Academy conversions explained
In his recent budget speech Chancellor George Osborne announced that all schools in England will convert to academies by 2020 or must have an academy order in place committing them to change by 2022.
Whilst the conversion process may initially appear daunting, many see this as an exciting opportunity for schools to gain more independence and make positive changes helping to drive up standards in education.
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 will consist of a minimum of three members who 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. A recent white paper proposes to remove the requirement to “reserve places for elected parents on governing boards”.
Schools also have the option of forming a multi-academy structure or MAT in which a single 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.
Academies will have greater freedom to set the curriculum, term times and the length of the school day.
A free school is an academy which is set up from scratch or is a converting independent school. The governance arrangements for a free school will be very similar to that of an academy.
The Key Steps in the Conversion Process
Under the current conversion process, a school will register an interest in becoming an academy and submit a formal application to the Department of Education. If approved an Academy Order is made by the Secretary of State and the school will enter into academy arrangements and funding agreements. In light of the recent announcement, it is unclear if this process will be altered, however it is clear that the steps involved for the school remain the same.
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 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.
- 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 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.
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 over 30 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 of 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 of Education and the property documents.
- Preparing the report on title to the Department of Education with the disposition of the land and buildings.
- Provide advice on all employment queries and concerns throughout the conversion process.
- 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. Brachers sponsored the Kent Teacher of the Year Awards 2015 and has continued to promote the development of Hadlow College. As schools face this conversion process Brachers understands 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.
If you have any further questions or queries relating to this subject matter, please do not hesitate to contact us.