Latest ESFA Updates: Academy Trust Handbook & Trust Quality Descriptions
July 7, 2023

Schools Broadband

As you will no doubt be aware, yesterday (6th July 2023) the ESFA published the latest Academy Trust Handbook (ATH).

This year we have once again summarised the changes in a handy download for you.

Academy Trust Handbook and Letter from David Withey, CEO, ESFA

David Withey, CEO of the ESFA also sent a letter to Accounting Officers, copied to the Chairs of Trustees.

In the letter David Withey said that since he joined the ESFA in August 2022 he had been impressed by the work of academy trusts, acknowledging the responsibility of accounting officers to ensure proper use of funds and highlighting the importance of strong financial management. An assertion underpinned by the fact that 92% of external auditors report no irregularity issues in the annual accounts of academy trusts.

David Withey reaffirmed that it is the aim of the ESFA to provide certainty and support to the sector and build trust through partnership working. He acknowledged that the financial oversight framework needs to be easily understood and straightforward to use; with this in mind, the ESFA wants to be responsive to suggestions for improvement.

The ESFA has developed proposals to streamline and improve the financial oversight framework, including updating the Academy Trust Handbook, which is now more concise and easier to follow. An optional checklist tool has also been provided for trusts to use. Feedback from trusts on the ATH and the optional tool is welcomed.

Further improvements to the financial oversight framework are also being considered, including streamlining financial returns, developing financial management good practice guides, emphasising trust autonomy over financial decisions, and improving coordination of funding and finance information.

The ESFA welcomes ongoing dialogue with academy trusts along with input from various advisory groups and forums.

Trust Quality Descriptions

Also on 6th July 2023, the Department for Education published the updated Trust Quality Descriptions.

Originally published in the Schools White Paper as the five pillars of quality for multi-academy trusts, the Trust Quality Descriptions will now be adopted formally alongside standard commissioning guidance.

The descriptions provide clarity for the sector, guiding trust improvement and capacity-building priorities. The government sets out desired outcomes for trusts, but trusts have flexibility in determining effective approaches. Therefore, the descriptions do not dictate how trusts should achieve outcomes.

The 5 Trust Quality Descriptions are:

  1. High-Quality and Inclusive Education
  2. School Improvement
  3. Workforce
  4. Finance and Operations
  5. Governance and Leadership

4. Finance and Operations, encompasses multiple aspects related to the effective and efficient use of resources within a trust: maintaining a stable and sustainable long-term financial strategy; demonstrating efficient resource allocation; managing capital infrastructure; implementing a well-planned reserves policy, and having strong financial and information management systems in place to minimise risks.

Schools Business Services specialises in supporting trusts with finance and operations. We provide qualified advice to MAT leaders and trustees on how finance and operations can be incorporated into development plans, and the trust’s strengths evidenced to demonstrate capacity for growth.

Contact us

If you have any questions please contact us on 0345 222 1551 – Opt. 5 or

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