NCTL can't be sure teacher training grants used correctly, warns auditor

So many teacher training providers failed to produce accurate data about their trainees that the National Audit Office has said it cannot be sure funds are being used correctly and so has given a negative judgement of the National College for Teaching and Leadership accounts.

The NCTL, an executive agency of the Department for Education, provides £318 million in grants, mainly for training new teachers, and is responsible for recruiting and developing the school workforce.

After hearing concerns about the use of the grants, the NCTL sampled the student records held by training providers and found that 40 per cent of tested providers held inaccurate trainee data, potentially affecting the amount of grant funding they received.

A quarter of sampled training providers also could not provide adequate student data to back up their grant funding claims to within £1,000.

The NCTL gathers evidence on the way funding is spent through ‘grant returns’, which training providers must prepare and have certified by independent reporting accountants.

But the NAO found the NCTL had not required grant recipients to maintain records showing that students were eligible for bursaries.

“I estimate 23 per cent of providers have not retained full primary records and in these cases it is not possible for the NCTL to establish whether degree details were correctly recorded by the training provider, and consequently whether the trainee teacher and training provider were paid the right amount,” Amyas Morse, the head of the NAO, wrote about the accounts.

“The NCTL has not provided me with sufficient evidence that grants paid to training providers and schools were used for the purposes intended, and conformed with the legislation relevant to grant streams,” he said.

Morse also recommended the NCTL provides clearer instructions for reporting accountants and that its assurance team has the “capacity and capability” to help grant managers fully review and challenge grant returns.

The NCTL should also review the design of the control framework which is used to minimise risks and provide clear guidance to training providers on the records that they need to hold, he said.

Morse’s report concluded that the NCTL is now taking action to address the weaknesses highlighted by the NAO, but will have limited ability to improve the situation for the 2017-18 financial year.

The NCTL is working with the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales to improve its assurance instructions for 2017-18.

A grants assurance working group has also been established within the DfE to draw on best practice from other teams. It will be chaired by the department’s operational finance director and the NCTL’s accounting officer.

A Department for Education spokesperson said: “We take the use of public money very seriously and have strict processes in place to ensure the accurate payment of grants. The vast majority of these payments were administered correctly.

“We have taken swift action to address the recommendations from the National Audit Office and its report has recognised the improvements we are making to strengthen our systems.”