A SPECIAL needs school is at the centre of a police investigation into claims of serious financial irregularities.
Glendene Arts Academy, in Easington Colliery, is being investigated over “serious mismanagement of funds” after £162,000 meant for the academy was allegedly misspent.
An investigation report from the Department for Education says a whistle-blower reported concerns to the Education Funding Authority (EFA) and later the Internal Audit Investigation Team (IAIT).
The report says the concerns related to the use of academy funding to pay the salaries and other costs of a private company.
It adds the original intention in setting up the private company may have been to generate income, in the form of fundraising, donations and training provision for the academy.
But the document adds: “However, this has not happened.”
It says instead the set-up has resulted in the academy subsidising the private company by paying staff salaries and other costs totalling £162,729.38.
The report adds: “We cannot identify any discernible benefit for the academy in this arrangement.
“It has resulted in the loss of over £162,000 that should have been used for the benefit of the academy pupils.”
It says the academy, which is in Crawlaw Road and was given academy status last year, has lost additional income such as that generated from fundraising and donation.
A Department for Education spokesman said: “The Department for Education launched an investigation into Glendene Arts Academy last year. This found there had been serious mismanagement of funds.
“The Education Funding Agency is recovering the misappropriated funds from Glendene Arts Academy. The first recovery was made in January 2014 and the remainder will be recovered by April.
“The police have now started an investigation and so it would be inappropriate to comment further.
“The financial accountability systems in place for academies and free schools are more rigorous than those for maintained schools.”
A Durham Police spokesman said: “We can confirm that in the autumn of last year we were contacted by the board of governors for Glendene Arts Academy regarding an allegation that certain funds had been misappropriated. “Inquiries have been ongoing since then, conducted by detectives from Peterlee serious crime team who have been liaising with the Education Funding Authority.
“No arrests have been made at present and the investigation is still in its early stages.”
A spokesman for the school said the chair of governors resigned on July 31 last year and academy principal Eric Baker has been on sick leave.
Rob Wright, who was previously deputy chair, was appointed chair of governors on August 1, 2013.
Acting academy leader Craig Platt and acting deputy Vanessa Elcock were appointed on November 23.
The spokesman said the academy has recently been inspected by an education adviser and, while the report is still to be issued, the academy believes it does not find any significant weaknesses and that teaching is at least “good”.
Mr Wright said: “We are trying to understand and unravel complex issues which came to light in the first audit following conversion to academy status.
“I am confident now that our academy has strong leadership, excellent teaching and above all, excellent provision for vulnerable and special children as well as robust financial systems.”
He said all donations from August 1 last year are being used for the academy and that donations made before this are still part of an investigation.
No-one at the at the private company was available for comment.