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The current coronavirus pandemic has had a huge impact on the education sector since schools closed on Friday 20 March. During this time, our specialist academies team have been busy working with schools across the region to support them.

We have put together some helpful sources of information that academies may find useful, as well as summarising the important government updates.

Sources of information for academies

  • Department for Education (‘DfE’) publish regular updates
  • Eileen Milner, Chief Executive of the Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA) letter to all academy trusts
  • The National Governance Association (NGA)
  • The Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL)
  • The Institute of School Business Leadership (ISBL)
  • The Confederation of School Trusts (CST)

Financial assistance for academies

The government produced guidance as to financial support available to academies.

Funding has been made available to schools that are unable to meet additional costs from their existing resources, or which they could only meet by drawing down on reserves and undermining their long-term financial sustainability.

Additional costs include additional cleaning, increased premises related costs and support for free school meals for eligible children who are not attending school.

The funding becomes available in June 2020 and academies will need to keep records and supporting information when making a claim as the DfE reserve the right to check and audit any claims.

Paying staff

The government will continue to provide core funding for the rest of the academic year so that staff can continue to be paid and prevent the need to furlough staff under the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS).

However, there may be some staff which are not funded by the government, such as catering staff, who can be furloughed. As well as the normal rules around CJRS claims, such as the employee otherwise being made redundant, this is subject to other certain conditions including the employee not being involved in activities that have already been funded and the CJRS grant not duplicating other public grants received which would lead to financial reserves being created.

Paying contingent workers

The government released guidance around paying contingent workers. This focuses in particular on 3 important areas:

  • Helping to determine if you are a contracting authority – and therefore whether PPN02/20 applies to you
  • To provide you with some overarching principles and guidance on how you may choose to review and respond to supplier requests within the scope of the PPN
  • Specific guidance on school food contracts

Paying suppliers and contractors during the crisis

The government has published this Procurement Policy Note (PPN) 02/20 guidance for public bodies, including academies, on paying their suppliers.

The main points include:

  • Suppliers must be able to deliver the contract in full as and when required by the academy.
  • Suppliers cannot be paid in full by the academy and claim for some or all the same employees working on the contract under the CJRS.
  • Academies should consider which payments are necessary and ensure spending is in line with the requirements of the Academies Financial Handbook (AFH).

Data collections

The DfE have cancelled or postponed all but the most essential data collections, services and requests from schools until at least the end of June 2020. This is to help reduce the burden on schools during this time. These revised timescales will be reviewed by 1 July.

Letter from ESFA

Eileen Milner, Chief Executive of the Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA), issued a letter to all academy trusts on 21 April.

It includes updates from the ESFA and suggests that academies continue to focus on the requirements set out in the AFH.

The letter stated that the deadline of 31 December 2020 for submission of financial statements and associated returns, including auditors’ management letters and internal scrutiny reports, remains in place.

It also suggests that it is at a boards’ discretion whether remote checks are feasible and helpful in managing risk during school closures to satisfy internal scrutiny requirements. Ellacotts are able to provide remote checks using video and telephone conference, please contact us for more information.

The letter goes on to state that “strong governance, financial management and decision making as essential to help trusts deal with the current challenging circumstances… our advice is that the framework of controls set out in the Academies Financial Handbook has never been more important.”

Academy boards are advised to meet by video and telephone and to focus on urgent, time-bound decisions. They should prioritise providing support to their school leaders and staff to allow them to continue with operational matters.

It is important for academies to maintain a record of any changes to their current procedures and processes and to obtain approval from Trustees prior to implementation.

Online learning platforms

The government is providing funding to set up and train staff in one of two free-to-use remote learning platforms – G Suite for Education or Office 365 Education so academies can conduct lessons remotely.

The criteria for support includes if you don’t already have a digital education platform, or if you do already have G Suite or Office 365, but are not yet set up to assign work and communicate with pupils. You can apply for support online.

Early years

On 17 March 2020, the Chancellor confirmed that the government will continue to pay local authorities for free early years entitlement places for 2, 3 and 4 year olds to support providers at this time. On 18 March 2020, the government also announced a business rates holiday for many nurseries in England for the 2020 to 2021 tax year.

VAT payment holiday

VAT registered businesses can defer the payment of VAT owing in the period from 20 March 2020 to 30 June 2020, until 31 March 2021. This could be applicable for VAT registered trading subsidiaries. You should still submit your VAT return to HMRC by the normal submission date.

VAT Making Tax Digital deferral

HMRC have announced that they will be delaying the digital links deadline for Making Tax Digital (MTD) for VAT by one year until April 2021. The extension will give academies more time to focus on managing the challenges of COVID19 rather than implementing new software and processes for their records.

Contact us

Ellacotts have significant experience of advising academies and would be delighted to help your school. Please contact Charlotte Toemaes on ctoemaes@ellacotts.co.uk or 01295 250401 or read more about how we work with academies.