Academy finances: five key tests for accountancy professionals


By Paul Essery, Liquid Networks

Recent research commissioned by CIPFA suggests that multi academy trusts (MATs) will face significant challenges over the next few years.  Feedback from a group of MAT finance directors highlighted that MATs need to focus on managing a complex change agenda. 

There are five key concerns for finance professionals in MATs that need to be addressed: 

  1. Top of the list for finance directors over the coming year will be dealing with the continuing uncertainty around per pupil funding over the medium term and the difficulties this creates in planning future arrangements for the delivery of teaching and learning.     
  2. The second challenge for many will be the effort required to secure capital resources essential to improving the MAT asset base.  Resource heavy ‘bidding’ arrangements to access capital funding and the associated uncertainty create difficulties in planning ahead to meet future pupil accommodation needs.
  3. Some MATs are considering or are actively engaged in the creation of shared service centres in which a single back office function provides support and advice to groups of individual academy schools and many are investing in new technology as a component part of these projects. 
  4. As well as the technical challenges above, it will also be  important for finance teams to present financial information in accessible and user friendly ways.  As the government’s academy programme grows and is subject to greater public scrutiny, robust and transparent information becomes increasingly important.      
  5. An on-going issue to address for many MATs is the need to recruit and retain good finance and accounting staff.  As labour markets begin to improve and salaries for qualified and experienced staff begin to accelerate, it gets harder to find competent and reliable people.  A failure to address this issue will further constrain their ability to deal with the other challenges outlined above. 

Responding to this agenda will obviously keep MAT finance teams busy over the coming months and years and it remains to be seen how successful they are in resolving the myriad of problems involved. 

Action to build the capacity and capability of the people will need to be a key element in any future strategy.  Resourcefulness and determination will be an essential criterion for any person specification when recruiting or promoting people. 

Figuring out smarter ways to get things done and maximising the impact of limited resources are going to require plenty of creative thinking and imaginative problem solving by those involved.