CIPFA Diploma in School Financial and Operational Leadership

The CIPFA Diploma in School Financial and Operational Leadership* has been developed by ISBL and CIPFA for current and aspiring chief finance and operations officers.

It recognises the importance of school business business professionals, especially in Academies and Multi Academy Trusts (MATs) and aims to ensure that you meet the highest professional standards when it comes to overseeing (amongst other things) finance, corporate governance, risk management and strategic procurement.

This innovative programme is underpinned by the ISBL Professional Standards and is recognised by the Department for Education. It is referenced in the Academies Trust Handbook in the Skills and Experience section for Chief Finance Officers (CFO).

The Diploma has been mapped by CIPFA as broadly equivalent to a level seven (post-graduate) qualification in relation to degree of challenge.


"Even in the short period since I achieved the qualification, I feel more confident in all aspects of my role. Each unit I covered was relevant to my role and gives me the confidence to join in conversations, challenge, advise my colleagues and others, knowing I have this qualification to support me."

Read more about Ally Bigwood's experience of the CIPFA Programme here.



What will you study?

The areas that the programme covers include:

  • financial management and reporting
  • the education funding environment
  • writing business cases and taking investment decisions
  • governance, accountability and assurance
  • procurement and contract management
  • liaising with, and providing information to, internal and external auditors.


How long is the programme?

12 months


How is the programme delivered?

It is delivered using a blended approach, of face-to-face sessions, online sessions, practical assessed assignments and remote tutor support. 

Each module starts with a day of learning, either face-to-face or online. There are three face-to-face sessions over the 12 months, and each cohort is located in a UK city for these face-to-face sessions. Delegates also have access to the CIPFA Learning Platform and use this to upload their assignments.

We are delivering a virtual cohort May 2022 to allow those SBPs to attend who, for reasons such as geographic location or personal circumstances, are not able to travel to a major UK city. To book onto this cohort visit our Training Calendar.


Two routes to accreditation

There are two routes available on this programme:.

  • Full programme
  • Practitioner programme


There are no specific entry requirements for this programme. If you are a qualified accountant then you will be eligible for the Practitioner programme. The programme flyer provides more information about the exemptions accepted.

Each cohort contains a mix of delegates taking both the Foundation programme and the Practitioner programme. For SBPs undertaking the practitioner route, this means that the programme will still take 12 months to complete, but there will be some modules that you are exempt from and so you will have some short breaks from your studies during the programme.


Entry requirements and exemptions

Whilst there are no specific entry requirements, we would anticipate that this programme of training would be most applicable to those who are undertaking, or have in the past undertaken, a School/Academy Business Manager or Education Finance roles and responsibilities.

If you have a professional accountancy qualification then you are eligible for the Practitioner programme. You can find out more here.


Accreditation and assessment

The course is assessed through a mixture of reflective activity / portfolio work plus an exam for the ‘Certificate in Financial Reporting for Academies’.

To gain accreditation, participants are required to complete or pass:

  • Multiple-choice exam - Module 2 - Certificate in Financial Reporting
  • Written assessment - Module 6 - Procurement and Contract Management
  • Portfolio of evidence - From modules 1,5,7,8 and 9. This records evidence of learning and critical analysis, and how the skills developed have been translated to the working environment. Accreditation will require participants to complete reflective activities on each workbook, and this will also be covered in the face-to-face sessions.


What are the benefits of completing the programme?

To participants

  • Those accredited with the Diploma in School Financial and Operational Leadership will be able to progress their career, assured that they meet the highest professional standards.
  • This programme has been designed to provide a route to a professional accountancy qualification via CIPFA, should participants wish to pursue this in the future. Successful completion of the Cert FRA module grants an exemption from the Financial Accounting module at the Certificate level of the CIPFA Professional Qualification.
  • The Diploma in School Financial and Operational Leadership can be accepted as part of the MA in Educational Leadership or the Postgraduate certificate in Educational Leadership with the University of Chester. As the qualification is not conferred by an HEI it is not an automatic progression and you would have to go through the accreditation of prior experiential learning (APEL) process. Find out more here.

To employers

  • This prestigious programme will enable employers to be assured of value for money from the certificate holder and so ensure the highest possible drive for public sector efficiency.



"It's made MAT strategic thinking click into place and I’ve got a greater appreciation of how the aspects of financial and operational leadership relate to each other. It has helped me as I transition from academy to MAT Central Team. I was also able to network with a new group of School business professionals, which was great."

Read more about Helen Burge's experience of the CIPFA Programme here.



How is the programme funded?

The programme is either paid for directly by your school/trust or it can be self-funded. It is separate from the apprenticeship scheme and unfortunately is not eligible for apprenticeship funding.


How much does it cost?

There is an ISBL member rate and a Non member rate for all our training programmes.

Foundation programme 

  • ISBL member rate: £2950.00 +VAT
  • Non member rate: £3540.00 +VAT

Practitioner programme 

  • ISBL member rate: £2050.00 +VAT
  • Non member rate: £2460.00 +VAT

One of the benefits of being an ISBL member is being able to access the member rates for training and conferences. If you are not a member, you can find out more about joining ISBL here.

To be able to access the ISBL member rate, your membership needs to be active before you book your place on the programme.

We do not offer any payment plans. The full cost must be paid in full before you start the programme. Our Terms & Conditions can be found here.


How can I book my place?

We have cohorts available for 2022. Please visit our Training Calendar to find a cohort and book your place.


Click here for more information about the programme



* In May 2021 the title of the Diploma was updated. It was formerly known as the Certificate in School Financial and Operational Leadership.