SAAF have supported lots of maintained schools with the complex project of converting to academy status. There are lots of steps to take during this process and we have found that School Leadership Teams can underestimate just how much will change. Even though the curriculum and general running of the school usually stay the same, your finances and accounting will take on a large transformation, causing countless issues if you are unprepared.
To avoid these issues, we have put together 5 top tips that we believe will support in making the process seamless.
The conversion process usually takes around 3-4 months, but it is best to start planning for conversion either 6-12 months before. To make the planning process seamless, we advise you to set up a project plan with realistic timelines to ensure that no important tasks are missed, and everything is completed in a timely manner. Some points to consider are:
- Establishing a case for why you want to convert to an academy (6-12 months before conversion).
- Explore the structural options available to you; will you set up your own trust or join an existing multi-academy trust? What are the pros and cons of these? Which option is best for your school and its objectives? (6-12 months before)
- Begin your statutory consultation with staff, pupils, and parents (at least 5 months before).
- If you’re setting up a trust, then you should instruct your solicitors to draft up your memorandum and Articles of Association (at least 4 months before).
- Carry out DBS checks, notify exam boards, and take out insurance (at least 1 month before).
IMPORTANT NOTE: Your conversion date can change at the last minute, so keep this in mind when setting out your project plan.Preparation
Prepare for your application by getting your school finances in check and gathering your school results information, this will include:
- An actuarial assessment to help you understand the pension liability for staff who are part of the Local Government Pension Scheme.
- Information on your school’s exam results and pupil’s progression from the last 3 years.
- Your most recent Ofsted inspection analysis.
- Offering a list of the names and experience of the members who will be part of your trust’s governance if you are setting up a trust.
Procuring support from professional consultancy companies that understand the academy market can be a valuable asset to your conversion. If you’re struggling to understand the new, unfamiliar tasks you’re beginning to take on, then they can offer you professional advice and support along the way. Consultants to consider include;
- Solicitors - They can provide support around writing articles of association, funding agreements, transferring school land and buildings, transfer of assets (non-land) and Staff; or making sure TUPE process runs smoothly.
- HR Advisors - To help with consultation with stakeholders i.e. staff members, parents, pupils and the wider school community.
- Auditors - Appoint suitable experienced accountants for auditing requirements. Look for ones that are experienced in auditing and preparing financial statements in the academy market.
- Finance consultants - To provide advice, support and training to governing bodies, head teachers and school finance staff on the financial management implications of academy conversion and new processes and procedures. They can also help set up new academy banking arrangements, provide procurement advice re: suitable finance software; establish chart of accounts/coding structure and closedown your school finance system post conversion.
- Payroll Provider - Consider reviewing your payroll provider to ensure the service you will receive is catered to academies and not schools.
To make sure you are managing your increased financial responsibility and statutory returns efficiently, you should ensure your finance system is fit for purpose by checking:
- If it is capable of double entry book keeping.
- Ensuring it is specific for charity accounting.
- If it has curriculum cost centre analysis.
- If it can perform automatic import and bank account reconciliations?
- And if you are planning to set up a multi-academy trust, does it allow for consolidation of accounts? If not, you should talk to other academy trusts or finance professionals that can support you in finding a system that is right for your new academy.
Change your finance functions
To meet the requirements of the Funding Agreement and the Academies Handbook, School Business Managers must make changes to their finance functions. We advise that you make the following changes:
- Updating the ledger / nominal coding structure so it supports the financial statements.
- Reviewing the month end process to suit that of an independent company. This includes: bank reconciliations, monthly management accounting, prepayments and accruals and a monthly cash flow.
- Consideration should be given to HR responsibilities including the management of employee contracts.
- Become accountable for payroll functions such as monthly payroll checks and reconciliations, monthly and annual pension returns, pension auto enrollment and any third-party payments relating to payroll such as childcare vouchers.
- Reviewing year-end accruals and prepayments.
- Monthly updating of the Fixed Asset Register, ensuring depreciation is calculated correctly.
To learn more about the conversion process, check out our step-by-step guide by clicking the button below.