Academy Trust Handbook


The Academy Trust Handbook comes into effect on 1 September 2021. It was previously known as the Academies Financial Handbook. 

It has been rebranded as a ‘one stop shop’ for academy leaders highlighting trusts’ existing responsibilities in a wider range of areas than finances alone.

The Department for Education (DfE) explains that academy trusts must comply with the handbook as a condition of their funding agreement. 

You should read the handbook if you have responsibility for governing, managing or auditing an academy trust.

In this article we summarise the main changes and explain what the handbook covers.

If you are an academy leader and an Edapt subscriber you can contact us employment support in your role.

Academy Trust Handbook: what are the main changes?

The DfE explains that the main changes are as follows: 

Roles and responsibilities

  • Information on suitability checks for existing and future members [1.4]
  • Confirming that trusts should have reserved places for parents in their governance structure [1.11]
  • Highlighting trusts’ obligations in relation to safeguarding [1.15], health and safety [1.17] and estates management [1.20] 
  • Emphasising the process if appointing a senior executive leader as a trustee [1.23] 
  • Emphasising the value of external reviews of governance for trusts [1.32] 
  • Advising trusts to liaise with their RSC when their senior executive leader is planning to leave the trust to discuss their structure and options [1.36] 
  • Replacing the term clerk with governance professional [1.49] 
  • Reminding trusts of the requirement for Disclosure and Barring Service checks [1.51 and 1.52]

Main financial requirements 

  • Explaining when trusts should review their scheme of delegation [2.4] 
  • Updating information on what trusts need to publish on their website in relation to employees whose benefits exceed £100k [2.32] 
  • Reminding trusts of governance documents which need to be available for public inspection [2.51]

Internal scrutiny 

  • Explaining that the chair of the audit and risk committee should not be the same person as the chair of the finance committee [3.10] 
  • Explaining that internal scrutiny must not be carried out by a member of the senior leadership team [3.15] 

Annual accounts and external audit 

  • Setting out when trusts should re-tender for their external audit service [4.5]

Delegated Authorities 

  • Explaining that trusts must 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 [5.12] 

The regulator and intervention 

  • Introducing a requirement for trusts to provide ESFA with authority to obtain third party information [6.5]
  • Providing trusts with advice and guidance on cybercrime [6.16 and 6.17] 
  • Renaming the Financial Notice to Improve (FNtI) to Notice to Improve (NtI) reflecting how ESFA intervenes in broader governance issues [6.18 to 6.22]

Academy Trust Handbook: what does it cover?

The DfE explains that the handbook: 

  • Describes the governance and financial responsibilities of academy trusts reflecting their status as charitable companies acting in the public interest 
  • Refers to trusts’ statutory responsibilities covering safeguarding and health and safety 
  • Explains when trusts must obtain ESFA approval in advance for financial transactions. Trusts must ensure they are familiar with these requirements as described in part 5. ESFA may intervene where trusts do not seek ESFA approval in advance 
  • Balances the need for effective financial governance with the freedoms that trusts need over their day to day business 
  • Sets out the areas of HM Treasury’s Managing Public Money applying to trusts, and reflects The 7 principles of public life (selflessness, integrity, objectivity, accountability, openness, honesty and leadership) to which public office holders must adhere 
  • Covers all types of academy including single academy trusts, trusts with multiple academies, free schools, studio schools, university technical colleges, alternative provision and special academies 
  • Must be complied with as a requirement of trusts’ funding agreements with the Secretary of State
  • Sets out that ESFA may intervene where it has concerns about the trust’s compliance with financial management requirements and describes potential consequences for trusts and individuals

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