The DfE has rebranded the academies financial handbook as the academy trust handbook, with ministers dubbing the latest edition a “one stop shop” for academy leaders.
The update has also seen financial notices to improve renamed as “notices to improve”, to reflect that the warnings issued to academies sometimes cover “broader governance issues”.
Baroness Berridge, minister for the school system, has written to all trusts about the renamed guide and publication of the 2021 version. It comes into force in September.
Education secretary Gavin Williamson also said in a keynote speech at the Festival of Education today that it was “not just a routine update”.
He said there had been “significant improvements and updates”, though changes are largely confined to consolidating existing obligations in one place rather than introducing new ones.
Here’s your trusty Schools Week guide to the changes.
1. Handbook becomes a ‘one stop shop’
Berridge said the latest edition had been renamed to more accurately highlight trusts’ existing responsibilities “in a wider range of areas” than finances alone.
It is now “close to a ‘one stop shop” for trustees, governors and leaders, she said in the foreword, highlighting rules “by which you are already bound”.
2. FTNIs become NTIs
The name of financial notice to improve warnings issued by the DfE to academies has also changed, becoming merely a “notice to improve”.
It recognises the fact “we continue to intervene on occasion in broader governance issues, not only in response to financial management concerns”, Berridge added.
3. Inform RSCs over leader departures
One of a handful new obligations is to approach the local regional schools commissioner when a senior executive leader plans to leave the trust.
This will allow discussion of trust “structure and options, including plans for recruitment”.
Meanwhile pay information that trusts must publish for those earning over £100,000 now covers non-employees paid via off-payroll arrangements.
4. DfE emphasises role of parents on boards
Berridge said the new handbook “emphasises” that trusts must reserve places on trust boards for parents or carers.
This “helps ensure that boards stay accessible and connected to the community they serve and supports robust decision making“.
Single academy trusts need two board places, and multi-academy trusts need two on either the board or every local governing body.
The update shows how much has changed in the government’s thinking about parents on boards in recent years. Ministers had planned to scrap the requirement for reserved places for parents, but the proposals were shelved in 2016.
5. Permission to pay cyber ransoms
Berridge highlighted a new section on cyber-security, which says the ESFA backs the National Crime Agency’s advice to not pay cyber ransoms.
Trusts must seek ESFA permission before paying ransoms, with the handbook noting payment is likely to spark repeat incidents.
Trusts must also have “proportionate controls” in place amid increased attacks affecting education, and take “appropriate action” over incidents.
6. Seek an external governance review
The updated handbook encourages external governance reviews as a “more powerful diagnostic tool” than self-evaluation.
The DfE’s “strong preference” is for their routine use, but they are particularly important before significant changes such as large trust growth or where governance concerns exist.
7. Focus on pupil and staff safety
The handbook has new sections highlighting key existing legislation and guidance on safeguarding, health and safety and estates management.
The safeguarding section notes board duties to promote children’s welfare and ensure the suitability of staff, supply staff, volunteers, contractors and proprietors.
Meanwhile estates must be managed “strategically” and in a “safe working condition”, with links to separate guidance.#