Audit – How to be substantial – by an SBM who knows

May 21, 2020 | Finance Posts

“Emily, I have the auditors on the phone for you.” My heart sinks, not because I am not prepared, but because I know how intrusive and stressful this whole process will be.

I know my “normal” job will go out of the window for 3 days at least. “Ok put them through please”.

And so it begins…

“Can we come in the last week of March?” they asked.

Oh yes great come in at the busiest time of the year (financial year end). Why not?.  After some begging and pleading I got the last week in February, marginally better.

I go racing into the headteacher’s office to tell him the news. You will be fine, he informs me. I do not feel fine. I always feel like this is akin to receiving the Ofsted call for headteachers, although the entire staff body know and understand what an Ofsted is, very few understand the demands of a financial audit.

The next month, with the help of my brand new administration assistant (baptism of fire), is spent scanning, checking and double checking the documents they have requested.

Louise then comes in and triple checks everything we have gone through, gives me the – you have got this talk and instantly calms my nerves.

Audit week arrives and the first couple of days go very smoothly. The auditor sits quietly in my office working away only disturbing me for minimal amounts of time. In comparison to previous audits this is a dream. Then comes the asset sampling. Now our school is a 12 form entry secondary school spread across 2 sites. I am yet to meet a School Business Manager out there whose asset tracking is spot on, 5 samples 3 fails – Great!

The auditor leaves.  Audit over and in quick succession we have a visit from Meghan Markle, followed quickly by schools closing due to COVID-19 and then financial year end.

The audit ends up somewhere in the back of my mind.

Then the report comes in.

Once I receive the report and there are only 2 medium risks, this gives me reasonable assurance. Reasonable? I ask myself.

I immediately speak to my headteacher and we both agree that we would contest the outcome.

One of the areas that was categorised as a medium risk was governors not declaring business interests at the beginning of all subcommittee meetings. My headteacher and I drafted an email contesting this point as, as my headteacher rightly pointed out, the governors declare business interests 3 times a year at full governing body meetings and the subcommittees are made up of those same governors.

I sent the email and waited in anticipation for a reply. It came – agreed with us and we were moved to substantial assurance. I felt like I had won the lottery!

This has been my 4th audit and by far the most pleasurable. I can only thank my team, Louise and my headteacher for that. They have all made sure that systems and processes have been followed and made suggestions where appropriate and or required. My headteacher has always supported me and allows me the autonomy to carry out my role.


Emily’s top tips for completing a successful financial audit 

  1. A good finance team who knows what is required of them all year round not just when they get the audit call.

  2. Systems, systems, systems. I have a system or process for everything to make sure nothing gets missed.

  3. A good working relationship with your headteacher and governors.

  4. Good minute taking. I would also advise to buy into a professional minute taker who ensures that all requirements are met and that all the required items are minuted in the correct manner.

  5. Sharing your experiences with other SBMs. It’s really supportive and reflective for everyone.

  6. A good asset management system. If you are doing this yourself on a spreadsheet that is fine as well, just make sure it is up to date!

  7. Carry out a sampling yourself. I wish I had prior to the audit as I would have identified gaps. However this is a learning point for me and I will now adopt this process all year round; I will sample both assets and invoices randomly. 


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