Amyas Morse, Comptroller and Auditor General (C&AG), has qualified his audit opinions on the National College for Teaching and Leadership’s (NCTL) 2016-17 Accounts due to a limitation in the scope of his audit of the regularity of the NCTL’s grant expenditure.
The NCTL, an executive agency of the Department for Education (the Department), provides £318m in grants mainly for training new teachers. The NCTL is responsible for recruiting and developing the school workforce, and for helping schools to help each other improve.
Today’s report from the National Audit Office finds that the NCTL has not provided sufficient evidence that grants paid to training providers and schools were used for the purposes intended.
The NCTL obtains evidence over the regularity of grant expenditure through grant returns that training providers must prepare and have certified by independent reporting accountants. However, the NCTL has not set out the procedures it expects reporting accountants to undertake, and some reporting accountants raised concerns that the work was neither sufficient nor compliant with relevant professional standards.
In response to NAO concerns the NCTL tested a sample of student records directly, identifying a significant number of issues. For example, 40% of the training providers tested had reported inaccurate data at trainee level, which can affect the amount of grant funding due. Further, the NCTL does not require training providers to maintain full records to support trainee eligibility. And of the training providers asked to support their grant claims by providing schedules of student details, 25% couldn’t substantiate their claims to within £1,000.
The volume of testing conducted was not sufficient to confirm whether these weaknesses resulted in a material level of irregular payments, but did indicate the potential for material irregularity remaining undetected by the NCTL. The NCTL consider that significant further testing would divert resources from improving processes for future years.
The NCTL are taking action to address the weaknesses in its control environment but its ability to improve controls for the 2017-18 financial year is limited. The NCTL has worked with the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales to improve the assurance instructions for 2017-18 and will be issuing instructions that are in line with the understood requirements of a limited assurance engagement. A grants assurance working group has been established within the Department and is looking to draw on best practice from other assurance teams and streamline approaches across the Departmental group.