Thursday, July 15, 2010

What academies need to know about NHS accounting and foundation trusts

Monday’s NHS White Paper is likely to lead to NHS Foundation Trusts (FTs) being moved off the public sector balance sheet. I wonder if this may herald changes down the line in how academy schools (and free schools from 2011) are accounted for.

Academies are similar to FTs – they are independent, not-for-profit (or more precisely, not-for-dividend) entities delivering public services. Historically academies and FTs have found themselves accounted for as part of the public sector.

Google can help with most things but I have never found the Office for National Statistics’ justification for putting academies on the public sector balance sheet. I presume it is a reflection of Whitehall’s control over academies – and maybe the fact that they were originally proposed as “independent state schools”. The accounting treatment is quite different from that applied to Further Education Colleges and Sixth Form Colleges.

Does any of this matter? It’s not accounting anorakism. Sitting on the public sector balance sheet means that academies are consolidated into Whole of Government Accounts – and that requires additional information to be collected and returned by academies. Being an integral part of the public sector also reflects a mindset where the emphasis is on being state schools rather than independent schools.

If academies do follow FTs off the public sector balance sheet, maybe they will be allowed to borrow in the same manner as colleges have to improve their buildings. That may be very useful given the squeeze on capital funding in the public sector and the demise of Building Schools for the Future.

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