We look here at the key messages from the latest ESFA letter to accounting officers of academy trusts to help you plan and prepare for what's coming.
Just as schools and academies broke up for the summer the Chief Executive at the ESFA, Eileen Miler, issued her annual letter to accounting officers of academy trusts, highlighting those areas of particular concern for the ESFA.
As highlighted in my recent article on the key changes included in the Academies Financial Handbook 2019, not only must academy trusts have a programme of internal scrutiny to provide independent assurance to the board that financial and other controls and risk management procedures are operating effectively but they must also submit the annual summary report of areas reviewed, key findings and recommendations and conclusions (as presented to the audit committee) to the ESFA by 31st December. The letter clarifies that this rule will first apply in December 2020 but that accounting officers will be asked to send their academy trusts most recent internal scrutiny findings by 31 December 2019, alongside their annual accounts. This could be a report for the last term, quarter, month or other period (depending on the approach adopt by your academy trust), including for the full year. The ESFA will explain how to submit your most recent internal scrutiny findings when they publish updated guidance in October on submitting your annual accounts.
Meanwhile, the letter confirms that accounting officers will need to provide and maintain contact details for all your members and trustees, via the Get information about schools (GIAS) system, from 1 September 2019. You're already required to do this for your chair, chief financial officer and yourself.
Big Brother is watching you!
The letter further confirms that, from September 2019, the Academies Financial Handbook 2019 will also be available in HTML format, apparently to make it easier to search for particular content (as if this isn't possible already) but also to help the ESFA identify those parts that are most read and help improve future editions. So, be warned, if you don't make regular use of the HTML copy, you're giving the ESFA ammunition to tighten the screw even further in future editions of the Handbook.
School resource management self-assessment tool
Speaking of tightening the screw, the letter also confirms that, from autumn 2019, completion of the school resource management self-assessment tool (SRMSAT), currently voluntary, will become mandatory for academy trusts on an annual basis. Accounting officers will need to submit the completed SRMSAT to the ESFA by 14 November 2019. From 1 September 2019, growing academy trusts will no longer need to complete a financial management and governance self-assessment (FMGS) alternative return.
So there you have it, the key things to note from the latest account officer letter, as you head off on your holiday. Enjoy!
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.