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Using funds properly and efficiently

8th November 2021

We rightly comment a great deal in this bulletin on education scrutiny, whether peer-to-peer reviews, data analysis, external review or Ofsted inspection. Of course, these are not the only scrutiny that takes place in the trust, as our SBMs and finance teams will be very aware, especially at this time of year when we tend to be focussed on the annual External Audit.

For those who are not aware, the External Audit takes place each autumn, and is a legal requirement for all academy trusts. As a trust, we are transparent in publishing our accounts each year (which can be found on the trust website); the auditors perform a wide range of checks, including visits to schools, providing an opinion on whether or not our accounts have been properly prepared, and whether they give a ‘trust and fair view’ of our financial position. They also check a number of other areas, including our governance arrangements, to ensure that we are meeting legal expectations in how we run our schools. Why is this important? Firstly, for transparency. As we are all painfully aware, there have been a number of disappointing media stories relating to individuals in academy trusts using their positions for personal gain. We are committed to ensuring that we conduct ourselves ethically and ensure that public money is used for its intended purpose – for the education of children.

The audit checks, for example, for transactions that could be deemed to benefit individuals or companies related to the trust (which are called related party transactions) to provide assurance that funds are not being used inappropriately. Secondly, the audit can be a useful way of shining a light on our own understanding of our finance, making sure that it is realistic.

The reason that we track our finances is to ensure that we know how much money is available and can use this to achieve the best possible educational outcomes. Many corporate failures are caused by dubious accounting treatment aimed at making a company’s finances look better than they really are – sadly this often ends up with the difficult decisions to address problems not being made, and companies subsequently failing.

Just as it is important for us to be honest about our education data to allow us to identify areas where we can improve, it is essential that we are honest with ourselves about areas where our finances need attention.

My thanks go to all the finance teams across the trust, who will have been feeling the pressure as the audits take place. While a significant amount of work, this activity is really important in demonstrating that we are using our funds properly, efficiently and are creating a strong platform for the educational work in our schools.

Patrick Overy, Chief Financial Officer, Athena-GEP

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