The lawyer’s immediate answer is it depends! It largely depends upon the type of school which is becoming an academy.
For most community schools, the conversion to academy status will involve the academy trust company being granted a long-term, 125 year lease from the local authority which is the freehold owner of the school land. This lease will be substantially in the form of the Department for Education’s (“DfE”) model form. Therefore certain provisions in the lease such as the peppercorn rent or the term are generally not negotiable. However, site specifics such as access rights and existing third party users may need to be negotiated into the lease.
University technical colleges, university training schools and studio schools usually also take a long leasehold interest from the current landowner. Whilst this is normally based on the DfE’s 125 year lease, depending upon the freehold owner, there can be variations which need to be negotiated such as a market rent payable or a shorter term.
Taking a long-leasehold interest may not be an attractive or suitable option for foundation, trust or independent status schools. For example, for foundation schools without a trust it is probable that the governing body, rather than the council, is the current freehold owner of the land. There is therefore a possibility for these types of schools to transfer the freehold, rather than leasehold, to the academy trust company. In addition to the usual conveyancing transfer, the Secretary of State for Education can issue a statutory direction to the current owner, such as the trust or governing body, to transfer the freehold ownership to the academy.
There are more specific requirements relating to voluntary aided/controlled schools and their freehold and leasehold interests in the context of an academy conversion.
Irrespective of the type of school becoming an academy and whether the freehold or leasehold route is taken, the usual range of property due diligence such as reviewing and reporting on title, carrying out the usual range of property searches and completion of the DfE’s land questionnaire is also required well in advance of the conversion date.
Given all of the above and it being an outline only, it is important to seek further advice prior to becoming an academy.