Given that Academy Funding Agreements oblige Academies and Multi Academy Trusts (MATs) to abide by the terms of the Handbook, new editions provide a key mechanism by which the Department for Education (DfE) can subtly impose additional requirements and restrictions.

So what are the changes in the 2016 edition and how might they affect your procedures?

  • There is now a specific requirement for the Board of Trustees to identify skills and experience needed by the Board to fulfil its role and to address any gaps through appropriate recruitment and/or induction, training and other development activities. There is also an expectation that this will be done in relation to local governing bodies within a MAT.
  • Clarification that a MAT must publish  the Scheme of Delegation that it has in place on its website. Presumably if more than one variation of the Scheme is in place for different Academies within the MAT (as is likely) then each variation will need to be published.
  • Confirmation that DfE now requires a “Senior Executive Leader” in every Academy or MAT with this person also being appointed as Accounting Officer. In a single Academy this will be the Principal/Headteacher and in MATs it will usually be the Chief Executive Officer. However, it is now clear that where MATs have been established on a flat management structure without a CEO this is no longer acceptable to DfE and someone within the MAT must be identified as the “Senior Executive Leader” even if the term CEO is not used. It is also now specifically stated that the role of Accounting Officer must not rotate. This may mean that a degree of restructuring is required in some MATs.
  • The position in relation to the register of interests that every Academy Trust must maintain has been clarified. To summarise, the register must include relevant business and pecuniary interests of members, trustees, members of local governing bodies, the accounting officer and other senior employees. Relevant interests are directorships, partnerships and employment with other businesses and trusteeships or governorships at other educational institutions and charities. In relation to each interest, the name of the organisation, the nature of the organisation, the nature of the interest and the date the interest began must be recorded. The register must also identify any relevant material interests arising from close family relationships (i.e. child, parent, spouse or civil partner). The register must be published on the Academy Trust’s website in relation to members, trustees, members of local governing bodies and the accounting officer; the Trust has discretion over whether or not to publish the interests of other employees.
  • There is confirmation that an Academy Trust must notify DfE via the governance section of EduBase (which is accessed via secure access) of the appointment to, or vacating of, the positions of member, trustee, local governing body member, chair of trustees, chair of local governing body, accounting officer and chief financial officer. We suspect that not all Academies and MATs were aware of this particular obligation and it may, therefore, be that some changes in these positions have not yet been advised to DfE. We recommend that all Academies and MATs review whether or not the most up to date information has been provided to DfE and take corrective action where necessary.
  • An emphasis on financial prudence is also present in the new Handbook with confirmation that the Board of Trustees must monitor and address any variances between budget and actual income and expenditure and must ensure that exposure to investment products is tightly controlled so that security of funds takes precedence over revenue maximisation.
  • If the Education Funding Agency (EFA) has any concerns about financial management in a Trust it is now clear that EFA may require the Trust to report on its cash position.
  • It is now a requirement rather than a recommendation that Academy Trusts have a whistle blowing procedure.
  • There is greater encouragement for Academy Trusts to opt into the DfE risk protection arrangement unless commercial insurance provides better value for money.
  • There is a greater emphasis on risk management with a clear statement that an Academy Trust “must co-operate with risk management auditors and risk managers and implement reasonable risk management audit recommendations that are made to them”. Also in relation to risk there is emphasis on the fact that in MATs the audit committee’s oversight must extend to the financial controls and risks at constituent academies and that such oversight must ensure that information submitted to DfE and EFA that affects funding is accurate and compliant.
  • Confirmation that when considering a staff severance payment Academy Trusts must satisfy the conditions in the Handbook and must obtain the required approval (where required) before making a binding commitment to staff.

The obligations placed upon Academy Trusts under Funding Agreements and the Handbook continue to expand and it is important that relevant staff within Academy Trusts stay on top of these changes to ensure full compliance with the requirements.

For more information

If you require any further advice or assistance in relation to issues arising out of this ebriefing or in relation to other governance issues please contact Phil Watts.