Andy Jones
25 September '23

7 minute read

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The saying ‘every day’s a school day’ was proven to be true at our recent annual event for Academy Leaders. STAYING COMPLIANT. LEARNING LESSONS. LOOKING FORWARD. Our not for profit and education guru’s provided a timely overview of the latest developments and issues facing academies. Providing some words of wisdom and top tips to assist those working in the fast-moving sector.

Here we take a look at some of subject areas covered by our Cooper Parry speakers. If you’d like to know more about the presentation given by Julia Harnden from ASCL take a look here.


CP’s Head of Education, Andy Jones then gave an update on some of the key financial and regulatory issues for academies from the last 12 months as well as a forward look at the key changes in the Academy Trust Handbook coming into effect from this month.

Andy highlighted some of the key themes coming out of the 2022-year end external audit and regularity assurance process. These included key reminders for trusts encountering issues in dealing with internal financial reporting and monitoring; related party transactions reporting and pre-approvals and internal scrutiny arrangements.

He then talked through the key changes in the 2022-23 Academies Accounts Direction and what trusts should be doing now to deal with some of the key areas of non-compliance identified by the ESFA in relation to trustees’ reports and governance statements. Andy also emphasised the new requirements for this year for trustees’ reports and governance statements. Particularly around complying with the good estates management requirements and what trusts will need to do to demonstrate their compliance.

In terms of the Academy Trust Handbook (ATH), Andy gave a quick recap on the key points from the 2022 ATH that will impact the 2023 year external audit and assurance engagement and what trusts need to remember. He then took attendees through the key changes that apply from 1 September 2023 in the 2023 ATH. Highlighting that whilst there have been a number of simplifications in the level of regulation for academies, particularly around related party transactions and internal financial reporting, there are still some areas of increased emphasis from the ESFA. As such it’s vital for trustees and management teams to be aware of the key ‘musts’ set out in the ATH each year.

Finally, Andy outlined a couple of other key updates and “good to knows”. These covered the future changes around lease accounting and the new “draft” Academy Trust Governance Code. He also provided a timely reminder around some of the ESFA’s Good Practice Guides and areas where additional guides may be provided in the future.


Nathan Woollery CP’s Employment Tax Director provided an update on where HMRC have been spending some of their time – National Minimum Wage (NMW) reviews. He shared that over 200 employers were named and shamed in June 2023 for failing to pay the correct amount to their lowest paid workers. Nathan shared how employers inadvertently breach NMW and provided tips to support employers, such as academies, manage their risk.

Other topics he touched on included how HMRC only want to be notified about taxable expenses and benefits (on forms P11D) electronically. They will no longer accept any other format (even for amendments) and why it is even more important, to get those submissions right, the first time round.

As a bonus tip, Nathan shared the ways in which many employees (including some of the very attendees in the room) may be able to get tax back from HMRC. And if they do get back tax, to see if they can go back 4 years. It was apparent that some in the audience weren’t aware of how to claim tax relief. Many of them may well have put in a claim to HMRC when they got home.


Helen Channer gave us a whistle stop tour around the common VAT pitfalls she often sees academies struggle. Highlighting where HMRC tend to focus their attention.

Topics included the importance of understanding the difference between business and non-business activities. A reminder to monitor all taxable turnover to ensure that you don’t miss an important obligation to register for VAT. And how to maximise entitlement to VAT reliefs on new capital build projects.

Given comments in the room and over lunch, the sections on catering contracts and lettings seemed to garner the most attention and interest. A number of attendees have catering contracts that are up for renewal soon and Helen’s advice is that VAT should be high on the agenda to ensure that any new contractual models are set up correctly and VAT efficiently.

Equally, with many academies looking to maximise income from lettings in order to plug funding shortfalls, Helen emphasised the importance of understanding the many and varied VAT treatments that can apply, depending on the exact type of lettings.

You can read a recent article by Helen which sets out how it’s very easy to overlook how VAT can strongly impact an academy’s financial position here.


Last on, but certainly not least, Glen Bott delivered a session on top tips and tricks to ensure that the upcoming year-end audit would go smoothly and be a stress free process for all involved.

Glen explained the benefits of a pre-audit “health check” suggesting a number of things that could be done prior to the audit kicking off. Top tips included ensuring that those vital opening balances, control accounts and fixed asset registers were all reviewed, reconciled and tidy. Glen also talked about the importance of ensuring that trusts are familiar with the information requests and making sure that everyone is aware of the key dates for the audit planning, fieldwork and completion. Having a clear timetable in place so all the work can be completed in advance of committee meetings when the financial statements are considered and approved really smooths the process.

Next up was a run through of some of the more common management letter points, or “MLPs”, that we encountered during the previous year’s academy audits. Glen talked through some pre-audit checks that can be performed so that these MLPs can be avoided. Meaning that trust’s will have nice and clean audit finding reports this year with reduced recommendations arising.

Glen then gave a quick refresher tour of our information portal, INFLO, that is used to coordinate the audit requests and information provided from trusts. INFLO is a really great tool and provides a clear picture for both CP and our clients as to the status of the audit as it progresses. We’ve updated our requests this year and we now provide even more template working docs to help our trusts. Including our really well received Trustee Report Guide that helps trusts write their Trustees’ Report for inclusion in the year end accounts.

The session closed with Glen talking through the ways that CP will be supporting our trusts. Including the myriad of ways that clients can contact us and the key communications that they can expect throughout the audit process.

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