The Right Resources
When managing finance and HR in schools becomes onerous, it diverts resources away from doing great things for children.
CAT’s resource management strategy is based on six key features:
- Strategic leadership that sets and champions vision, ethos and strategy.
- Accountability that drives up financial performance.
- People with the right skills, experience, qualities and capacity.
- Structures that reinforce clearly defined roles and responsibilities.
- Compliance with statutory, legal and contractual requirements.
- Evaluation to monitor and improve the quality and impact of resource management in academies.
CAT’s strategy is informed by the DfE’s “School Resource Management Strategy: Building a Stronger System”, (June 2022), and seeks to achieve three core outcomes:
Well-funded academies that are financially able to deliver their agreed improvement priorities, in safe and inspiring grounds and premises
CAT academies are supported in setting and delivering accurate, risk assessed, short and medium term aspirational budgets, that fund the provisions in the school development plan and provide for the on-going maintenance and development of the grounds and premises, to ensure our academies are safe, modern, vibrant, technologically current, exciting places to work and learn in.
People are our priority
CAT retains a motivated, inspired, well-trained workforce who enjoy their jobs and do great things for children. School leaders are supported in achieving this culture by experienced colleagues who understand the complexities of HR management in educational settings and the provision of policies and procedures designed in consultation with our academies.
CAT and its academies demonstrate high levels of compliance with the Academies Handbook, academy funding agreements, statutory and local policies and procedures, employment law, pay and pension regulations and all other formal requirements placed upon them.
Cheshire Academies Trust Resource Model
CAT’s Resource Management Improvement Model is adapted from our School Improvement Model, as set out in the CAT Education Strategy. Here too, we seek to ensure that there is an accurate diagnosis of where each academy is in its (resource management) improvement journey. The intention is that measured and deliberate interventions will accelerate each academy towards having fully delegated responsibility for resource management.
CAT Resource Management Improvement Model
CAT Financial Framework
The introduction of Local Management of Schools (LMS) changed the way in which schools were funded and managed. It allowed Boards of Governors and Headteachers the autonomy to make decisions on resource allocation and priorities, in order to improve the quality of teaching and learning in schools.
CAT retains this ethos (high degree autonomous local level) for procurement but introduces a framework within which this can be achieved
Our school leaders should be in charge of decision-making, including how their resources are used to the best advantage, because they are the ones who know their communities best. CAT seeks to retain the LMS ethos, believing that there should be a high degree of financial autonomy in schools and has developed a framework within which this can be achieved. CAT's Scheme of Delegation supports this position by delegating financial control to academy leaders and LGB’s. Academy funds remain ring-fenced to each individual academy.
In CAT academies, the Headteacher oversees their school's resources. To do this successfully CAT has developed a financial framework, which ensures schools have easy access to reliable data and professional guidance so they can decide how to distribute resources with confidence. We think that the key to effective financial and business management is having an academy based business manager who has the direction, training, knowledge, and support system they need to perform their jobs to the best of their abilities and skills to oversee the day-to-day activities of financial management in their school.
CAT’s financial framework is the support system within which school business managers, Headteachers and LGB’s work. It sets out the monthly, termly and annual task and reporting structure for each academy to work to, ensuring effective financial management and oversight. Business managers are responsible for delivering the framework in their academies. They receive a high level of support from central team colleagues in order to achieve this.
CAT’s Finance Handbook and a range of financial policies that guide school leaders and LGBs in managing their academy’s finances in line with the guidance set out in the Academy Trust Handbook, support this process.
Access Finance & Budgeting System
Delivery of the framework would be unachievable without accurate, accessible data. CAT’s finance and budgeting systems are integral to successful financial management. These systems are specifically designed to budget, administrate and report on finances in academies. The CAT central team works with each individual academy prior to conversion, to design a personalised system that reflects existing school-level management structures and offers end-to-end control for academy users. System updates and regular training is an on-going part of central team support. Our systems increase financial control, increase efficiency and provide live data to support decision making at all levels. This gives school leader’s confidence in their decision making and planning.
Budget Setting & Forecasting
Annually, the CAT central team is responsible for building the initial base budget and three-year forecast for CAT academies. This includes setting inflation rates and is informed by outcomes from the integrated curriculum financial planning (ICFP) process, internal and external benchmarking and KPI reviews. The team then work directly with business managers and Headteachers to ensure the budget reflects the academy’s financial vision and development priorities. This planning takes place across multiple years of the forecast to support academies in achieving their planned outcomes.
Whilst the CAT Board has ultimate responsibility for Trust finances, responsibility for interrogating the budget rests with individual LGB’s. They are required to recommend the budget for approval to the Trust Board on an annual basis.
ESFA income represents approximately 84% of CAT academy income. Staffing costs represent approximately 78% of CAT academy expenditure. On a monthly basis the central CAT team process and monitor both ESFA income and staffing costs against budgets, reporting variances back to academies for investigation.
CAT’s central team is also responsible for compiling whole Trust management accounts that are reported to the Board on a monthly basis. This gives the opportunity for budget variances to be highlighted and discussed on a regular basis.
CAT academies retain end-to-end control of all other procurement and income generation processes along with the responsibility for monitoring against budget targets. The framework sets out an academy level half-termly reporting process, which enables financial decisions to be taken rapidly in the event of change and ensures as much accuracy as possible in budget delivery.
Trust Wide Finance Team
CAT’s central team provides a wide range of support to key personnel to ensure the delivery of the framework. In addition to informal training for finance and admin teams, the central team provide workshops throughout the year for wider staff groups, school leaders and governors, on a range of topics.
However, our key focus is the development of an academy’s business manager. These colleagues are part of our wider trust finance team, meeting weekly via our ‘coffee catch-up’, to share support and experience. These colleagues are also invited to attend 5-6 finance away days throughout the year. The agendas for these days are set and led by the central team, with a focus on formal learning and financial reporting.
CAT business managers have individualised development plans to support their on-going professional development, which is informed by ISBL’s “Professional Standards for School Business Leaders”.
HR, Payroll and Legal Support Services
The most important thing in our organisation is the people. Our job as a Trust is to support our academies in recruiting, training, inspiring and retaining excellent staff who deliver great outcomes for children. From a ‘human resources’ perspective we do this in a number of ways;
Nationally agreed pay and conditions
CAT recognises the importance of maintaining nationally agreed pay and conditions structures for staff, in addition to locally negotiated arrangements, prior to academisation. Our academies cannot recruit and retain great staff, if the schools locally to them offer preferable pay and conditions. CAT operates the nationally agreed teacher and NJC pay scales and adheres to Burgundy Book and Green Book national conditions of service for staff, in addition to locally agreed arrangements.
HR policy, management and support
CAT’s HR policy suite is developed in conjunction with our leaders and staff and regularly consulted on with all stakeholders. CAT policies and procedures are designed to effectively support school leaders in providing structure, consistency, fairness and reasonableness for employees. They are compliant with employment legislation and set out for employees their responsibilities and our expectations in a wide range of employment matters.
Day-to-day management of HR issues are delegated to school leaders at an academy level. CAT’s central team provides operational HR support to those leaders.
Support can range from the development or application of policy or employment regulations to casework that is more serious.
The central team colleagues responsible for providing this support have many years of experience working in school settings. This is important when it comes to providing advice and support to our academies on HR matters. Managing HR in an educational setting can bring with it a wide range of complexities, so it is vital that our leaders know they are receiving advice from colleagues who understand the context. Our central team receives regular training and is advised by HR partners from Browne Jacobson, a national law and HR firm with significant experience in the education sector.
Civica HR System
HR data management in schools can be inconsistent and often involve duplication of processes, systems and procedures. As a result, it is inefficient and the quality of data or outputs can be poor, inconsistent and unreliable.
CAT has addressed these issues by implementing a centralised HR management system that has been purposely designed for and by CAT and its academies. It is intended to be a ‘one stop shop’ for employees, administrators and managers.
In-house Payroll Provision
CAT employees go above and beyond for our schools and children every day. They rightfully expect the Trust as their employer to pay them accurately and on time. CAT’s central team includes an experienced payroll professional who is responsible for overseeing the monthly payroll operation. The payroll is fully integrated into our HR management system, to further streamline employee data and administration.
Schools considering academy conversion are often concerned about the implications on employee pensions. In CAT academies, all teachers continue to be members of the Teachers’ Pension Scheme. Support staff continue to be members of the Local Government Pension Schemes, in which CAT is an employer. There is no change to the employer contribution rates these employees are entitled to, in either scheme. Pension schemes are administrated by the central trust, on behalf of its academies. This ensures accuracy and compliance for our pension scheme members and avoids increasing the administration burden of academisation on academy offices.
Specialist Legal Support
Academies need to seek legal advice for a wide range of reasons. They may find themselves in receipt of policy challenges, complex safeguarding concerns or in contractual conflict. CAT wants its school leaders to feel supported and have confidence in the legal advice they receive, to guide them in addressing these issues. Therefore, we partner with a national law firm who are education specialists, to provide this support on our behalf. Our school leaders have same day access to legal advice from a wide-ranging team of experts in every conceivable area to ensure they can make prompt, informed decisions.