Education Funding Agency strives for greater transparency
As part of the Government's drive to be fair and transparent in relation to how public money is spent, the Education Funding Agency issued its Investigation Publishing Policy on 15 August 2014. This sets out the approach which the EFA will seek to adopt when publishing its investigation reports where it has lead responsibility for the educational institutions which it funds and supports. The reports will be available on the gov.uk web site.
The Policy will apply to a wide range of reports including: investigation reports; EFA assurance reviews relating to finance and governance issues which have been commissioned by EFA on the basis of concerns that surface from their own information; final notices to improve for Sixth Form Colleges and Academy Trusts; and joint investigation reports where the EFA has lead responsibility.
Whilst highlighting the need for greater transparency, there are a few provisos built into the Policy which would appear to give the EFA an element of discretion as to whether to publish. In particular, the decision as to whether or not to publish will be taken on a case by case basis taking into account the factors identified in the Policy. These include, by way of example, where publication could prejudice a Police investigation. However it also includes where publication would have an acute detrimental impact on a particular individual or group of individuals or risk their personal injury. There is no further definition or examples provided of "acute detrimental impact". What will be considered acute? Will the EFA have regard to financial detriment or risk to reputation? The answers to such questions are, as yet, unclear but it at least gives education institutions a hook on which to hang any arguments against publication in circumstances where the education institution would prefer the investigation itself and/or the findings to remain confidential.
The EFA recognises the risk of allegations being made against education institutions which are triggered by malicious allegations and has stated that the outcomes of these investigations are unlikely to be published. However there is no similar provision in respect of investigations where no evidence of fraud or irregularity is found and "for the purpose of greater transparency" these reports will normally be published.
Clearly, for those Education Institutions which are subject to an investigation, the Policy may be a cause for concern. However, for others, the publication of the reports could serve as a useful tool for educational institutions to enable them to look at reports where investigations have taken place, the reasons for those investigations, the findings and any recommended actions. From this information, institutions will be able to ensure that their own systems and procedures are rigorous and make any changes which would, in the unfortunate event of an investigation, assist in demonstrating to the EFA sound and robust practices and procedures.
This article is for general guidance only. It provides useful information in a concise form. Action should not be taken without obtaining specific legal advice.