Becoming an academy is rarely a straightforward decision. However, thanks to our experience working with heads and governors facing this decision, we’ve put together a 10-step process to help you appreciate what might be ahead. While this list is reasonably comprehensive, it is not intended to replace the professional advice we’d recommend you seek before registering your interest to convert to an academy with the Department for Education.
1. What steps are involved in the conversion process?
- Registration. You can register your interest in becoming an academy online. Doing this will trigger the required consultation process.
- Application and pre-approval phase. At this stage, the governing body is required to pass a resolution in favour of conversion to academy status, and thereafter, the Local Authority or the governing body will start the Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations 2006 (TUPE), which is designed to protect transferring staff. The Secretary of State will also be involved in the approval of the conversion.
- Funding agreement. This part of the conversion process is concerned with the finalisation of governance documents as laid out by the Department for Education, as well as the registration of the Academy Trust at Companies House. The leasing arrangements for the school itself will also be dealt with at this stage.
- Pre-opening phase. During this phase, you’ll need to carry out all of the necessary criminal record checks (CRBs) as well as making sure you have all your financial systems, contracts, procedures, processes, insurances and registrations in place.
2. How long does the process normally take?
While every case is different, and will depend on the complexity of staff and property transfers, in our experience, it’s reasonable to expect the conversion process to take around 3 months.
3. Can any school become an academy?
Eligibility to become an academy depends to a large extent on the Ofsted rating of the school. Any school that benefits from an “outstanding” or “good, with outstanding” Ofsted rating can become an academy. Any other school can normally gain eligibility by teaming up with another school that is already eligible.
4. Are we obliged to consult before registering our interest?
There is a statutory obligation for the governing body of the school to consult with, for example: parents, staff, pupils and the Local Authority before applying for academy status.
5. Will the governing body need to change?
Any school becoming an academy will need a new governing body, which will be appointed by the academy trust. The governing body must be made up of: a minimum of two parent governors and no more than one Local Authority governor. In addition, there is a requirement that less than one third of the team should be appointed from the school staff.
6. Must existing staff be retained and if so, what will happen to their pay and conditions?
Existing staff will be transferred to the new academy, according to the Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations 2006 (TUPE) and must continue to receive at least the equivalent of their existing pay and conditions. Only when recruiting new staff will the academy will have the freedom to set its own pay and conditions.
7. What are the funding options?
Under current legislation, all new academies qualify for a conversion grant of £25,000. When it comes to funding, academies can apply to the government for capital funding and ongoing costs will be funded on a per pupil basis. New academies can apply to Local Authorities to claim a share of the funds held in their education fund.
8. Will the Local Authority still have power once we become an academy?
Once a school has become an academy, the Local Authority will no longer have the right to intervene in the operation or running of the establishment.
9. What will our accounting obligations be?
Like any other business or charity, academies are required to produce and file accounts that meet with the Companies Act, as well as charity and company law. Pre conversion, any school converting to academy status will be required to agree and record any surplus or deficit. Any deficit in place at the start of the academy needs to have a corresponding plan in place that has been agreed with the Young People’s Learning Agency (YPLA) aimed at repaying the deficit from its annual grant. Thereafter academies are not permitted to record a deficit and, in the case of them doing so, once more, they will be required to agree a recovery plan with the YPLA.
10. What if it doesn’t work out?
At the moment, converting to an academy is a one-way street and once the conversion is complete, it’s not possible to revert to a maintained or voluntary status. More than anything else, it is for this reason that converting to academy status is not something to be entered into without sound support, advice and backing.
If you’re involved in a conversion to academy process and you’d like more information or support, why not contact us to take advantage of our knowledge and experience? Our experts will happily discuss your worries or concerns and will help simplify the journey ahead.