Many maintained schools (and certain independent schools) are considering conversion to Academy status pursuant to the terms of the Academies Act 2010. Academies are independent schools that are state funded. Their funding is obtained directly from central government and they enjoy freedom from local authority control. Independent schools considering conversion are likely to be doing so because their current structure is no longer viable, usually because of financial difficulties.
A number of key issues to understand about Academies are:
- Primary, secondary and special schools that have been rated ‘outstanding’ or ‘good with outstanding features’ in their most recent Ofsted inspection are eligible to convert to Academies. Other schools may apply, in partnership with another school or schools, providing at least one of them has been rated outstanding or good with outstanding features, or they join an existing academy trust with a proven track record of school improvement.
- The only significant prerequisites are:
- An order from the Secretary of State
- A funding agreement with the Secretary of State
- Access to the assets necessary to run the school, which in the case of conversions can be obtained by negotiation with the local authority and/or the current owner and will be set out in a transfer agreement
- A consultation with stakeholders although there is no obligation to follow any findings or representations.
- Academies, sometimes known as “Academy trusts”, are established as charitable companies limited by guarantee. This is the structure adopted by most charitable independent schools. However, a key difference is that Academies are designated as exempt charities will means there is no requirement for them to register with the Charity Commission. They have directors but the Academy will operate through governors and a leadership team in broadly the same manner as current schools.
- The level of funding that is provided by central government is determined by a funding agreement with the Secretary of State and will depend on the number of pupils. Although the articles of association are the primary constitutional rules governing the Academy’s internal management and decision-making, the funding agreement has significant checks on its powers and must be negotiated carefully.
- How the Academy will own the land will depend on the type of the predecessor school but in most cases the Academy will either have the freehold of the land or the benefit of 125 year lease with a peppercorn rent.
- Staff will transfer to the Academy trust on the same terms and conditions of employment that they previously enjoyed. Following the transfer, the Academy trust will be responsible for setting levels of pay and other terms and conditions. This is subject to any continuing obligations under the TUPE Regulations.
- Academies must comply with the provisions of the national School Admissions Code. The terms of this will be agreed as part of the funding agreement. This is likely to be a key issue for any independent schools considering conversion as well as the fact those fees may no longer be charged.
Experts from our Schools Team can advise on all stages of the conversion process.