Academy Conversion: how it works
The rate of schools in the UK undertaking the academisation process is accelerating quickly, and with the Government's recent push to have all schools convert by 2020, this will only increase further.
If you’re a head teacher who believes your school would benefit from centralised funding and greater independence, now may be the right time to learn more about the academisation process.
We’ve explained how the process works, and the steps you can take to ensure every box is ticked, from pre-application to reopening.
Before you apply
Before a school can apply to be an academy, it needs to receive consent from the school's governing body, who must pass a resolution.
Once the governing body has agreed to a conversion, you will be required to register your school's interest with the Department of Education (DfE), via their online form. You will then be assigned a DfE project lead, whose job it is to work with you throughout the academisation process and answer any questions you may have.
Although you will not be able to commence any formal proceedings at this stage of the process, many schools find it helpful to contact a legal and financial adviser to help them understand the timelines, legal implications and financial aspects of the academisation process.
You are required (by the Academies Act 2010) to hold a formal consultation on whether to convert with people you consider appropriate. This is likely to be the people who will be affected by the academisation process, including parents, staff, the local authority, and the local community. The consultation can take place before you submit your application or afterwards, but at the least you should consider and plan for it at an early stage.
Preparing your application
To help the application process, you should familiarise yourself with your school's finances, Ofsted results, and pupil progression including attainment, over the past three years.
You may also find it helpful to read the Academies Financial Handbookor a detailed Academy Conversion Guide to ensure you understand the financial responsibilities of your academy trust.
The DfE strongly recommends that at this point, all schools hire a solicitor to help with the legal aspects of the conversion.
A solicitor will talk you through carrying out an actuarial assessment, which will calculate how much money your academy trust will have to spend on pension contributions to staff members. The solicitor will also help you begin discussions with staff members, parents and pupils.
These consultation discussions must comply with Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations 2006 (“TUPE”). Legal help is vital in regards to these discussions, as the process is a legal requirement and may involve speaking to trade union representatives. School employees can bring an employment tribunal claim and may be entitled to compensation if the TUPE process is not adhered to, so it’s worth ensuring everything is done right.
During this initial part of the process you will need to provide your solicitor with land registration documents and contracts, so that they have all the information they need for the legal transfer process which will follow. You may also want to renegotiate some of your contractual arrangements on conversion to an academy and your solicitor can advise about this.
You should also prepare a list of all the contracts, assets, service level agreements, licences, Sport England or Football Association grants which the governing body has with the local authority and send copies of these to your solicitor wherever possible.
Once you have completed the preparatory steps above and prepared your relevant documentation, you must complete the academy conversion application form. This can be found via the DfE’s online portal.
You will also need to notify your local Authority of your decision to apply for academy status.
An academy order should normally be granted within two to six weeks. Next, you will be sent a funding allocation pack and will receive a £25,000 support grant to cover the cost of the conversion process.
Complete and submit the relevant paperwork
With the help of your solicitor, who will have completed the land and title checks by this point, you should complete and return the relevant academy land questionnaire to the project lead.
You will also need to create a company limited by guarantee, which will be the legal entity that forms the academy trust. This will include creating the academy trust’s memorandum and articles of association, and a draft funding agreement. Your solicitor should explain the details of these matters to you and work closely with you to prepare the documentation.
Once your paperwork has been approved by your DfE project lead, to become a company limited by guarantee, you must register with Companies House. The application form can be found via the DfE website.
You now have to transfer the responsibilities for land, staff, loans and contracts with external providers from your school to your academy trust. Again, your solicitor will be able to help you throughout this process as you will have to contact your local authority.
Preparing to open
At this point, most of your paperwork will be completed, and you will have to prepare to reopen your school as an academy. You should inform your project lead of the results of your consultation and submit your final funding agreement. These will then be passed on to the Secretary of State for Education to be signed and sealed.
You can now open an academy bank account and appoint an accounting officer, who will be responsible for the financial resources of the academy. This person must be able to assure both Parliament and the public that your public funds are managed to high standards.
You must also appoint an external auditor who will be responsible for producing audited accounts.
Next, your solicitor will talk you through registering your pupils and staff members with the Information Commissioner’s Office, and you will be encouraged to name a specific staff member as your data protection officer.
You will also be required to arrange your own insurance, as your school will no longer be covered by the local authority. You can do this by choosing a commercial insurance provider or opting in to the Education Funding Agency’s risk protection arrangement (RPA).
Now all you need to do is talk through your complaints procedure with your solicitor and notify your exam boards, and barring any unforeseen circumstances, you should be ready to open as an academy.
Reopening as an academy
The Education Funding Agency (EFA) will send you an information pack that will highlight the steps you should take in the first few months of your new status.
This includes publishing your final funding agreement on your website, ensuring that your chair of governors fills in the ‘Academy financial support grant certificate’ and sends it to your DfE project lead, and completing the ‘Land and building information request for new academies’.
You must also complete a Financial Management Governance Statement (FMGS), which is an online self-assessment checklist. It has been created to help head teachers understand the requirements of a new academy trust shortly after opening, and must be submitted online within four months of completion of the academy conversion process.
The EFA are now responsible for your funding and will ensure that you comply with the Academies Financial Handbook, which includes a number of important financial deadlines, such as account returns.
As you can see, there is a lot of administration involved in the task, which includes adhering to a variety of government legislation.
Seeking the best expertise before, during and after the process will ensure that you make informed decisions, and that you carry out all the correct procedures so the academisation process as runs smoothly as possible.
Kim Freeman-Smith is a guest contributor from berg, a law firmthat works closely with the education sector and assists schools looking to convert to academies.