The new Academy Trust Handbook 2021

19 August 2021

The Academy Trust Handbook 2021, which replaces the Academies Financial Handbook, comes into effect on 1 September 2021. The name change, announced by Baroness Berridge, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for the School System, in a June 2021 letter to Academy Trusts, is intended to reflect its full range of content more accurately, and DfE views the new Handbook as a ‘one stop shop’ for trustees, governors and leaders to access information and guidance.

The general tone of the Handbook is that it gives the Education & Skills Funding Agency (ESFA) more power to hold academies and their governance to account, and whilst it contains some new provisions, it also consolidates pre-existing requirements in one central location.

Broadly-speaking, the new Handbook contains new information about:

  • trusts’ existing obligations in relation to safeguarding, health and safety, and estates management;
  • cybercrime; and
  • external reviews of governance.

Please see our summary of the key changes below:

  1. Role & responsibilities:

    Clause 1.4 states that academy trusts must ensure that their current members are not prohibited from taking part in academy trust management under section 128 of the Education and Skills Act 2008, and must be sure not to appoint any new members who are subject to such an order.

    Clause 1.11 requires academy trusts to have reserved places for (at least two) parent trustees in their governance structure.

    Clause 1.15, 1.17 and & 1.20 highlight and provide guidance to assist academy trusts with complying with their safeguarding, health & safety, and estates management obligations.

    Clause 1.23 states that, from 1 March 2022, senior executive leaders can only be appointed trustees (and existing ones remain trustees) if the members appoint them as such, the senior executive leader agrees, and the articles of association permit this.

    Clause 1.32 confirms the value DfE places on independent external reviews of trusts, which consider the extent to which members are able to assure themselves that the trustees are undertaking their duties effectively, in addition to trusts conducting self-assessments for their continuous improvement.

    Clause 1.36 recommends that trusts liaise with their Regional School Commissioner in the case that their senior executive leader is planning to leave the trust, to discuss their structure and continuing options.

    Clause 1.49 introduces a mandatory requirement that every board appoint a 'Governance Professional' - ie. what was previously referred to as a 'clerk'.

    Clause 1.51 & 1.52 states that academy trusts must ensure enhanced DBS certificates are obtained as appropriate for all staff and supply staff. There are also requirements that members, trustees, and committee members of academy trusts have enhanced criminal records certificates from the DBS.
  2. Main Financial Requirements:

    Clause 2.4 sets out that trusts should review their scheme of delegation annually, or when there has been a change in trust management or organisational structure.

    Clause 2.32 states that trusts must publish the number of employees whose total benefits package exceeds £100,000, in bands of £10,000, on their website.

    Clause 2.51 requires trusts to have their relevant governance documents available for public inspection.
  3. Internal scrutiny:

    Clause 3.10 states that the Chair of the trust's audit and risk committee should be separate from the Chair of the finance committee and the Chair of the board.

    Clause 3.15 requires that internal scrutiny must be carried out by someone other than the trust's own Accounting Officer, Chief Financial Officer or any other members of the senior leadership or finance teams.
  4. Annual Accounts & External Audit:

    Clause 4.5 states that trusts should re-tender for their external audit service at least every 5 years.
  5. Delegated Authorities:

    Clause 5.12 requires trusts to obtain prior approval for staff severance payments of £100k or more which include a non-statutory/non-contractual element, and/or where the employee earns over £150k.
  6. The Regulator & Intervention:

    Clause 6.5 introduces a requirement that trusts provide the ESFA with authority to obtain third party information.

    Clauses 6.16 & 6.17 requires trusts to have appropriate procedures in place to tackle cybercrime, and must obtain the prior approval of the ESFA before making any payment in response to a cyber ransom demand.

    Clauses 6.18 to 6.22 renames the Financial Notice to Improve (FNtI) with a Notice to Improve (NtI), reflecting ESFA's intervention in broader governance, and not just financial, issues.

The new Academy Trust Handbook 2021 can be found here.

For further information or to discuss any queries, please contact Vicky Wilson, Stephen Oxley or your usual Wilsons contact.

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