Finding CPD opportunities in academy accounting and procurement
With the increasing number of academies now in the educational sector (1,635 as of 1 March 2012) and the financial autonomy that comes with an academy, there’s no doubt that the operational processes and career pathways of school business managers (SBMs) will change dramatically.
With the financial autonomy that comes with an academy, there’s no doubt that the operational processes and career pathways of school business managers will change dramatically
The first sign that I have seen of this is in the recruitment adverts for academy SBMs/financial directors. In the past the CSBM, DSBM and ADSBM qualifications would have been mentioned as a desirable requirement; now there appears to be a shifting towards Association of Accounting Technicians qualifications, together with experience in a commercial background. In hindsight, this does make me wonder whether the National College should have insisted on a financial qualification being undertaken alongside the SBM programmes.
For those who have already undertaken these qualifications, myself included, I am not suggesting that these have been a waste of time – quite the opposite, as I have gained a wealth of knowledge and understanding of school leadership and strategic thinking together with a network of professional colleagues. However, for future SBMs I think this should be the requisite, especially with the new responsibilities that academies bring. SBMs should now be considering different career pathways and this is as it should be; SBMs should not stagnate but continually be forward thinking, redeveloping their roles, ensuring that we are the best of the best!
New responsibilities and different accounting procedures
Some of these new responsibilities will come from academies being established with exempt charity status and, even though the academy will not have to register with the Charity Commission, SBMs will have to comply with charity law. Another consideration for SBMs is with regard to charitable trusts, which have been set up by the founders of those academies and who are supporting them by providing additional funding. Last but not least, there are also the academy endowments where the academy company is trustee. For a lot of us this is something new and, as company secretary, I am having to rethink my professional development as these new responsibilities will involve different accounting procedures under the Charities SORP, a requirement that is stipulated in the academy funding agreements.
A better understanding of accountancy
Yes, SBMs can rely on their accountants to guide them through the processes, as they will be the ones completing the relevant documentation and submitting the accounts, but for me this isn’t enough. As these accounts are to be published, with anyone able to request a copy, I want to understand these processes, when and how they are being produced. Indeed, in 2012 Price Bailey conducted an academy accounting survey where they identified that some academies had possibly missed the reporting deadline to the then YPLA, as well as numerous errors being made in their accounts! If this happened in my school I would be furious that the professionals I had hired were making such mistakes, and that is why I intend to ensure that I understand the finer details of academy accounting. I’m not saying that we should be experts in accountancy as a lot of SBMs do not have those qualifications, and neither do I, but at the end of the day the money an academy receives is still primarily public money and as such SBMs are responsible for ensuring that the accounts are accurate.
The money an academy receives is still primarily public money and as such SBMs are responsible for ensuring that the accounts are accurate
It is for this reason that I am now currently undertaking the CIPFA course with the National College, the company secretary course with the Chartered Institute of Company Secretaries and Administrators, as well as completing the final stages of the ADSBM (and yes I am absolutely shattered and my brain is starting to wilt under the pressure but it will certainly be worth it!) Undertaking so many courses isn’t something that I would recommend, but at the same time I am enjoying the challenge. Also, the knowledge that I gain will help me to develop my understanding of the accounting process from the perspective of the different leadership roles required by the SBM within an academy setting.
As well as adapting to the financial reporting and accounting changes, SBMs will also be seeing a change in the way academies procure their services. Most schools that are under the domain of the LAs are ‘instructed’ on what they can and can’t do, and who they can and can’t purchase from. If and when these schools make the decision to convert they will be taking their business away, giving the LAs a well needed jolt, which I hope will make them reassess the way they do business with schools. If an LA provides an inadequate service, it is time that they start to listen to their customers and review what they can offer not only to the maintained schools but the academy sector as well. Unfortunately, if LAs do not get their act together quickly they will lose a considerable amount of business and their services will be further reduced, having an inevitable impact on those maintained schools which remain with them.
The importance of group purchasing
SBMs should not be complacent, though. We must not forget the power LAs have when negotiating with providers, enabling them to achieve huge discounts which were passed onto schools. The Catholic Church has already realised the importance of group purchasing, and has initiated an enterprise called the Churchmarketplace.
We must not forget the power LAs have when negotiating with providers, enabling them to achieve huge discounts which were passed onto schools
This initiative is supported by the bishops of England and Wales. It operates through a mutual company owned by participating dioceses and will be run on a not-for-profit basis, with surpluses being returned to those dioceses. The aim is to help and encourage the commercial market to recognise the Catholic Church as a definitive market that they wish to do business with. It provides an exclusive ‘shopping portal’ for the Catholic community in the UK, including its schools. This portal provides access to a wide range of discounted goods and services, negotiated with suppliers, for the community’s day-to-day needs. What I like about this initiative is that they do not just consider the cheapest price as the best price, it is a combination of competitive pricing, flexible delivery and high-quality customer care.
What SBMs can do
Other academies could also offer a similar initiative, and SBMs should now be taking advantage of this situation and implementing a business enterprise that they too can offer to the education sector. SBMs know the high expectations that our colleagues require of a service, and we should be using this expertise to bring extra income into our schools by offering services that were previously supplied by the authorities. Payroll, premises management, cleaning, health and safety, school business management, learning support programmes, education welfare, careers information and guidance, supply teachers, cover staff – all of these are services that SBMs can supply to other schools. Of course, business plans will need to be in place, together with the correct CPD for those staff providing the services, but these are opportunities that SBMs should be embracing.