Schools

What’s changed in slimmed-down 2023 academy trust handbook?

Ministers release their 'clearer and more concise' handbook for academy trusts

Ministers release their 'clearer and more concise' handbook for academy trusts

Ministers have published their simplified academies handbook for September this morning. 

Academies minister Baroness Barran said the handbook is “clearer and more concise” to “provide more clarity on the requirements of academy trusts”.

It’s gone from 78 pages to 62 pages. Here’s what you need to know…. 

1. Board should have ‘sufficient’ financial knowledge

The previous handbook said the governing board should identify the skills and experience it needs including financial knowledge. It now reads that they should have “sufficient” financial knowledge. 

The board should also address this for other committees they have. 

Ministers have made it clear that the roles of the accounting officer and chief financial officers “should not be occupied by the same individual”. 

DfE also “emphasis the importance and value” of good estates safety and management. 

2. Six board meetings mandate scrapped

Previously, if a board met less than six times a year it had to describe in its governance statement and accounts how it “maintained effective oversight of funds with fewer meetings”.

But the handbook now confirms boards no longer need to provide this explanation.

The guidance also confirms that trusts now have an extra month – the end of August instead of July – to submit their budget forecast return to the Education and Skills Funding Agency. 

DfE has also simplified the position on the preparation and circulation of management accounts – which must be shared with the chair of trustees every month – to “include more discretion” for trusts. 

Details on the format of these monthly accounts have been removed.

3. New electric vehicle scheme rules

DfE has added in detail on electric vehicle salary sacrifice schemes. 

They do not need ESFA approval where “no liability falls on the trust if an employee does not fulfill their contractual obligations with the scheme provider”.

But for “other types” of EV salary sacrifice schemes – or where the trust is under a notice to improve – prior ESFA approval must be obtained. 

4. GAG pooling ‘important to consider’

DfE’s position on general annual grant (GAG) pooling has also been simplified to “strengthen the value and importance of this practice for trusts to consider”. 

The handbook now says the ability to amalgamate and direct funds “to meet improvement priorities and need across the trust’s schools can be integral to a trust’s successful financial operating model”. 

The practice “can enhance a trust’s ability to allocate resources in line with improvement priorities and running costs across the trust’s constituent academies”. 

5. Threshold raised for related transaction approval

The threshold for obtaining the ESFA’s permission for related party transaction contracts has risen from £20,000 to £40,000.

But this approval does not apply now for contracts for supply of goods or services by state-funded schools, colleges, universities, schools which are sponsors of the academy trust.

The exception does not apply to transactions with a subsidiary of the related party. 

The requirement also doesn’t apply for the provision of services to an academy trust with a religious designation, “for essential functions fundamental to the academy trust’s religious character and ethos which can only be provided by their religious authority”.

6. Clarity on notices to improve

Ministers have also clarified when a trust may receive a notice to improve, including insolvency risks, cash flow problems or trustees lacking skills. 

DfE “will engage with the sector in developing its approach to intervention, including the process to be followed by the department’s regions group and the evidence that they will rely on to determine the strength of trustees’ oversight of educational performance”. 

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