Academy Conversion Services
he White Paper ‘Educational Excellence Everywhere’ set out plans for all schools in England to become academies by 2022. In the weeks following the announcement made by the Chancellor in the budget, this stance softened leading to amended plans being presented by the Secretary of State for Education. While the policy has shifted and may well continue to evolve, the general direction of travel remains clear.
WE SAW OURSELVES AS A STRAIGHTFORWARD CONVERSION. WE WERE BACKED BY GOVERNORS, THE COMMUNITY AND THE LOCAL AUTHORITY. WHAT WE DIDN’T BARGAIN FOR WAS THE SHEER AMOUNT OF PROCEDURAL AND ADMINISTRATIVE WORK TO BE COMPLETED WHILE MEETING THE DEMANDS OF SCHOOL IMPROVEMENT. LAWYERS ARE ESSENTIAL BUT HAVING BEEN THROUGH THE PROCESS, WE WOULD SAY EXTERNAL PROJECT MANAGEMENT IS ALSO ESSENTIAL.
There is still the expectation that most schools will form or join multi academy trusts (MATs) so that proven educational models can spread and grow, and the best leaders can extend their influence by running multiple schools. The White Paper is clear that children and young people will benefit from their schools being part of a larger whole. This will lead to: improved opportunities and support for teachers and leaders; better teaching and a broader curriculum and more opportunities for children and young people; more robust governance; and back-office arrangements that free more funding for the classroom.
Converting to academy status is no longer the step into the unknown it was during the first days following the passing of the Academies Act in 2010. However, it is still one of the most fundamental and far-reaching decisions any school will take. The fact that the path is well trodden does not mean that the conversion process should be entered into with anything less than 100% focus.
Premier New Schools (PNS) will support you through the ‘mechanical’ elements of the academy conversion process as will many other companies. However, we do also bring to the process the expertise and experience gained from actually being trustees of multi academy trusts and former DfE education advisers. Arising from this, we firmly believe that the quality of work that is conducted at the outset of the process will pay a rich dividend during and after converting to an academy. Our personal commitment to lead each project is what makes us the right people to help you though your journey to become an academy.
First principles – You can apply to convert using the DfE online form. Before taking this step are you sure that the governing body is fully aware of the implications of converting to academy status? Do governors understand their new responsibilities under company and charity law? Is the school prepared for the additional work for staff and governors that will enable the school to capitalise on academy freedoms? Premier New Schools will work with schools and their governing bodies to fully understand the pros and cons of conversion at a macro and micro-level.
Academy conversion support grant – Once resolved to convert, you can apply for the £25,000 grant via the DfE website. If well managed and efficiently resourced, the support grant can go a long way to covering the costs of the conversion. The grant cannot and should not be considered to cover the additional costs post-conversion. We will work with you to fully understand the liabilities and opportunities of becoming an academy and construct budgets that will see the school through the transition.
Consultation: statutory and otherwise – The requirements to consult under the Academies Act are straightforward and the onus is very much placed on the converting school to carry these out. PNS recommends that this is carried out over an eight-week period. Many schools have successfully carried out consultation in less time but we feel that this does not fully comply with the letter and the spirit of the Act and as such could be open to challenge. Moreover, a properly planned consultation, conducted over eight weeks, will ensure that the school is able to poll all opinions and allows ample time for these to be fully considered. TUPE consultation falls to the current employer to carry out yet there is a ‘softer’ element of this aspect that we would advise, that being to ensure all staff are clear on the changes that are proposed and, even if not fully supportive, have a clear understanding of the strategic direction that the school is pursuing.
Process requirements – If the school has made the proper investment in time and thought, the process of conversion should be much more straightforward. Even so, the process is still a considerable commitment in time and while step-by-step guides are available from many sources, having a partner who ensures that the school remains on course for conversion and allows the school to remain focused on its improvement priorities could be the difference between staggering over the line or accelerating through it.
Commercial considerations – Accepted wisdom suggests that a converting school changes as little as possible during the conversion process. We believe this is to miss an opportunity. Novating contracts that do not provide best value or are not fit for purpose will inevitably lead to problems post-conversion. Our commercial team will provide an interface between the school and its suppliers to reach a negotiated settlement that will benefit the academy from day one.
Due diligence for existing Multi Academy Trusts (MATs) – Premier New Schools also provides an incisive and cost-effective due diligence service to existing MATs to help them either to decide to take on a new school, or to provide them with the information they need prior to the decision to include a new school in the MAT. Our experience in this field is extensive, and will include input from current multi-academy Trustees, experienced former DfE Academy Brokers, and a wide range of colleagues with relevant financial and commercial expertise. For more details, see the section on the website entitled ‘Academy Due Diligence’
If you want your conversion to go smoothly and value the input of professionals to add insight as well as capacity then please get in touch. We’d love to hear from you.