137 academy trusts miss EFA’s accounts deadline

137 academy trusts miss EFA’s accounts deadline

Nearly 140 academy trusts failed to submit their accounts on time in the past financial year.

Trusts must submit audited accounts to the Education Funding Agency (EFA) by December 31 each year, under rules in the Academies Handbook.

However, a Freedom of Information (FOI) request by the Local Schools Network has revealed 137 trusts did not meet the deadline.

These include one of the largest chains, REAch2, which says it struggled because of its exceptional growth, as well as trusts in financial trouble and due to close. Ten university technical colleges were also on the list.

The Department for Education (DfE) said trusts that missed the deadline had “subsequently submitted and continue to submit” their accounts.

Trusts that do not comply with the requirement face intervention. The departments say this is “always proportionate and risk-based and preserves the effective education of children”.

The DfE would not confirm whether any action had been taken.

Mary Bousted, the general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, said the late filing of accounts was “another demonstration that academies are not being properly held to account for the use of public money”.

But REAch2, which now runs 55 schools, said its late filing followed an “exceptional year” in which it changed its model.

Late filing of accounts followed an unexpected change in the staffing of our finance manager and a subsequent overrun with the auditors

Originally developed as a network of standalone academy trusts – in an increasingly defunct arrangement known as an “umbrella trust” – the group had to move 11 individual academies into one set of accounts.

A spokesperson told Schools Week: “The process took much longer than usual and the trust sought an extension from EFA.” The trust submitted its accounts on January 16.

The Ridings’ Federation of Academies was delayed by ongoing financial troubles.

Its two schools – Winterbourne International and Yate International – are due to be transferred to another trust from September. Discussions are ongoing as to who will take over.

The trust’s interim chief executive, Dave Baker, said the deficit, coupled with the turbulence of three chief executives last year and an overhaul of the governing body, meant the accounts could not be submitted by December 31.

He told Schools Week the trust was confident it would submit the accounts by the end of May and the EFA was aware of the situation.

Chris Mitchell, principal of Elstree UTC, said the late filing of accounts at his school followed an “unexpected change in the staffing of our finance manager and a subsequent overrun with the auditors”.

He added: “All accounts have now been appropriately audited and submitted.”

Another trust told Schools Week its accounts were delayed by the long-term sick leave of key staff during the accounts period.

The DfE has also had its own problems with filing accounts. The National Audit Office, the government’s spending watchdog, issued an “adverse opinion” on the DfE’s accounts for the second year running in December.

Last year the department also extended the deadline for presenting its own financial statements to parliament by three months due to the complications of consolidating thousands of accounts submitted by academy trusts.

Janet Downs, from the Local Schools Network campaign group, said the whole procedure of academy accounts was “a mess”.

The DfE could not comment due to purdah restrictions.