• Never has it been more relevant for schools to consider the academy conversion process. Whether it be a voluntary decision or the result of intervention by the Department for Education (DfE), academisation continues to be the centre of the government’s education policy as it seeks to improve education standards across the country. Whilst the process may initially appear daunting, many have already taken the plunge – with around 45% of today’s schools now being academies.

    What are the benefits of academisation?

    Academy conversion is seen by many as an exciting opportunity for schools to gain more independence and make positive changes to help drive up standards in education. It grants schools greater autonomy to allocate their budget as they see fit, improve curriculum quality for their students, set term times and decide the length of school days. It also allows schools to join a multi academy trust (MAT) which provides access to strong leaders with the ability to support a number of schools, improve teacher development and share their experience with others.

    What are the governance arrangements?

    An academy is an independent school which receives funding directly from central government as opposed to their local authority. They are overseen by academy trusts. These are individual charitable bodies that are responsible for admissions, employment of staff and land, amongst other things. The day to day running of the school will lie with the head teacher who is overseen by the academy trust.

    The academy trust must consist of a minimum of three members (although the Department for Education strongly recommends five) who will have important powers under the articles of association. The Secretary of State has the power to appoint one member if he chooses. The academy trust will appoint the governing body which is responsible for the management of the academy on behalf of the members. The governing body will consist of trustees (or directors) including staff directors, the head teacher and other elected directors. MATs either need two parent trustees on its board of trustees or on its local governing body.

    Historically, schools had the ability to convert to become a single academy trust, but this is no longer possible in practice. Instead, schools now have the option to either form or join an MAT in which an academy trust is responsible for a number of academies. This means that economic benefits, services and best practice can be shared. In the MAT structure, there will usually be a local governing body which will have delegated governance functions and an advisory board which provides strategic advice.

    If you are a free school, the governance arrangements for a free school will be very similar to that of an academy. A free school is an academy which is set up from scratch or is a converting independent school.

    What are the key steps in the conversion process?

    Before a school embarks on the conversion process, it is important for them to do their research on whether it would be best to join an MAT or start their own. When joining an existing MAT, schools should ensure its ethos aligns with theirs as each MAT is different, both in its values and how it operates. Schools should also consult their stakeholders (such as parents, teachers and their local authority) to decide whether conversion is appropriate.

    Under the current conversion process, a school will register its interest in becoming an academy and submit a formal application to the Department for Education. If approved, an Academy Order is made by the Secretary of State and the school will enter into academy arrangements and funding agreements.

    There are a number of steps involved when converting a school to an academy. These include:

    • The creation of the principal governance documents including the funding agreement, memorandum of association and articles of association.
    • The school’s property and land which is currently owned by the local authority will need to be transferred to the academy or a lease agreement will need to be reached. A land questionnaire (based on a Department of Education’s model document) will also need to be completed.
    • All existing contracts with external providers such as caterers, cleaners and ICT services will need to be transferred to the academy in transfer agreements to ensure that the school continues to receive these vital services.
    • Any other assets of the school must be transferred for the benefit of the academy.
    • The employment contracts of staff will need to be transferred to the academy ensuring that the legal requirements of the Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations 2000 (TUPE) are complied with. The pension arrangements of all staff will also need to be considered.
    • Academies will need to create or renegotiate agreements for the use of shared facilities such as sports centres and swimming pools so that students can continue to benefit from services provided within the local community.

    The Department for Education published an ‘Academy Converter Checklist for Schools’, which provides a helpful tool for schools to ensure they have covered all stages of the process. It also contains steps that need to be completed after an academy trust has been established.

    How can Brachers assist your school?

    At Brachers we want to ensure that as all schools convert to academies they have the support, advice and guidance they need to help their school and pupils go from strength to strength. We aim to ensure that the school has a firm understanding of what an academy is, the responsibilities it has and how it can effectively manage its on-going compliance obligations. We have extensive experience in providing legal assistance during the academy conversion process and to date have helped numerous schools achieve an efficient transition.

    Brachers can provide the following assistance:

    • Knowledge and advice regarding the conversion process including the governance structure of the academy and aiding in negotiations with the local authority and Department for Education.
    • Advice on contracts and legal documents which form part of the academy conversion process. This includes the memorandum of association, the articles of association, the commercial transfer agreements with the local authority, the master and supplementary funding agreements with the Department for Education and the property documents.
    • Preparing the report on title to the Department for Education with the disposition of the land and buildings.
    • Providing advice on all employment queries and concerns throughout the conversion process, including compliance with TUPE.
    • We can also provide post conversion support including general post-conversion enquiries, governance issues employment law guidance and human resources support and other corporate and commercial advice.

    Brachers understands the importance of supporting and encouraging the progression of education. As schools face this conversion process, Brachers appreciates that every academy will have unique needs and ambitions and we, therefore, strive to provide a service that recognises every academy’s aims and aspirations.

    This content is correct at time of publication

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