A SCHOOL for pupils with special needs is at the centre of a police investigation amid claims of serious financial mismanagement.
Officials from the Education Funding Agency (EFA), which oversees the money spent by academies and free schools, says it is recovering £162,000 claimed to have been misspent by Glendene Arts Academy in Easington.
A report by the Department for Education was published on Friday, and followed an investigation, which was prompted by whistle-blower claims over the use of academy resources to pay the salaries of employees as well as the running costs of a private company.
During their investigation into the Crawlaw Road school, the EFA found there was no benefit for the academy from the unnamed private company, initially set up for training and fund-raising.
The EFA report said: “We cannot identify any discernible benefit for the academy in this arrangement. It has resulted in the loss of £162,000 that should have been used for the benefit of academy pupils.”
A number of staff members have been suspended and police are in the early stages of investigating the situation.
Auditors concluded that the majority of the money spent on the unnamed company, which employed four people, since the school became an academy in 2012 went on staff salaries and expenses, as well as £718 on mobile phones and £4,326 was spent on meetings.
Det Sgt Steve Thubron, of Durham Police, 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 chairman of governors resigned on July 31 last year.
Rob Wright, who was previously deputy chairman, was appointed chairman 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.
A spokeswoman for the Department of Education said: “The EFA 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.”