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Academy conversions – an introduction for school leaders
In March 2016 it was announced by the Government that their aim was for all state maintained schools to become academies by 2020.
Shortly after, the media reported a ‘U’ turn by the then Education Secretary, Nicky Morgan, however it’s clear from listening to the Regional Schools Commissioner for the South West that the commitment to conversion to Academies has not waned. Many schools will therefore be considering their options with regards to conversion generally and potential partner schools.
Understandably, considering academy conversion can raise lots of questions for everyone concerned.
I am a Head Teacher, what can I expect when converting to an Academy?
In many ways, life may not be very different, for many years Local Authorities have delegated the management of budgets, buildings and employees to individual schools and head teachers. However, oversight of the school will move from the Local Authority to a charitable company, known as an Academy Trust. The members of the Trust will have ultimate responsibility for directing the affairs of your school and the Trust as a whole. Government policy now indicates that single academy conversions are not being approved and schools are encouraged to join an existing Multi Academy Trust (MAT) or, along with other schools, form a new academy trust.
There is no set structure for an academy trust beyond the requirements of being a company limited by guarantee; each one must have members and a board of directors. Directors manage the trust on behalf of the members and, as charity trustees, are unpaid other than the Chief Executive Officer. Some MATs choose to retain local governing bodies (LGB) whilst others do not. At present where there is no LGB, the MAT must appoint at least two directors who are also parents of children at member schools.
How will the academy be funded?
Converter academies receive a grant of £25,000 (additional grants are also available) towards the cost of the academy conversion to include legal and accountancy costs. Head Teachers should not underestimate the amount of time required by conversion and the potential need to cover parts of their day to day role during the conversion process, as well as increased administration cover. The grant can be used to legitimately cover these costs where appropriate. Going forward, funding is received directly by the MAT from the Education Funding Agency rather than via the Local Authority and the amount previously retained by the Local Authority will become available to the MAT. Some MATs use a system whereby each school receives the amount of funding it would have received from the Local Authority previously and retain the ‘top slice’ to cover the costs of the MAT. Other MATs retain and manage all member schools budgets centrally.
What is the legal process?
The legal process will include the following elements:
- Consultation with parents, pupils, the local community and other stakeholders regarding the proposal to join/form a MAT.
- If not joining an existing Trust, the new charitable company known as the academy trust must be set up with a memorandum to set out the names of the initial members of the trust and articles of association which govern the running of the company.
- A funding agreement between the academy trust and the Secretary of State for the running and funding of the academy must be applied for and arranged.
- An agreement for the transfer of assets and contracts of the school from the local authority and/or governing body to the academy trust. Part of this transfer process will involve a certain amount of information gathering about the school. The employment of staff will transfer from the local authority/governing body automatically in accordance with the relevant statutory provisions.
- Arranging for the academy trust to maintain use of the land and buildings of the school. This is normally through a 125 year lease with the Local Authority for a ‘peppercorn rent’ or the transfer of the freehold of the land.
Typically, dealing with the property aspects of the conversion can take the most time and it is sensible to make contact with the Local Authority at an early stage to ensure matters such as the extent of the land are agreed and all necessary consents are obtained in good time. The timeline of conversions is dependent on various factors, including the specific requirements of the Department for Education.