This blog was written by Lighthouse Education.
“It’s all about getting your ducks in a row”
First things first
- Register your interest to become a MAT with the DfE who will assign you a project lead.
- Read the Academies Financial Handbook – this will give you a good idea of how academy finance differs to your current situation. This handbook will also become one of your most used reference points. (Find TheSchoolBus 3-Minute Read of the Academies Financial Handbook, here.)
- Decide which schools you would like in your MAT.
- Seek approval from your governing board, other schools and the diocese.
Do you have a PFI contract? If so, make sure you allow extra time!
1. Appoint shadow directors and members
- They will be there throughout the decision-making process
- They should be positive individuals who can support and assist
- They can be existing members of the governing board
- You should consider people from all schools within the proposed MAT
- They should schedule regular meetings to communicate progress
2. Appoint solicitors and auditors
Meet with a variety of companies to get a feel for the people you’ll be working alongside and seeking advice from. Consider the following:
- Do they have experience of working with MATs?
- Do they have capacity to work for you effectively?
- Do they represent value for money?
- Do you get on with them personally?
- Do you want your auditors to be your responsible officer/internal auditor as well?
- If not, who will be your responsible office/internal auditor?
The internal audit function ensures that the MAT’s finances and procedures are working correctly and effectively. It can be carried out by an external service such as Lighthouse Education, who visit the MAT termly to present a detailed report highlighting positives, negatives and recommendations for improvement.
3. Request land and building information
The LA and the diocese will have all the documents that you need, including lease information and any PFI contracts. Solicitors will need to request this as soon as possible.
4. Get an LGPS actuarial assessment
You need to know what your liabilities are for past service contributions, as well as your contribution rate, which could change once you become an academy. Different percentage rates may be assigned between the academies within your trust. You will need to:
- Contact scheme administrators direct
- Pay an independent actuary (costs involved)
5. Conduct a skills audit
The sooner you identify any training needs, the better, so it’s important to identify your strengths and weaknesses. Consider:
- Who do you have within the existing structure who can be given additional responsibilities?
- Who do you have within the existing structure who may struggle with change?
“People are key to the MAT’s success”
- Who will be your accounting officer?
- Who will be your company secretary?
- How will the MAT run?
- Will you create a central team? If so, what will you encounter in terms of:
2. Management fee/top slicing
How much will this cost, will it be a:
- Flat rate?
- Rate based on pupil numbers?
- Recharge for service?
- Pooling arrangement?
What does this need to fund in terms of:
- Central team salaries e.g. CEO/Executive Head?
- Trust-wide systems e.g. new finance management system?
Where will the money come from for:
4. Bank accounts
If each school operates their own:
- Are all school joining the MAT used to operating an account?
- Will cashflow be an issue with the schools joining?
- Will the financial management system give information needed by the trust? For example, will the system provide consolidated reports such as balance sheets and cashflows?
- Do you have enough reliable signatories at each school?
- How will the scheme of delegation work across multiple accounts?
If the trust has a single bank account:
- Do you have people in post that can operate one account?
- Do you have surplus funds across the trust to invest in cashflow?
- Will the finance management system cope with one account?
- Do you have enough reliable signatories? And who are they?
- Scheme of delegation – responsibility of key personnel. You will need to consider who does what when! When will your transactions have to be entered by? Who carries out the bank reconciliations and who is responsible for missing entries?
5. New finance system
Things to consider:
- New chart of accounts – is your structure suitable for other academies in the MAT? Is the structure going to be consistent or are you going to allow for some areas to be bespoke? Some MATS allow the Cost Centres to be different!
- Access – who will need to access the software and what sections will they need to see? Ensure the system you choose allows for this configuration.
- Functionality – does the system fit with how you want the MAT to function?
- Consolidation – it will need to be able to consolidate reports. If this isn’t available, you will spend unnecessary time merging reports together manually.
- Recommendations – have you spoken to other MATS similar to yours in size and setup? What have they decided to use? Would they choose differently if they could?
- Budgeting – Your budgeting module will need to be changed as well! When deciding on this tool, ensure that there is a link to your accountancy product. Ideally this should be a click of a button rather than other long-winded processes.
- Cost – is the solution affordable and cost effective? Have you shopped around and received quotes from numerous providers! Can you receive a discount as your buying as a MAT?
- Support – a new system as well as the conversion process can create a lot of work. Ensure you a supported. Again, shop around for support, you may be able to get a more bespoke service at a cheaper rate.
- Security – how does the software provider ensure your data is backed up? Does the package require a sensible password?
- Flexibility – Can you bespoke the software to suit you and the MAT’s needs? Every trust is different so the software should be too!
- Reliability – With most solutions now been web based it is worth asking for ‘downtime’ reports from the providers. You don’t want the system to be down when you need it the most!
- Reports – are the reports needed provided as standard? If not, can you make your own and save them for next time?
- Training – How will the training be provided? At what cost per day? Remember, training can be provided from 3rd parties which may save the trust money!
- Links to 3rd parties – does the solution provide opportunity to link to other products which may save you time?
It is good practice to ensure that contracts registers are up-to-date in all schools joining the MAT. You should:
- Bear in mind that you will have end dates throughout the year.
- Contact all service providers once you have a date of conversion to inform them.
- Aim for consistency throughout payroll, HR and consultancy
- Negotiate! (You have more buying power as a MAT).
7. Closing down accounts
On the day you open as an academy, the LA can take over your bank account. Funds held in an external bank account become the LA’s until final closing balances are agreed, which could take up to 4 months but must be within 1 month after agreeing amount. Surplus funds are treated as income within your academy accounts. You should:
- Run a full ‘year-end’ to arrive at a closing balance.
- Chase all outstanding orders to get goods and invoices in.
- Remember that your School Budget Share may be top-loaded so you may have to adjust for an overpayment.
- Chase outstanding money owed e.g. for pupil premium, LAC, etc.
- Adjust for any expenditure relating to conversion.
The current turnover threshold for academies/MAT’s is £82,000. If you are below this threshold you can choose the VAT126 method. If above, you MUST register the MAT. The below table highlights the differences between the two and what actions you may need to take.
Works similar to MAT scheme
Threshold increasing to £85,000
Submit claims via online forms monthly
You will need to look at VAT-able income across all schools within MAT
Adjust for any external letting’s income
Management fee is not VAT-able if charged to academies within MAT
Simple to administer – most finance packages provide a ready-made report to submit
Speak to your auditors who will have a VAT specialist to help if you are unsure
Most finance systems can produce the report needed to claim
You will have to ensure the MAT is in line with the new ‘Making Tax Digital’ system for filming returns
Quick repayment aids cashflow
Big penalties if you go over the threshold and don’t register
If you would like to get in touch with Lighthouse Education Consultants regarding this article or the services that we provide, please click here.