‘Must do better’ – Sunderland free school told to improve on financial management

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SUNDERLAND’S first free school has been told to improve its financial management after turning to the Government for help balancing the books.

Grindon Hall Christian School has been served with a notice to improve after requesting support from the Education Funding Agency (EFA).

The notice, which means the school will lose some of its spending powers, remains in place until a series of conditions are met.

A Department for Education spokesperson said: “We had issued Grindon Hall Christian School with a Financial Notice to Improve (FNtI) due to concerns about financial management.

“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.”

Grindon Hall principal Chris Gray admitted there had been problems but said the school had been a victim of its own success.

“Moving to free school status has not been without its challenges,” he said.

“The school is very popular with parents and we have 40 more pupils than we are funded for. In addition, we have incurred significant extra costs in relation to our building project which we did not expect to have to meet and which have affected our medium term position.

“The EFA have been aware of this for some time. Our previous discussions with them had led us to hope for an extra £160,000 in funding for the additional pupils, many of whom had gained a place through an admissions appeal, but this funding is now no longer forthcoming.

“We are working with the EFA to put the school back on a firm financial footing in the near future. We are not requesting additional finance but advance funding which we will repay quickly.

“We are significantly strengthening our finance team to help us manage our financial performance so that we can adhere to the EFA’s requirements and have the notice to improve lifted at the earliest opportunity.”

Coun Tom Wright, whose St Anne’s ward covers the school, said it was not the first time the former private school – which opened as a free school in 2012 – had fallen foul of regulators.

In May last year, it was told by schools inspector Ofsted to improve its monitoring, data collection data and use of available information.

“Obviously there are concerns there,” he said.

“All of it points to poor management. Now the Department of Education will be keeping a close eye on it.”

Although free schools were not subject to local authority control, the city council would be willing to provide support if necessary.

“The council has an open door to every school in the city,” he said.

“If there is anything we can do to help them, we will be more than happy to do so.”