Staff survey and investigation uncover range of issues
An Education Authority investigation has found funds were used “inappropriately” but no evidence at fraud at a Northern Ireland secondary school, it has been reported.
Staffing related matters were also highlighted.
The school’s governors told the Belfast Telegraph they “fully recognise and accept that there are a number of issues” that they are working through.
The BBC reported a whistleblower prompted the Education Authority’s investigation into the use of school funds, reported in November 2020.
It concluded that there were “a number of occasions when the Ballyclare Secondary School's private fund account and also local management of schools budget was used inappropriately in relation to some activities”.
The authority added it "found no evidence of fraudulent activity” but did not specify how money was used inappropriately.
It added that “revised EA financial guidance into the use of private school funds was also issued to all schools in Northern Ireland in 2019 followed by a series of workshops for principals, secretaries and boards of governors”.
The Northern Ireland Audit Office (NIAO) has also been made aware of concerns at the school.
It said there is no investigation at this time but that it is engaging with both the Department of Education and the Education Authority and continues to monitor the situation.
A staff survey of heath and wellbeing was also carried out by four teaching unions, which involved 90% of eligible staff in May and June 2021.
Out of 69 respondents, 46 said they did not "feel valued as a member of staff" while 47 do not believe "the health, safety and welfare of staff" was viewed as a priority within the school.
Some teachers also described a "culture of fear".
"The level of intervention in the school by the Education Authority is unparalleled in Northern Ireland's schools system," said the National Education Union (NEU).
It added that the survey "pointed to clear and unmistakeable problems” at Ballyclare Secondary, which has over 1,000 pupils.
The EA said that due to ongoing human resource and legal processes it was restricted in how it could comment.
It said it was working closely with the school and providing “ongoing support and advice”.
The authority also said one of its senior school improvement officers is in the school giving "support to the principal and senior leadership team in taking forward school improvement priorities”.
The school’s board of governors wrote in a statement that the school is on “an improvement journey” and that the investigation “doesn't and shouldn't in anyway detract from the hard work and dedication” of its staff.
Local UUP MLA Steve Aiken wrote to Education Minister Michelle McIlveen on October 14 warning of a "worrying catalogue of issues" in the school, suggesting a meeting between local assembly members, the EA, department and the chairman of the school governors to work toward a resolution.
"I think it is fair to say that the level of correspondence I have received about the school far exceeds that of any other establishment in my constituency," he wrote.
"That there are systemic issues at the school needing resolution, is now beyond any doubt."
The Department of Education said that the education minister has met with the EA “to discuss the efforts being made to address the issues”, adding that they are “complex” and “may take time to resolve”.
“The Minister is aware of the issues regarding Ballyclare Secondary School and is keen to see these resolved as soon as possible,” a departmental spokesperson said.
“The EA will meet the Board of Governors again in the near future to review progress. The Minister will continue to monitor progress through updates from the EA.”