Peter Manser FCA DChA
- Head of Audit and Assurance, and Academies and Education Partner
- +44 (0)330 124 1399
- Email Peter[email protected]
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Boris Johnson, 1 January 2020: “This is going to be a fantastic year for Britain”. Instead, we had the ultimate “annus horribilis”. The year where the words and phrases “unprecedented”, “uncertainty” and “you’re on mute” became part of our everyday language.
For the education sector it has been quite amazing. At the start of the year there was more concern over what Brexit might mean and whether we would get a deal or not (we’re still wondering by the way!) but instead we had schools closing, remote learning, high numbers of staff and pupil absence, exams cancelled, remote governance meetings, I could go on.
But in some respects all these challenges did was bring even greater resilience from the sector. Teachers were doing all they could to continue to help develop and educate pupils. School Business Leaders became contract, health and safety and staff rota experts. Roles changed almost overnight for everyone, a bit like the government guidance. Each and everyone of you deserves to be applauded and rightly seen as superheroes, much like our fantastic NHS.
Whilst you are heroes, schools need to be careful that such amazing work is not rewarded financially. Rumours of schools considering paying staff a bonus for their efforts is commendable but should be very carefully considered. No this isn’t my attempt at stealing Christmas, the issue here is the overall cost to schools as any bonus would come with employers national insurance and pension contributions to be added too. As I mention below, the money could be spent better elsewhere and more from an educational perspective. The Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA) would certainly frown upon it. Challenge yourself. Are you prepared to stand on the school steps and tell parents you can’t purchase laptops because of the staff bonus that was paid?
Whilst ensuring social distancing and rotas were put in place, other areas of compliance may well have slipped. As a firm who specialise in academy trust audits, it came as no surprise during the audit season that we saw and heard of trusts having not notified the ESFA prior to entering into a transaction, no matter how trivial that was. Saving lives was, quite rightly, more important.
Lessons can be learnt here that more needs to be done in schools to ensure the relevant persons are fully aware of potential related parties. But equally, should there be a challenge back to the ESFA over how onerous the process is? Should schools really have to notify the ESFA of those £20 flowers purchased from a nursery which is owned by one of the Trustees? The ESFA need to revisit the rules around this and surely introduce a de minimis limit on notifications to reduce the administrative burden that schools certainly do not need right now.
Schools are now in a very different world to the one at the start of 2020 and attempting to deliver lessons remotely has meant a significant reliance upon technology. It is clear that schools need more support to help them improve their existing infrastructure going forward as there is no doubt an element of remote learning is likely to stay moving forward. I’m sure schools would welcome some funding to assist with this rather than a few laptops which eventually arrived after being promised them in the spring. It would certainly be money better spent than on the hand sanitisers they didn’t originally budget for.
The battle of the number 10s from Manchester and London saw Marcus Rashford’s petition for meals for vulnerable children across the UK eventually win as our government did a u-turn and helped support families in the initial lockdown. Now the battle will be for this level of support to continue longer term. That’s certainly Rashford’s aim but do we have enough budget to achieve it? Time will tell.
Whilst the vaccine brings hope, news of the new variant of the disease brought much despair and it is likely life as we know it will not change before the spring. The impact on a whole generation of pupils could be huge with potentially no exams and a decrease in education standards potentially occurring. In recent times we’ve had various generations…. Millennials, Baby Boomers, Z….what the future holds for Generation Covid is up for debate.
Making the most of opportunities and embracing change is potentially the solution. It has been a testing year for so many but we are still here and fighting. Look to the positives and look to turn a challenge into a positive. The more we can do this the better it will be for all of us from a mental health aspect as well as adapting for the future.
Well done to everyone in the sector for making it this far. Lets face and embrace 2021, lets beat this virus and lets work together to make the future a better one.
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