Accounting and financial planning

Colleges prepare their accounts and financial statements which explain how they spend their money and account for their activities. Colleges have developed an effective accounting framework over 20 years in partnership with universities, funding agencies and audit firms.

This section contains accounting and financial planning information for the summer 2018 financial plans and for the 2017-18 accounts.

ESFA have not yet issued the financial plan handbook or spreadsheets for the summer 2018 round. They expect to issue these, along with the college finance spreadsheet in the first half of May 2018.

Updated information from ESFA and AoC for the 2017-18 accounts

Information for earlier years is available here

​College financial planning spreadsheets and handbook for 2018-20

ESFA have issued the financial planning spreadsheets and handbook for 2018-20. ESFA requires colleges to return a financial plan each year by 31 July that has been approved by the governing body and that sets out the forecast outturn for the current year, the budget for next year and a forecast for the year after that. Colleges and ESFA both use the plan to assess their financial health and, in some cases, this prompts formal or early intervention by ESFA in the early autumn. The financial planning process is a long established process in the college sector and it is important for colleges to get this right. The handbook explains the process and makes some suggestions about issues that colleges should consider but offers no advice about assumptions. AoC will provide suggestions on these to its member colleges. The handbook and spreadsheets are here

College accounts direction for 2017-18

ESFA's accounts direction for 2017-18 is available here

College accounts direction handbook for 2017-18

AoC's College Accounts Direction Handbook for 2017-18 is based very largely on the 2016-17 handbook with some updated text on mergers and some very small corrections for apprenticeship levy and the work placement capacity development funding. AoC is not in a position to advise colleges on adopting the Charity Governance Code but the handbook does provide information about using the College or corporate code. The Casterbridge model set of accounts will be updated by mid May.

Post 16 audit code of practice for 2017-18 plus Regularity questionnaire

ESFA's updated post 16 audit code of practice for 2017-18 is available here

An updated version of the regularity audit self assessment questionnaire is here


Colleges follow UK accounting standards which are interpreted for them via the Further and Higher Education Statement of Recommended accounting Practice (F&HE SORP). In 2015, colleges adopted international accounting standards for their accounts which were introduced for non-for-profit organisations like universities, colleges, charities and housing associations via the UK standard FRS102. Responsibility for the SORP rests with universities and colleges in the four parts of the UK. AoC and college representatives worked with university finance directors and people from funding agencies and audit firms to produce the new statement which took effect for 2015/16 financial year.  For those who are interested, the British Universities Finance Directors website explains the background and development of the SORP.

The SORP is available here

Work is now underway to update the SORP.  This work involves university and college organisations across the UK, including AoC. The plan is to update the SORP for financial statements covering the 2019-20 year but, at this stage, the planned changes are minimal. The SORP board will be presenting an updated 2019 SORP to the Financial Reporting Council (FRC) in summer 2018 for approval.


Finance record 2016-17

ESFA has issued for the 2016-17 finance record spreadsheet which needs to be returned by 31 December 2017

Enhanced pension provision for 31 July 2017

Colleges who need to include an enhanced pension provision in their accounts as at 31 july 2017 should use the spreadsheet made available by AoC for the 2015-16 financial year to accompany the implementation of the new SORP and FRS102. It is not necessary to revalue every provision in financial statements every year. In our view (which is not based on professional advice), the factors affecting this provision include demographic factors and the discount rate adopted for valuing pensions which have not changed in a material way in the last 12 months.

Accounts direction, handbook and Casterbridge model for 2016-17

College accounts direction

The EFA/SFA college accounts direction for 2016-17 was published in January 2017 and is available here

Accounts direction handbook for 2016-17

The new college accounts direction handbook for 2016-17 accounts is available here. The handbook was substantially revised in 2016 to help apply the new FE/HE SORP (which interprets FRS102) in college accounts and has had some updates in 2017. The handbook and the accompanying Casterbridge college model have been prepared by Bill Lumsden (ex BDO, ex KPMG) who was commissioned to do this work by AoC following a competitive tender. There are a number of small improvements in 2017 but nothing major

Casterbridge model

A model set of accounts based on the fictional Casterbridge college is also available. The accounts structure and narrative are advisory and it up to individual colleges to present their financial statements in a way that best presents their activities. ESFA have used the model in preparing the financial plan to introduce some element of consistency in data collected. Word and Excel versions are available below.


College accounts data 2015-16

A spreadsheet with data from every college for the 2015-16 financial year derived from college financial statements but some is directly entered onto a year end finance record (there may be transposition or data entry errors).

Post 16 Audit Code

The post-16 audit code of practice sets out the Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA) assurance and accountability requirements for colleges and other post-16 providers. The audit code draws on ESFA funding agreements. The code is updated each year. This version of the code is relevant for all periods commencing on or after 1 August 2016.


Financial planning spreadsheets 2017-18 to 2019-20.

ESFA's summer 2017 financial planning handbook, spreadsheets and template guidance for summer 2017 is available here

Financial benchmarking data 2015-16 and 2014-15

The college financial benchmarking tool helps colleges compare their financial performance with others in the sector. Users can filter the benchmark population based on certain criteria. The tool provides a number of benchmarking reports, trend analysis and access to the underlying datasets. This version of the tool includes data submitted in colleges’ 2014/15 and 2015/16 finance records and has been significantly changed from earlier versions. Most of the data is derived from college financial statements but some is directly entered onto a year end finance record and there may be transposition or data entry errors.

Finance record 2015-16

The 2015-16 finance record spreadsheet was used by colleges to return data from the 2015-16 accounts to the funding agencies. The 2016-17 spreadsheet will be available in the early autumn.

Enhanced pension provision spreadsheet for 31 July 2016

The Enhanced Pension Provision spreadsheet to allow colleges to account for future costs of early retirement or redundancies in their 31st July 2016 financial statements. 

2016 college financial plans (for return by 31 July 2016)

Financial plan spreadsheets

SFA and EFA's new Funding Agency Shared Service Team (FASST) has produced updated financial plan spreadsheets for submission in July 2016. Colleges are required to return plans which provide information on provisional 2015-16 results, 2016-17 budget and a forecast for 2017-18. The data collected has been updated to take account of the new accounting standards (FRS102 and the FE/HE SORP). The spreadsheets and template guidance (which are also be posted on are here

Financial planning handbook

SFA and EFA published a financial planning handbook earlier in 2016 which explained the planning process, their expectations on colleges and their financial health assessment. Key changes for 2016 were:

  • the requirement to share the financial planning checklist with the college's corporation before approval
  • the requirement to explain key assumptions in the template
  • the update to the financial health ratios to take account of the new SORP
  • the adjustment to the scores used in the financial health ratios

The new financial planning handbook is here

A letter from SFA/EFA Peter Lauener to chairs and principals circulated in June 2016 says governors must scrutinise plans

SFA/EFA's checklist of assumptions (for colleges to use in preparing plans) is available as a Word document here

An AoC note on financial plan assumptions (last updated on 15 June 2016) is available here. This sets out some issues which will affect college income and expenditure. There is also a note on the possible impact of the EU referendum vote

Accounts direction, handbook and Casterbridge model for 2015-16

College accounts direction

The EFA/SFA college accounts direction for 2015-16 was published in January 2016 and is available here

Accounts direction handbook for 2015-16

The new college accounts direction handbook for 2015-16 accounts is available here along with the model accounts for a fictional Casterbridge College. 

College Accounts for 2014-15, 2013-14 and 2012-13

These very large spreadsheets are the combined SFA and EFA database of college finance records for the years ending 31 July 2015, 31 July 2014 and 31 July 2013. Information was supplied by further education and sixth form colleges in their December finance records (in 2015, 2014 and 2013) which draws information from their audited 2014-15, 2013-14 and 2012-13 accounts plus voluntary benchmarking information. This information is used extensively by finance directors to benchmark their income and costs and is used by interested parties to analyse financial trends in the sector. Unlike similar financial data collected by councils, universities and the NHS, this accounting information is available free of charge. The 2014-15 accounts spreadsheet was updated on 6 May 2016

If you have any queries on the data, please ask Julian Gravatt. Corrections of errors spotted by individual colleges will need to be reported to SFA or EFA (depending on who their regulator is).

Model management accounts

The Colleges' Finance Directors' Group worked with Darwen Financial Management in 2012 to produce guidance on college management accounts and some good practice examples. There is no requirement for any college to follow this model but we hope that they provide some useful ideas.

2014-15 accounts - the accounts direction, the handbook, the finance record spreadsheets and other assistance

The 2014-15 accounts direction from the Skills Funding Agency (SFA) and Education Funding Agemcy (EFA) is here:

AoC's accounts direction handbook which containED detailed guidance on preparing 2014-15 accounts is here:

The 2014-15 Casterbridge College accounts were available as a spreadsheet

The 2014-15 finance record needed to be completed by 31 December 2015 using data from audited accounts plus additional data for benchmarking and to aid transparency about college finances.

2014-15 is the last year in which the old Further and Higher Education Statement of Recommended Practice (SORP) applies. Next year (2015-16) brings the challenge of implementing a new SORP and making this compatible with international accounting standards which are embodied in the UK Financial Reporting Standard (FRS102).

2015 Enhanced Pension Provision (EPP) spreadsheet

The enhanced pension provision spreadsheet allows colleges to calculate their unfunded pension liability as at 31 July 2014 using a spreadsheet which is available in both Excel 2003 and Excel 2007 versions.  The spreadsheet has 3 worksheets, one for input and two to report data.

2013-14 Benchmarking software

The 2013-14 finance benchmarking software makes it easier to analyse data from college accounts.

2014-15 Accounts Direction

The 2014-15 accounts direction from SFA and EFA is here:

Benchmarking tool to analyse college accounts

The financial benchmarking tool enables colleges to compare performance and ratios for different years against other colleges. The data in the tool is taken from college finance records. Guidance is also provided to assist with understanding and using the benchmarking tool.

Benchmarking Tool (XLSM,4.45 MB)

Guidance for 2012-13 Financial Benchmarking (PDF,405.62 KB)

Accounts direction for 2013-14

The 2013-14 accounts direction is here

Enhanced Pension Provision spreadsheet 2014

The enhanced pension provision spreadsheet allows colleges to calculate their unfunded pension liability as at 31 July 2014 using a spreadsheet which is available in both Excel 2003 and Excel 2007 versions. The spreadsheet is prepared by KPMG staff as part of the AoC/ CFDG financial reporting project which is ultimately funded by the Skills Funding Agency. The 2013-14 spreadsheet includes updated financial and demographic assumptions which are explained in the attached briefing. The overall impact of the financial assumptions has been that the net interest rate has reduced from 2.50% to 2.25% while the updated mortality tables forecast increased life expectancy. Both changes tend to slightly increase calculated liabilities although the effect varies by the member’s age. In all other respects the methodology is the same as last year.

2014 Regularity Audit Framework

Colleges have been required by EFA and SFA to have regularity audits for more than 10 years and the framework guiding college external auditors is now out of date.  EFA and SFA have issued an updated framework for 2013-14 which passes more responsibility to colleges, asks them fewer questions but which provides more guidance.

This new framework is an Appendix to the Joint Audit Code of Practice which is itself due for revision during 2014-15. There have been some improvements in recent years to content and clarity about the rules which govern colleges but there is still a little way to go.