Inside ICAS: Mark Allison - Quality through Education

Student writing on paper
Mark Allison By Mark Allison, Executive Director, Education

9 November 2015

Mark Allison, ICAS Executive Director, Education explains his role at ICAS and the high standards behind a CA qualification.

A few years ago we were teaching an introductory accounting class and feeding back results of a mock exam. The class had done particularly poorly. One student, with a straight face, announced that it was not possible for him and the rest of the class to have done so poorly as they had all been on a firm’s internal training course where they had been told every day, to the soundtrack of Tina Turner, that they were “Simply the Best”.

ICAS is world-class – but how do we prove it?

If you read corporate strategy documents, including ICAS straplines, you will see much use made of superlatives. Can ICAS really claim that the CA Qualification is world-class, gold standard, premium, excellent or indeed “Simply the Best”?

ICAS has 20,000 members who work in over 100 countries and much of the activity of the ICAS Boards, Committees and Executive Team is based around the maintenance of quality. To ensure high standards of quality ICAS needs benchmarks to measure against.

My role as Executive Director of Education

One of the principal responsibilities I have as Executive Director, is to ensure that the CA qualification is benchmarked against and meets or exceeds all reasonable comparable standards. Firstly I need to find these standards, and then to ensure that the benchmarking is thorough and objective.

This is important because the CA qualification needs to travel with you, as future members, to wherever your career takes you. It would be distinctly unhelpful for you to arrive for a new job in Berlin, Hong Kong, or Toronto and find that the qualification you had worked so hard to achieve, was not recognised.

A commitment to quality

Over the years we have developed our understanding of what it means to be able to claim high quality standards. At the simplest level this revolves around the number of reviews and checks on technical material. And sometimes we have not made enough of those checks and annoying errors appear.

On the wider scale, however, we are one of the few Institutes in the world that reviews and changes its syllabus every year. We also update the underlying teaching materials and exams annually as well. This makes the content and assessment of the CA qualification current - not something that all Institutes can claim.

Some years ago ICAS brought in the position of lay members to monitor the activities of boards and committees. These individuals are independent of the staff, and the members, and cast their professional oversight on what we all do. A simple application of Good Corporate Governance practice perhaps, but also an opportunity for ICAS to learn from the best practices existing in other arenas.

Independent recognition

We took this approach further in 2013 by becoming a credit rating and awarding body on the Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework (SCQF). This puts the CA qualification, and its component parts, on a footing with other qualifications that you already have. To achieve recognition on the SCQF requires quality assurance procedures, with independence and objectivity in areas that caused ICAS to review and refine our processes. Look around and you will not find many other professional accountancy bodies having their qualification recognised on an independent national qualification framework.

Defining standards for the profession

Further afield in Europe, ICAS, and I was there as they say, was a founding member of the European Common Content Project. This provides a benchmark standard around Europe for professional accountancy qualifications incorporating bodies in Germany, France, Netherlands, Italy, Belgium, England, Ireland and Scotland. An ICAS view in such an initiative was not to accept a standard set by others but to take a leading part and to define the standard. That is something we still do 14 years later. We hope in the near future to expand this group to other European countries.

And it’s not just in Europe. Throughout the world we have a number of reciprocity agreements. These mean that the CA qualification is recognised formally by an Institute (and in some cases a government). To achieve such reciprocal agreements requires the setting up of an initial benchmark, and the measuring of a qualification against it. We have always taken a leading part in developing the benchmark then ensuring that the CA qualification matches it and in holding others to account to ensure their qualifications achieve the agreed standard.

And on other stages too we ensure we meet appropriate benchmarks. The UK Government through the Financial Reporting Council annually audits our qualification against the requirements of the Companies Act. The worldwide body of accountants, IFAC, regularly reviews the CA qualification against International Education Standards. One of my proudest achievements was, as Chairman of the International Accounting Education Standards Board, guiding the rewrite of those standards.

Simply the best? – well, quite probably, yes.

October 2018

Monday 8 October: How your training can tackle money-laundering

Following reports that the National Crime Agency (NCA) is stepping up investigations into potential facilitators of money laundering and protecting criminal assets, we revisit advice from Ken Murray CA, Head of Forensic Accounting at Police Scotland.

New powers for the NCA came into power on 31 January, allowing officials to require that wealthy individuals explain the source of any and all assets if they are suspected of being corrupt. These Unexplained Wealth Orders may put pressure on accountants and lawyers to share information about their clients.

This can be an uncomfortable situation and requires CAs to call on their ethical training to determine the best course of action.

Listen to Jeremy Clarke CA, Assistant Director of Practice at ICAS, ask Ken about when to submit a Suspicious Activity Report (SAR) and what happens next for the accountant involved.

Listen to the podcast

Get in touch

To what extent do you think accountants are responsible for their clients' legal compliance? Would you know what to do if you suspected criminal activity? Get in touch with or share your thoughts with @ICAS_students on Twitter, and we'll publish your suggestions!

In this week's blog we have not one but two back to basics, on PAYE deductions and income tax relief for business losses. Continuing the tax theme, we have a short video on how to use tax legislation books, and answer a student conundrum on capital allowances and integral features. We also have all the info you need for TPS resits if needed, and take a look at the 'dying' professions of the future (and how to outlive them!). Happy reading!

Back to basics: Understanding PAYE deductions

At a time when most people are looking for ways to tighten their purse strings, we go back to basics on understanding pay packet deductions. A useful skill for all employees, we explore the process as covered in Principles of Tax.

Vlog: Tips for using tax legislation books for TPS

As a TPS tax student, you will receive two white legislation books. They may appear daunting, but if you follow a few tips, they can become your friends.

TPS resits: What you need to know

In this article, TPS level controller Lauren O’Brien explains the options for resitting TPS exams, the process to follow and the resources available to help you.

Student conundrum: Confused about capital allowances for integral features?

A student contacted us with this question: “I am confused about the rate of allowances to apply to integral features, as I have seen both 8% and 100% used. What is the rule?”

Back to basics: business losses - income tax relief

In this month’s brand new Back to Basics we provide a clear summary of the options open to a loss-making taxpayer - a topic covered in both the CA and ITP syllabi. This handy reminder shows the relief claim dates and the relevant legislative references.

The dying professions - and how to outlive them

An article published in Work + Money outlined '25 Dying Professions You Should Avoid'. The list has gained notoriety on LinkedIn and Twitter but how accurate are its predictions, and could CAs be at risk?

Monday 1 October: What do professional services staff neglect?

Are you guilty of pushing yourself to exhaustion? Recent research by has discovered that professional services workers take the least amount of action to relieve stress levels.

Their findings reveal that of 1,015 adults surveyed, those who work in accountancy and law reported higher non-management of stress: 58% stated that they do 'little or nothing' to manage stress levels due to a lack of free time (78%).

Tom Batting, co-founder at said: “It’s extremely worrying how many workers within professional services claim they do not prioritise getting the stress relief that is so important for maintaining their mental health.

"The irony is that this can actually become a vicious cycle – if we don’t make time for stress relief, this can lead to becoming more stressed or even burnout, both of which can reduce productivity further.

“It’s in professional services managers and bosses’ interests to ensure that employees actually do take measures to manage their stress levels – whether that’s communicating how important this, allowing them flexi-time so that they can attend whatever activity it is that they do to relieve stress, or even providing classes or workshops for their workforce.

He continued: “As well as reducing stress, this can positively impact on employees’ focus, concentration and efficiency in the workplace – which are particularly key in industries such as law and accountancy, where attention to detail and precision are especially vital.

"We see this time and again - employers who provide workers with healthy and stress-busting ‘perks’ like yoga, meditation or even arts and craft workshops reap the rewards in a more productive – and satisfied – workforce."

The student blog has produced several articles to help you de-stress and prioritise your health:

Get in touch

How do you de-stress? Get in touch with or share your thoughts with @ICAS_students on Twitter, and we'll publish your suggestions!

In today's blog, we help you prepare for TPE in November with a look at product recalls, and ahead to the skills that make a successful CA (including commercial awareness!). We get back to basics on audit risk for PAR, and Internal Rate of Return for TC students sitting Finance. If you are using the TPS examiner report, check out our article on what materials and feedback are available for exam retakes, and also what to do if you need to re-sit your ABS exam - we're here to support you!

TPE in practice: product recalls

Are you familiar with how to analyse business issues such as product recalls and what you should look out for in terms of skills practice?

How to use the TPS examiner report

Find out what materials and feedback are available for TPS exam retakes, and how the examiner’s report is used.

Help for re-sitting ABS exams

Are you feeling a little unsure after your ABS exam? It is a fact of life that some students will fail their ABS exam at each diet. But never fear, we're here to help!

TC Infographic: Internal Rate of Return

We have a great step-by-step breakdown of the Internal Rate of Return (IRR) for TC students embarking on their Finance classes.

Back to Basics: Audit Risk

Have you got to grips with the Principles of Audit and Reporting (PAR)? Anna Cameron takes us back to basics on audit risks to make sure you’re on PAR for success!

Infographic: Skills of a successful CA

Being a successful CA is about more than just having a good head for figures and knowing your way around a spreadsheet. This infographic takes a look at the components of a CA.

September 2018

Monday 24th September: Tax facts for TC students

HMRC has produced simple resources for tax students, and they're especially helpful for TC, Principles of Tax level.

There are several videos available, covering:

  • about HMRC
  • starting your first job
  • the construction industry scheme
  • national insurance and your personal tax account
  • working for yourself and more.

And you can of course access more learning materials on the ICAS website. This includes past papers, TC formula sheets and Tax Rate tables, and a look at material changes between 2017 and 2018.

You can view all eight of their Tax Facts videos now.

Get in touch

Would you like to see a similar style of resources on the CA Student Blog? Get in touch with or share your thoughts with @ICAS_students on Twitter.

In today's blog, we look at the potential of blockchain to level the pensions landscape and consider what shape tax might take in the event of a no-deal Brexit. We also provide the dos and don'ts of achievement logs, all TPS terminology, and go back to basics on the weighted average cost of capital for TC Finance. Plus, ten years after the fall of Lehman Brothers, we review some of the key facts and figures of the global financial crisis.

Common terms in TPS

To help with your TPS studies and revision, we've put together a glossary of important terms to use as an aid. A more in-depth guide to common abbreviations and phrases can be found in your course materials.

Looking back at the 2008 Global Financial Crisis

15 September 2018 marked a decade since the Lehman Brothers filed for bankruptcy and the Global Financial Crisis began spiralling. We outline the key numbers involved in the years of recovery and measures introduced to protect against another crash.

Back to basics: Weighted average cost of capital

Are you familiar with the weighted average cost of capital? The calculation of a company’s cost of capital appears in Module 12 of the TC Finance course, and we go back to basics on the formulas.

Could blockchain fix pensions?

Transparency has been lauded as the biggest advantage of using blockchain, with everyone from former Prime Minister David Cameron to the Big Four highlighting its potential in fighting corruption and promoting accountability. Could it also be the way forward for pensions?

FS and VAT in a no-deal Brexit

At the end of August, the UK government released the first of a series of technical papers providing advice for the event of a no-deal Brexit. These have continued throughout September and hold points of interest for future CAs.

Dos and don'ts of completing achievement logs

Here are some useful tips and tricks to help make completing your achievement log that little bit easier.

Monday 17th September: Burberry's turnaround on stock destruction

Did you catch our article on Burberry's stock destruction in recent weeks? Burberry revealed they had burned around £28.6m of unsold goods to prevent them from being sold cheaply, and outcry from the public has prompted the fashion giant to immediately end the practice.

"This commitment builds on the goals that we set last year as part of our five-year responsibility agenda and is supported by our new strategy, which is helping tackle the causes of waste," said Burberry in a statement.

They are also banning fur from their fashion line in greater moves towards sustainability and responding to public calls for businesses to end association with the fur trade.

There are still important lessons that can be learned from this story from an accounting perspective. Lecturer Matthew Hall advised: "The annual report simply reflects the reality of the situation - if stock is destroyed then it needs to be written off, even if it was destroyed on purpose rather than the damage being accidental. The accounting for this would be no different than is covered in TC Financial Accounting.

"Of course, one area of judgement that would be key in relation to a company such as Burberry that routinely destroys its own stock, is inventory provisions.

"Burberry’s auditors, Pricewaterhouse Coopers LLP, identifies in its audit report that assessing the appropriate level of provisioning for items that may be ultimately destroyed is a key audit matter for them."

Get in touch

Can you think of any other companies who destroy stock rather than re-sell to different markets? And where does business ethics come into play? Share your thoughts by tweeting @ICAS_students or email

In today's blog, we go back to basics twice, first on business management strategy - a common thread throughout the CA qualification - and again on calculating trade profit and loss for tax students. There's also a really handy infographic on debits and credits (DEAL and CLIP) and a guide on how to get the most value from TPE feedback sessions. Finally, we have 10 quick tips for mastering a long workday for success (while avoiding burnout) and the first video in a series on business ethics.

Back to Basics: Business Management Strategy

Business Management (BM) flows throughout the whole of the CA qualification, so it’s only right that we take it back to basics for in-depth analysis. This print-out and keep guide details Porters, SWOT and PEST, as explained by Lauren O’Brien, TPS Level Controller.

Debits (DEAL) and Credits (CLIP) infographic

One of the fundamental accounting concepts taught in Financial Accounting is the dual aspect, which gives rise to ‘debits and credits’. If you've not previously studied accounting, this infographic will help you navigate the first progress test.

10 quick tips for surviving a long workday

Long working days are reducing across the industrialised world, but trainee CAs will have occasion to burn the midnight oil as you tackle a training contract and studies at the same time. You need our survival guide for avoiding burnout!

Back to Basics: Calculating a tax-adjusted trading profit / loss

One of the core skills of an accountant working in tax is being able to adjust an accounting result for tax purposes to reach a tax-adjusted trading profit or loss.

Making the most of your TPE feedback sessions

TPE Level Controller, Catherine Devaney, helps you achieve value in the TPE feedback process.

Video: Ethics is at the heart of being a CA

In a new series, ICAS presents important video resources on ethics, illustrating how to approach an ethical dilemma with guidance and food for thought for the profession. First in the series: 'Ethics is at the heart of being a CA' (41 seconds), examining why ethical behaviour is intrinsic to chartered accountancy, and how to apply it.

Monday 10th September: Who deserves tax relief?

As we get closer to the UK Autumn Statement, Chancellor Philip Hammond is being urged by some political parties to scrap Entrepreneurs' Relief and distribute the funds elsewhere.

Described by some as the 'worst tax break ever', Entrepreneurs' Relief was introduced in April 2008 and reduces the normal rate of capital gains tax (CGT) by half for people selling all or part of a company, capped at £10m over a lifetime for individuals.

It can also be utilised by employees with Enterprise Management Incentive (EMI) share options at their company.

The Resolution Foundation, a respected thinktank, measured the cost of Entrepreneurs' Relief and suggested that the money may be better attributed to the NHS in the next Budget.

In the 10 years since its inception, Entrepreneurs' Relief has saved business owners an estimated £22bn in CGT. The tax break is widely thought to be a motivating factor in entrepreneurs deciding to set up their businesses here, given the chance for better returns further down the line and allowing investors to reduce the impact of taxes should they decide to sell shares.

In return, businesses contribute to the economy through VAT, corporation tax and by creating jobs.

This is an interesting issue. Largely, the Resolution Foundation publication advocates more research into how the cost and value of the relief balance out before any drastic abolishments.

However, their report does paint a persuasive picture of Entrepreneurs' Relief as little more than "a welcome bonus suggested by their accountant" for anyone looking to sell.

Get in touch

Is Entrepreneurs' Relief worth an average cost of £2.2bn a year? Are there alternative options that could do more for less? Share your thoughts by tweeting @ICAS_students or email

In today's blog, we look at the ins and outs of Books of Prime Entry, the staple feather in an accountant's cap. We also look at the impact of new deemed domicile rules and offer advice on surviving meetings at work. For students new and more experience, there are tips on how to craft a study plan, details on the benefits of being an ICAS CA, and a special welcome to those taking the direct entry route from someone who has been in your shoes.

Infographic: What are the Books of Prime Entry?

The Books of Prime Entry allow us to capture raw financial data and process it, through a journal entry, into the financial information within the nominal ledger. This infographic explains the process for FA and FR, step by step.

Domicile and the new deemed domicile provisions

As of 6 April 2017, new provisions relating to ‘deemed domicile’ came into effect. This article looks at the concept of domicile, the new deemed domicile rules and how domicile can affect an individual’s tax liability.

Four tips for study plans

One of the most common questions students ask the ICAS tutor team is: "Can you help me create a study plan?" Here are four tips to help you create an effective plan of action.

The five personality types you encounter at meetings

Meetings can either be a collaborative and informative dream or the bane of any professional's existence. These are some common archetypes of meeting personalities and how to work with them.

What can ICAS do for you when you're a member?

As new students start their CA journey and others start to see the end in sight, we round up some of the benefits that come from being an ICAS member after you qualify.

Welcome to ICAS - Direct Entry Students

Lecturer Calum A. Macdonald CA shares his advice for CA students taking the Direct Entry route. What should you expect?

Monday 3rd September: Insolvency overhaul: What you need to know

The Insolvency Service (IS) has announced plans to hold directors responsible for pensions and worker payouts when companies collapse, as part of wider action by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.

Following a consultation on insolvency and corporate governance that ran earlier this year, several changes have been decided in the outcome for the insolvency framework and governance structure of UK businesses to offer more protections for creditors, employees and other stakeholders.

These include:

  • greater accountability of directors in group companies when selling subsidiaries in distress;
  • enhancing existing recovery powers of insolvency practitioners ;
  • powers for the IS to investigate directors of dissolved companies;
  • strengthened transparency requirements;
  • framework clarity for dividend payments;
  • proposals to improve board-room effectiveness.

ICAS was one of the 93 respondents to the consultation and welcomed efforts to take appropriate steps to deter and deal with abuses of insolvency processes and reduce the risk of major company failures.

The detailed proposals announced last week will afford viable businesses a moratorium to restructure or obtain further investment before involving creditors, new rules to prevent supplier contracts being immediately cancelled when a company becomes insolvent, and increasing the ring-fenced pot available to unsecured creditors.

Most notably, the IS will now be able to investigate directors of dissolved companies if they are suspected to have acted against the law or in bad faith. The watchdog will also be able to disqualify directors of holding companies, should they conclude that the individuals unreasonably sold insolvent subsidiaries.

These developments were heavily influenced by high-profile company collapses, some of which left large pension fund deficits and many workers in difficult financial positions.

Business Minister Kelly Tolhurst said in a statement: "While the vast majority of UK companies are run responsibly, some recent large-scale business failures have shown that a minority of directors are recklessly profiting from dissolved companies. This can’t continue."

Get in touch

Do you think the new provisions are a step in the right direction? Should directors be banned from future companies? Let us know what you think by emailing or by tweeting @ICAS_students

In today's blog, two of our articles feature the BBC's 50 Things That Made The Modern Economy podcast, and we demonstrate how the lessons learned can be found in your studies, including financial derivatives and LLCs. For those embarking on block 2 TPE, we share tips for better business writing and how to improve your commercial awareness. We also feature an infographic on the new phenomenon of quarter-life crises and where to get extra support, and examine the economic impact of stockpiling goods.

Six tips on better business writing for TPE

A successful CA must have excellent communication skills; one of our TPE examiners looks at how better business writing can improve your performance in the TPE exam.

Why are people having quarter-life crises?

While a mid-life crisis is a long-known occurrence, 'quarter-life' crises are now becoming common among millennials. Check out this infographic for reasons why.

How to improve your commercial awareness for TPE

During block one of TPE classes, we introduced you to commercial awareness as part of your studies. This is a key requirement of a good and competent CA in order to provide value-added business advice.

The economic impact of stockpiling goods

With worries over supply chains, border controls and access to labour after Brexit, many are turning to stockpiling as a way to prepare for the separation. From the NHS to rural communities, what impact does shoring up supplies have on the economy?

Why LLCs widened opportunities for the classes

The set up of Limited liability companies (LLC) in the early and mid-1800s popularised business investment among the general public and paved the way for modern capitalism as we know it. We examine this in PoT.

Gambling with financial derivatives

If you gave someone a sum of money, and they agreed to pay you a larger one should a certain outcome happen in the future, you may be forgiven for thinking you're gambling. In fact, you're getting insurance, as discussed in TC Finance.


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