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ESFA Issues a Covid-19 Letter to all Accounting Officers

Following on the latest DFE guidance published last week on Covid-19, the ESFA’s Chief Executive, Eileen Milner, has followed this up with a letter to all Accounting Officers.

Contained within this letter is a useful link to all the data collections, services or requests usually required by the ESFA/DfE together with their current requirement status in the 2019-2020 year, as the department attempts to reduce the burden on Trusts; including:

  • The Budget forecast return outturn (BFRO) which is no longer required
  • Deferred decisions on the BFR3Y and clarification of those that will continue, such as approval for related party transactions.

The link to all the collections can be found here.

What’s also Included in the letter:

  • Internal Scrutiny – consideration of remote checks and the management of risk
  • Submission of financial statements – no deferral or changes to the submission dates for this and their associated key returns
  • Intervention & regulatory notice – a potential stay of execution for some trusts that may have received financial notices to improve & a reminder about the benefits of School Resource Management Advisers (SRMAs).
  • Reference to Updated School Governance – A reminder about the new DfE guidance document on governance under Covid-19 (which can be found here).
  • Changes to spending patterns and recasting budgets – planning for a return to normality
  • ESFA Audit & Assurance Visits – all new routine funding audits and financial management reviews to be paused
  • Complaints – Complaints about school’s compliance with complaints and exclusions regulations to the paused.

Our experts’ comments/a practical note

The letter is helpful in providing some reassurance to Accounting Officers that the department is aware and conscious of the impact that Covid-19 is having on schools and the ways in which they are trying to help ease the bureaucracy for Accounting Officers and their financial teams.

The specific comments concerning internal scrutiny is an interesting one. Their suggestion ‘leaving it up to the board’s discretion on whether remote checks are feasible’ seems to imply that no scrutiny checks during this period could be an option however, this is more likely to infer to the need to adapt and possibly place great reliance on the Trust’s controls and risk management procedures during these times.

We are also pleased to read that the department is acknowledging the need to be somewhat flexible with the regulations within the academy handbook. Whilst the letter goes to great lengths to ensure trusts don’t move away from the requirements, it clearly gives some leeway to adjust some of their procedures in light of this unprecedented situation.

If you have any questions in relation to the above please contact a member of the team below.