Finance-row free school head quits

Published: Wednesday 24th December 2014 by The News Editor

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The head teacher of a problem-hit free school has resigned, just weeks after it was criticised by a government body for irregular financial arrangements.

Peter Cantley has left his role at Durham Free School, after the Education Funding Agency issued a financial notice to improve.

It was issued as a consequence of “the significant weaknesses in financial management and governance” at the school, which has only been open 15 months.

The agency demanded the school “prepare and implement an action plan to address the underlying weaknesses”.

Previously Roberta Blackman-Woods, MP for Durham City, had criticised the school after figures showed it had cost the tax payer £900,000 in its first term, almost £30,000 per pupil.

She said: “It is clear that Free School policy is not leading to good value for money for the taxpayer. The £900,000 could have been much better spent supporting existing schools in the area that are very much in need of additional resources.”

The school confirmed that as a result, the deputy head teacher Julian Eisner had been appointed acting head teacher.

Chair of governors John Denning, told the Newcastle Chronicle: “Mr Eisner is a respected deputy head and the governors have great confidence in his ability to lead the school in the interim.”

The National Union for Teachers (NUT) said Mr Cantley’s departure was a great shame but a lot of public money had been poured down the drain.

Mike McDonald, NUT regional secretary, said: “It’s a great shame, the teachers will be having a worrying Christmas thinking about what the future of the school is going to be.

“The free school programme has been ideologically driven by Michael Gove and unfortunately Nicky Morgan has not shown any sign of reversing the policy.

“I think all schools should be locally accountable but with free schools the head teacher is effectively the Secretary of State for Education for that school.

“It seems perverse to me and the NUT that it’s been allowed to continue. No better education has resulted from it and a lot of public money has been poured down the drain.”

A Department for Education spokesperson said: “We have issued Durham Free School with a Financial Notice to Improve (FNtI) due to concerns about financial management and governance. The FNtI will be in place until we are satisfied that effective action has been taken to address our concerns.

“Academies and free schools operate under a strict system of oversight and accountability – more robust than in council-run schools – which means any issues are identified and that we can take swift action.”

Published: Wednesday 24th December 2014 by The News Editor

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