2020 Summer Term

The know zone

  • Care-takers
    Cait Cooper from the Anna Freud National Centre for Children and Families highlights four ways school and college leaders can support staff wellbeing. More
  • Primary focus
    Throughout the lockdown period, ASCL's engagement with civil servants at the DfE and with other stakeholders has continued. Tiffnie Harris provides an update on some of the key issues affecting the primary education sector. More
  • Lessons learned
    Hayley Dunn highlights the lessons learned from implementing emergency plans in response to the current health crisis. More
  • September's Sixth Form
    As schools and colleges plan for their new cohort of sixth form students in September, Kevin Gilmartin examines the key areas that will impact on provision. In a time of such uncertainty, what should schools and colleges prepare for? More
  • A helping hand for further education
    Anne Murdoch highlights a new ASCL and AoC mentoring scheme to help develop personal resilience among college leaders and to empower them when faced with difficult circumstances. More
  • Weather the storm
    Before schools began to open more widely, we asked members to share their experience of the health crisis and here's what they had to say. More
  • Hitting the right note
    Principal Andrew Parkin joined ASCL Council five years ago and is a member of the Funding Committee. Here he tells us about his dedication to education and his love for music and singing. More
  • Rites of passage
    Seasons, traditions and rituals are important markers in our development as humans, but the lockdown means that - for some of our young people - the rhythms of life will skip a beat. More
Bookmark and Share

Hayley Dunn highlights the lessons learned from implementing emergency plans in response to the current health crisis.

Lessons learned

Covid-19 has been the largest crisis to face our generation and will leave an indelible mark on all our lives. Together with other key workers, our schools, colleges and their staff were essential in the emergency response plan to tackle the pandemic.

Lesson 1: Sourcing essential supplies was difficult

There were many challenges to overcome and work around during the crisis. These involved, for example, ensuring that protective measures were implemented, and essential supplies were sourced, including items that were in high demand and in some cases subject to inflated prices. One trust leader sourced and negotiated a contract for hand sanitiser and dispensing units, coordinating requests from other schools. Some local authorities sourced small amounts of protective equipment i.e. fluid resistant surgical masks, disposable gloves, aprons, sanitiser, goggles and first-aid guards – bundled as ‘emergency packs’ for schools.

Lesson 2: Schools were quick to adapt

By mid-April, the department had published approximately 60 pieces of guidance aimed at supporting organisations to respond to the crisis. At times it felt like schools were ahead of the game; the response was phenomenal. As the crisis deepened, schools and local authorities prioritised providing care for children of key workers; supplying parents eligible for free school meals with access to food, and quickly worked to develop learning models for pupils, from providing online options to printed packs for those who needed them. It was heart-warming to see schools and local authorities, supported in some cases by volunteers, providing families with daily or weekly food parcels.

Lesson 3: Financial risks increased

In our investigations related to identifying potential areas of additional costs, it quickly became evident that for some schools, the higher financial risk was lost or severely reduced generated income provided from services such as school lettings, school meals and wraparound care. It appeared that the risk exposure for schools with significant income generation and who provided services in-house was higher. Support packages and government guidance revised to include schools helped schools to deal with part of the issue, but with insurance companies not covering Covid-19 under business interruption and salary costs only being part of the financial picture, some have been left with significant gaps in their income. It also meant there were complex matters in contract management that in some cases required support from legal experts to navigate.

Lesson 4: Most financial reporting requirements remained in place

While maintained schools navigated the year-end deadlines to meet the requirements outlined by their local authority, the Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA) wrote to academies in April to advise on the requirements for their financial returns and accountability. In relation to the continued use of the Academies Financial Handbook, the letter stated, “I see strong governance, financial management and decision making as essential to help trusts deal with the current challenging circumstances.” And that, therefore, trusts should not move away from using it.

Some academy trusts decided to temporarily suspend their local governing bodies, revised their scheme of delegation and moved powers to their executive team to allow for agile governance. One trust board implemented a decision log for headteachers to record exceptional decisions, maintained detailed audit trails and increased the work of the audit committee and risk management.

In relation to the internal scrutiny requirements in the handbook, the letter states that “whilst in-person review visits to academies would be inappropriate at present, it is at boards’ discretion whether remote checks are feasible and helpful in managing risk during school closures”.

The ESFA, having considered the timetable for trusts and external auditors preparing, auditing and submitting financial statements and associated returns, including auditors’ management letters and internal scrutiny reports, has kept the deadline of 31 December 2020. This clearly outlines that the requirements of the Academies Financial Handbook were not being suspended or flexed.

At a time of crisis and with significant risk factors affecting schools, it was vitally important the assurance processes continued, be it in a revised format. You may find our guidance on remote internal audit useful (www.ascl.org.uk/RemoteAudit).

Lesson 5: New Covid-19 scams quickly emerged

It was frightening to see scammers quickly adapt their tactics to target people at a vulnerable time with Covid-19 related scams. The National Cyber Security Centre reported on 29 April that within the first week of launching the report@phishing.gov.uk service, they received 25,000 reports leading to 400 phishing sites being removed.

ASCL has built up a relationship with a number of specially selected companies that we have quality assured and carried out appropriate due diligence on. See: www.ascl.org.uk/addmembenefits

Lesson 6: Emergency planning remains fundamental

Effective risk management and emergency planning remains essential for business leaders. As we look to the future and reflect, there are lessons learned that will inform planning, perhaps with increased focus on the rewards and risks concerning remote working, ICT and financial recovery planning.

Hayley Dunn
ASCL Business Leadership Specialist