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Academy Trust Handbook 2021 - Are You Ready for the New Edition?

on Monday, 12 July 2021.

A new Academy Trust Handbook (the Handbook) was recently published and takes effect on 1 September 2021. The Handbook, formerly known as the Academies Financial Handbook, has been rebranded to reflect the wider range of areas covered.

The new Handbook is available on the Gov.uk website.

The change in name of the Handbook highlights the continued focus on governance and the potentially wide remit of the ESFA to impose changes on trusts through the Handbook, without the need for a trust to agree to a variation to its funding documentation. The "financial notice to improve" has similarly been named simply a "notice to improve".

Baroness Berridge sets out three particular areas of focus in her introduction as Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for the School System:

  • an emphasis on trusts reserving places in their governance structure for parents, carers or other individuals with parental responsibilities
  • the benefits of commissioning an external review of governance
  • cyber security.

As in previous editions, the Handbook confirms a list of the changes, along with its appendices which confirm the 'musts' and the 'shoulds'.

The checklist below is intended to summarise the key changes and to help you comply with the new obligations which it contains.

VWV Plus - Info Security eLearning



Roles and Responsibilities

Suitability of members

(1.4)

Are any of your members subject to a direction made under section 128 of the Education and Skills Act 2008? The new Handbook states that trusts must not appoint a member who is currently subject to a section 128 direction.

Who are the trustees?

(1.11)

Does your governance structure include reserved places for parents, carers or other individuals with parental responsibilities?

The following guidance provides further information:

Trust obligations

(1.15, 1.17, 1.20)

How is your board complying with its safeguarding, health and safety, and estates management obligations? The Handbook provides various guidance to assist with each element.

Employees as trustees

(1.23)

Are any of your senior executive leaders trustees? From 1 March 2022 they can only be trustees if the members appoint them as such, the senior executive leader agrees and the articles of association permit this.

External reviews of governance

(1.32)

Is the trust commissioning external reviews of governance? The Handbook confirms the DfE's strong preference for independent external reviews in addition to self-assessment for the continuous improvement of the trust.

Does the review consider the extent to which the members are able to assure themselves that that trustees are carrying out their roles effectively?

Departure of the senior executive leader

(1.36)

Is your Senior Executive Leader planning to leave the trust? If so, you should liaise with your RSC to discuss your structure and options.

Governance Professional

(1.49)

Has your board appointed a Governance Professional (formerly known as a Clerk)? This is a mandatory requirement.

Disclosure and Barring Service checks

(1.51, 1.52)

Is the trust complying with the mandatory requirement to obtain enhanced Disclosure and Barring Service certificates for all trust members, trustees and individuals on any committees (including local governing bodies)?

Main Financial Requirements

Scheme of delegation

(2.4)

Are you reviewing your scheme of delegation annually, or immediately when there has been a change in trust management or organisational structure?

Executive pay

(2.32)

Is the trust publishing the number of employees whose benefits exceed £100,000 in bands of £10,000 in a readily accessible form on its website?

Has the trust included the equivalent for any individuals with whom it has entered into an off-payroll arrangement with, as if they were an employee?

Governance transparency

(2.51)

Does the trust have the relevant governance documents available for public inspection?

Internal Scrutiny

Membership of the committee

(3.10)

Is the Chair of the audit and risk committee separate from the Chair of the finance committee (assuming you have separate committees) and the Chair of the board?

Principles

(3.15)

Has internal scrutiny been performed by someone other than:

- the trust's own Accounting Officer;

- the Chief Financial Officer; or

- other members of the senior leadership or finance team?

Annual Accounts and External Audit

Appointment of external auditors

(4.5)

Are you retendering for your external audit service at least every five years? (a new 'should' - trusts 'must' consider the paragraph 4.17 information when evaluating)

Delegated Authorities

Special staff severance payments

(5.12)

Is the trust aware of the additional requirements to obtain prior ESFA approval for staff severance payments of £100,000 or more, and/or when the employee earns over £150,000 (in line with the HM Treasury guidance)?

Cybercrime

Cybercrime

(6.16, 6.17)

Does the trust have appropriate procedures in places to tackle cybercrime?

Note that the trust must obtain the prior approval of the ESFA before making any payment in response to a cyber ransom demand.

 


If you would like to receive information on how we can support your trust with its corporate governance requirements, please contact Chloe Brunton on 07920 281889 or Rosie Phillips on 07384 115612, or complete the form below.

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