How open is the Education Funding Agency?

The register of interests for the Education Funding Agency’s (EFA)  Executive Management Board and Audit Committee has finally seen daylight (sort of).

I emailed the Department for Education on March 2 to request the document under Freedom of Information (FOI) legislation. I was told to call at the offices of the EFA in either London or Coventry to “view” it (I’d asked for it to be sent to me electronically).

So off I went to collect it. Luckily I live in London. I pity any poor FOI sleuth who might have to bus it in from Plymouth.

The document shows that one member of the Audit Committee, Jon Gorringe, has also declared a paid directorship of an insurance business that sells terrorism insurance to universities and colleges in the UK. Another Audit Committee member, Mark Sanders, has also declared his membership  of the board of the Northern Education Trust multi-academy trust (MAT).

The EFA is an hugely important organisation with a massive budget. It manages the running costs and capital needs of  all state-provided  education for 3-19 year olds in England.

In 2014/15 its supply of funding was £55.9 billion  – most of it from the Treasury. In that year alone the money  included funding for 1,007 new academies,  83 new free schools, 12 studio schools and 13 university technical colleges.

The EFA sets strict rules for academy members, trustees, accounting officers, chief financial officers and auditors.  As recently as July 2015 it said in its “bible” for academy trusts – The Academies Financial Handbook – that trusts  operating schools must  publish on their websites  relevant business and financial interests of members, trustees and local governors. This must be published in a “readily accessible format”.

This must include, for each member who has served at any point over the past 12 months, their full names, date of appointment, the date they stepped down (where applicable) and relevant business and financial interests, including governance roles in other educational institutions.

But when I went online to search for a “readily accessible” copy of the  register of financial interests for the EFA’s own board and committees,  nothing was available.

What does this say about how committed the EFA  is to the culture of openness and transparency it demands from  its academies and multi-academy trusts (MATs)?

Fifteen working  days after submitting the request,  I got the email response telling me that the “public interest lies in disclosing the information”. It said a register was maintained, and it could be “viewed”.

So there was no chance of the information just being submitted electronically, and the open and transparent option of the EFA just popping the information up on its own website was not on offer….

I turned up at the Sanctuary Buildings offices of the EFA, and following a 45 minute wait an EFA representative brought down an A4 sheet – an undated document outlining the register of interests of  the Executive Management Board and the Audit Committee. Here it is.

EFA register of interests Page 1EFA register of interests Page 2

Here’s a link to a copy of the document

What does it show?  EFA Audit Committee member Mark Sanders has declared his remunerated chairmanship of the board of Locala CiC. He has also has declared his membership of the board of the Northern Education Trust multi-academy trust (MAT).  The MAT operates 10 secondary academies and 10 primary academies. A search on that MAT’s website shows he is also a member of  the MAT’s  audit and risk committee.

Sue Baldwin is on the EFA’s Executive Management Board and  has declared her membership of the board of governors of  Barnet and Southgate College as a miscellaneous and unpaid interest.

Jon Gorringe, a member of the EFA’s Audit Committee,  has  declared his paid directorship  of “terrorism mutual insurance (business) UMSR”.  According to a 2012 Insurance Post article, Mr Gorringe was appointed chairman of “UM Association (Special Risks), a terrorism insurance mutual” providing terrorism cover for 111 universities and colleges in the UK.  Prior to that he was deputy chairman.

The other  remunerated employment  he has declared is his role as financial advisor for new university start up NMiTE (New Model in Technology and Engineering) – a private university planned for Hereford.

Stella Earnshaw, a EFA  non-executive director and member of  the Audit Committee, declared  a holding in HSBC exceeding £20,000. Under family members’ interests she has declared her husband  – who is not named – as a senior executive in HSBC until 31/3/16 and after that date he continued with his non-executive role on the HSBC Subsidiary Board. Her son  – who is not named – is employed as a senior associate at the Birmingham office of Deloitte’s.

A search on the Companies House website shows that  Ms Earnshaw,  an accountant,  was appointed a director of Partnerships for Schools (PfS) Ltd in 2005. The company  helped identify, evaluate and acquire sites for free school promotors. The Building Schools for the Future (BSF) programme remained a large part of PfS’s portfolio. She is listed as a non-executive director and chairman of the audit committee  in PfS’s annual report and accounts for the year ended March 31, 2012. In 2011 it was announced that PfS  would close and its functions transfer to the EFA from 1 April 2012.

Will the EFA now choose to publish this register as part of the transparency data on its website? As of today it still hasn’t appeared.