Coronavirus: Academies and Schools
On 21 April the Education Skills and Funding Agency (ESFA) published one of their periodical “Dear Accounting Officer” letters setting out the measures they have taken to assist schools with their administrative burdens in the current climate.
The key points from the letter are:
- 2020 Budget Forecast Return Outturn (BFRO) – the deadline for submission of the return was 19 May 2020; there is no longer a requirement to submit this.
- Boards to continue operating within the framework of the Academies Financial Handbook, but may need to adjust some procedures. For example to reflect the realities of remote working and absences and to allow board meetings to be held by phone / video.
- Boards may also need to review schemes of delegation to allow decisions to be made practically but still appropriately – we would advise that any such changes are considered by the board as a whole and the decision process fully documented.
- Internal scrutiny at present is difficult to undertake, but boards may wish to consider the feasibility and usefulness of remote checks.
- There are no plans at present to extend the 31 December 2020 deadline for submission of August 2020 financial statements and associated documents. This will be kept under review.
- The ESFA will aim to remove unnecessary administrative burdens where they can.
- Financial support is available, subject to qualifying criteria, to assist with additional costs arising from COVID-19 (see below).
- School Resource Management Advisers are available to support where finance staff are absent or need additional help.
- Routine funding audits and financial management and governance (FMG) reviews will not take place, at least while schools are closed. Although there is an intention to complete any that are in progress.
- Notification will be made of any complaints received about complaints / exclusions relating to trusts, but no action will be taken to investigate at present; admissions appeals will continue but the process will be considerate of current circumstances.
- Welfare remains the priority.
Note that the letter does not make reference to the 2019/20 TPS return process, which is of course overseen by Teachers’ Pensions. We are unaware of any relaxation of the timetable for submission of the return at present; the deadline for submitting the unaudited 2019 return was 31 May 2019, so we are expecting this year’s deadline to be 29 May 2020, being the last working day of the month.
On 7 April the Department for Education announced some exceptional funding for schools facing additional costs due to the COVID-19 crisis. The support covers the period up to the end of the 2020 Summer term.
Schools will continue to receive their core funding through the GAG through to August 2021 for academies, regardless of whether schools are open or closed. Budgeted staff costs can therefore continue to be met, together with other ongoing budgeted financial commitments. SEND funding will also be unaffected by the current situation.
The exceptional funding relates to the following additional costs:
- Increased premises costs incurred due to schools remaining open during normal school holiday periods (the Easter and Summer half term breaks). This may include additional utilities and hygiene costs
- Additional costs of supporting children on free school meals where those children are not attending school and where the meals are not covered by the National Voucher Scheme
- Additional cleaning costs required as a response to actual or suspected cases of COVID-19
- Other additional costs may be eligible for support – the school should contact DfE.CoronavirusHelpline@education.gov.uk
Funding will only be available where the school is considered unable to meet the cost from its current resources, or would have to draw down on reserves which are maintained to ensure the school’s long-term financial viability.
Where incurred, the school should deal with payment for the costs and retain full records of the expenditure. The government will publish details of how these may be reclaimed in June.
The additional funding is limited per school based on pupil numbers (from the October 2019 census) as follows:
|250 pupils or fewer||£25,000|
|251 to 500 pupils||£30,000|
|501 to 1000 pupils||£50,000|
|Over 1000 pupils||£75,000|
|Special schools and alternative provision|