Dear Accounting Officer Letter for Academy Trusts

Published by Peter Manser on 29 July 2019

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As schools shut down for the summer break and the end of another academic year of uncertainty, the ESFA have published their latest “Dear Accounting Officer ” letter from Eileen Milner, Chief Executive of the ESFA.

As has been the case with various documents these past few months, the common theme is governance.

The letter has also been copied to Chairs of Academy Trusts and, as per the Academies Financial Handbook (AFH), should be discussed at the next Trust Board meeting. So do ensure this is placed as an item on your agenda.

Internal scrutiny (or internal audit as it is more commonly known) is the key headline. It would appear some academy trusts have struggled with their approach to this previously and therefore have required some further guidance from the ESFA in this regard. The letter mentions that the latest AFH covers this and emphasises that having an effective audit committee as the central pillar is vital in the oversight of this work.

Later in the letter there is also reference to a good practice guide on internal scrutiny which trusts may find useful to read.

The letter also confirms the need for trusts to submit an annual summary internal audit report for 2019/20 by 31 December 2020 and that this will remain an annual requirement. However, the letter also confirms that trusts must submit their most recent internal audit findings for 2018/19 by 31 December 2019 alongside the financial statements. Further details on this submission will be released in October.

Ensuring trusts have a risk register maintained is also reiterated, as well as the need for the ESFA to be informed of key changes in persons charged with school governance via the Get Information About Schools (GIAS) system.
The letter states that in future the plan is to ensure that the Academies Accounts Direction is released much earlier with the ultimate aim of the 2020/21 AAD being published by August 2020.

From autumn 2019 the completion of an annual Schools Resource Management Self-Assessment Tool (SRMSAT) checklist will be mandatory for all trusts to complete and submit to the ESFA. The deadline for submission will be 14 November. Further details regarding the content and questions will be published in the coming weeks.

The letter gives a mention to the School Resource Management Advisors (SRMAs) and reiterates they are available for all trusts to benefit from. It reiterates that from the report produced it is the trust’s decision on which recommendations are to be implemented – something worth bearing in mind.

The letter signs off with a reminder of the risk of fraud in academy trusts and in particular, cybercrime. The ESFA have updated two documents – indicators for potential fraud and how the ESFA handles allegation of suspected fraud – that provide important information on the subject.

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