Common risk management pitfalls in academies – and 3 steps to combat them

27 October 2021

When you think about the huge range of processes involved in successfully running a school, it’s no surprise that it could be a challenging risk environment.

From planning and managing a day trip to preparing a balanced budget, threats can arise from both external and internal sources.

Risk management guidance for academies

This means that it’s all the more important that you avoid some of the common pitfalls in managing risk, as set out in the Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA)’s ‘Academy trust risk management’ guidance.

While the guidance is aimed at academies, it’s just as applicable to local authority maintained schools and independent schools too.

We think this is an excellent piece, not just because it addresses a topic that we feel is of real importance to the sector but also because it does a great job of simplifying risk management.

We’ve highlighted three risk management pitfalls in the ESFA’s guidance which particularly resonate with us as an assurance provider with significant experience in the education sector:

  • A strategic risk register containing an unmanageable number of risks
  • Arrangements that have (over time) become very complex, confusing and cumbersome
  • A lack of confidence at senior management and governor level around key risk management concepts, with no driving force

You might then ask “Ok, but how do we avoid making these same mistakes, and what should we do instead?”

There are a few simple steps that you can take to increase the likelihood of making a success of risk management:

Come together

Bring your leadership group together, including governors. Ask yourselves the simple questions:

  • “What keeps me awake at night?”
  • “What are the things we rely on most to keep things running?”
  • “What kinds of things could happen that might affect us achieving our objectives?”

Chances are that by answering just these few simple questions you’ll have already have the makings of an effective risk register.

Veritau case study: Running risk management workshops to inform strategy and understand risk appetite

Be brutally honest

Are your risk management arrangements actually adding value? If the answer is no, then use the ESFA guidance, together with other sources to redesign processes from the ground up.

Useful resources include the Government Finance Function and HM Treasury’s Orange book. If done with the right commitment, investing this time and effort will pay dividends in the long run.

Set some time aside

Create time as an organisation for training and development on risk management. After all, a supportive risk culture where people are knowledgeable on risk and feel empowered to make risk-based decisions is essential to making things work.


Common pitfalls in academies - Connor Munro, 01904 553512 | Connor leads on our risk management services and holds the IRM’s Certificate in Enterprise Risk Management. He also has experience of internal audit within both the public and private sector, delivering complex and varied work.

Our services

Recognising the unique challenges that the education sector faces, Veritau has recently launched a new risk management service. Aimed at schools and academies, the service is designed to help you on whatever improvement journey is required.

Schools & Academies Assurance Services – Veritau Brochure

If you’d like to know more, visit the risk management page, or get in touch with our risk management lead, Connor Munro at [email protected]


Common risk management pitfalls in academies

Scroll through our PDF with common risk management pitfalls, and what you can do to combat them

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Academy trust risk management guidance

From the Education and Skills Funding Agency


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