As you will be aware the Chancellor announced in his Budget speech that all schools are to become academies by 2020 or have official plans to do so by 2022. The announcement has attracted a considerable amount of publicity and whilst it is accepted that not everyone is in favour of the proposals, it remains the current government’s aim to see conversions take place on a wide scale.

This blog gives an overview of the key steps that your school will need to take as part of the academy conversion process.

Investigation, evaluation and registration

You should investigate what it means to become an academy. What are the implications and benefits for your school?

  • Autonomy from local authority control
  • Freedom to set staff pay and conditions
  • Ability to change your school terms
  • Freedom to decide whether to follow the national curriculum
  • Additional funding (Education Services Grant)
  • Greater responsibilities (your academy will be responsible for admissions, staff and land)

Are you eligible for conversion? If you are planning on converting as a stand alone academy, the Department for Education (DfE) will consider whether your school meets the following criteria:

  • Your most recent Ofsted inspection must show that you are an outstanding school or that you are good with outstanding features – the DfE will look in particular at what Ofsted says about your school’s capacity to improve and the effectiveness of your leadership team.
  • Your last three years’ exam results must be above floor standards and above or moving towards national averages.
  • You will be compared with exam performance in similar schools and those in the local area.
  • Your school must be in good financial health.

All other schools can convert together as part of a chain in a Multi Academy Trust or Umbrella Trust with an outstanding school or a school that is good with outstanding features.

Your headteacher or Chair of Governors should complete an online registration of initial interest with the Department for Education (DfE).

Before formally applying, your senior leadership team and governors should consider seeking advice on the conversion process from solicitors, accountants and financial services companies.

Having considered the evidence, if your governors decide to proceed, they should pass a resolution in principle to convert to academy status. This must be submitted to the DfE along with the application form. If you are a foundation or faith school, you will need the consent of your foundation and/or Diocese.

As a requirement of conversion, you will need to consider putting in place arrangements to support another school.

Consultation

Schools are required to consult with stakeholders before deciding to convert to academy status.

Your governors will need to agree who to consult. We would suggest that you should consult with the following:

  • Parents
  • Staff
  • Local Authority
  • Local Schools
  • Community groups
  • Diocesan Board

You should place information about the consultation on your school’s website and we would suggest that your school sends letters to parents. You may also decide to hold a meeting about the conversion. We would recommend that you consult for a period of at least six to eight weeks.

Before conversion, your school should undertake a formal TUPE consultation with staff. For community and voluntary controlled schools, this is the responsibility of the local authority but it is expected that you should be part of this process. You will need to consider and provide details of any measures envisaged to vary staff terms and conditions or more likely confirm that this will not be the case.

Academy trust

We will work with your governing body to discuss and agree the governance structure for your academy trust. We will draft the Memorandum and Articles of Association to establish the academy trust and send this to the DfE for approval. We will then register the academy trust at Companies House. As an exempt charity, it will not be necessary to register the academy trust with the Charity Commission.

Land

We will obtain title to your school site and carry out any searches and prepare a land questionnaire for the DfE setting out information about your school site.

You should provide us with information about any shared use of your site so that we can review and/or formalise existing arrangements.

We will agree a 125 year lease of your school site with the local authority if you are a community school. For foundation schools, we arrange a freehold transfer of the school site to the academy trust. If you are a faith school, we will need to discuss the appropriate arrangements but usually we will agree a supplemental agreement with your Diocese.

We will arrange for the property transfer documentation to be signed and completed prior to conversion.

Commercial transfer agreement

We will draft a commercial transfer agreement that provides for the transfer of staff, contracts and assets to the academy trust.

You will need to inform us of any continuing grants or loan agreements that need to be transferred to the academy trust on conversion.

You will need to review your contracts for services such as catering, cleaning and security and decide whether to continue with these existing services. You should inform the suppliers of your change to academy status. We can assist if contracts need to be assigned or novated to the academy trust.

We will arrange for the commercial transfer agreement to be signed and completed prior to conversion.

Funding agreement

We will prepare a draft funding agreement that sets out the funding that will be provided by the DfE on condition that you comply with the terms of the agreement (for example, by running an academy with a broad and balanced curriculum).

We will submit the draft funding agreement to the DfE for approval. We will arrange for the funding agreement to be signed and completed prior to conversion.

Pre-opening

You will need to open a new bank account for the academy.

You must contact the Local Government Pension Scheme and Teachers Pension Scheme to inform them of your change to academy status.

You must notify the Information Commissioner’s Office to register for data protection.

You will need to contact any exam bodies.

You must ensure that you have put in place insurance arrangements for premises and contents, business interruption, employers and public liability and motor insurance. We would suggest that you may consider signing up to the Risk Protection Scheme established by the DfE on 1 September 2014.