so early clues to over-renumeration could not be spotted through HR officers' monitoring when glaring discrepancies, such as a head of a small school being paid more than the head of a much larger one, became apparent.

Additionally in the Copland case, as a  grant maintained school it had appointed its own auditors and checks had been much less in-depth than those of the Brent Audit Team. The Copland case, involving additional payments, was different from the headteacher pay scale issue. Members expressed concern that, as more schools became academies. or free schools were set up, the possibility of further such cases in terms of both pay and procurement would increase.

The second major issue, procurement and leasing,  produced more searching questions from the Committee members. They were told that a small number of schools had entered arrangements with Finance Companies and that the amount involved was 'very material' in a small number of schools. In five schools the amounts were such that it could affect their financial future.Brent Council was taking group legal action on behalf of a number of schools over leasing arrangements in a process that could take 10 months.

Asked about what action the Council could take on such issues officers replied that when schools went into deficit the Council would agree a Deficit Reduction Plan requiring the school to return to a balanced budget within a reasonable period.. Challenged on what action could be taken if a governing body were uncooperative or did not agree with what had been requested Simon Lane explained that the Council did have powers but these were draconian, employing a sledgehammer to crack a nut. The governing body could be removed but this needed the permission of the Secretary of State,  or delegated financial powers taken away from the governing body with the council running the finances. The schools could challenge the latter and  the council didn't  have the resources to run the budget themselves.

There was further discussion about financial training for governors and whether that should me mandatory, at least for chairs, and on recruiting governors with financial expertise. No information was produced on how many governors had taken advantage of the financial training on offer and whether all schools had been involved.

In terms of a time line Simon Lane from the Audit Team said that headteacher pay should be regularised within 3 months; the legal case resolved in 10 months and that individual school investigations were ongoing but an update would be produced in six months.

It was good to see a Scruitiny Commiitee doing its job thoroughly. I  fact time ran out and the very important issue of Children's Safeguarding was postponed until a later meeting. 

Serious concerns must remain over financial mismanagement, particularly as council staffing is reduced, schools become more autonomous, and out-sourcing become more prevalent. I think what concerns me most about this is that these issues take way from the main function of headteachers, governors and schools: improving teaching and the learning of pupils.

1 comment:

Trevor said...

it really is ironic because it was not that long ago that a former Prime Minister Created The MP'S Expenses system which eventually came to be viewed as a clever way for MP'S to make more money than they deserved and yet it was permitted to continue for a long time before being examined and exposed as a scam.
and to add insult to injury the so called committee on standards in public Life was set up way before the expenses system was exposed as something which was being misused by MP'S.
and amazingly the following is one of the standards that were obviously ignored by the MP'S that were caught out for cheating..Selflessness – Holders of public office should act solely in terms of the public interest. They should not do so in order to gain more money than they were legally entitled to for example.
the fact that a long list of MP'S were put under the spotlight for cheating and were found guilty clearly shows that the selflessness rule was deliberately ignored.
but this was to be Expected because people should always remember that a man was once inspired to write about the attitudes of people in the future and one of the things he wrote was that men or people in general would be lovers of money and of themselves and that they would be betrayers.
THE MP's that were involved in the expenses scandal unwittingly gave credence to those prophesies.
so the fact that Clive Heaphy Felt the need to write about the council's recent survey clearly shows that once again the words of the Apostle Paul are trustworthy and that people are indeed lovers of money and selfish too.
and also if people clearly ignore guidelines about how much money they are entitled to then then they are clearly ignoring the bible's warning about dishonesty and greed.
which puts a huge question mark in my opinion of this nations faith because Christian principles act if you you like as a spiritual carpet cleaner.
it's purpose is to help clean out the bad traits and replace them with good ones.
therefore if any nation claims to be Christian then their actions should match their words.
a nation in which Christianity is the number one religion there should be less crime...there should be no such things as MP'S expenses scandals and Clive shouldn't have to be writing helpful reminders because one has been written for our benefit and if we do more than go to church on Sundays and eat turkey on DEC 25th and actually apply the principles found in the bible
we would find that human society would be much better.
Paul also said that people would put on a show of godly devotion but prove false to its power to change people for the better.
those words must apply to someone and sadly I think it applies to us.