Academisation: General Information
What is the political and educational context?
- In the budget in 2016, the Chancellor announced that he would “drive forward the radical devolution of power to school leaders, expecting all schools to become academies by 2020, or to have an academy order in place to convert by 2022.”
- The Labour government of Tony Blair began the academisation of schools which has continued apace under the coalition and the current Tory administration.
- There seems little likelihood in the medium term of any change of policy from any of the main parties and the process is unlikely to abate.
- The emergence of large academy chains like Harris, with a very defined and centralised ethos, is another notable feature of the system at present.
- Recently, there has been an upsurge in multi-academy trusts (MATS) where groups of local schools get together to leave local authority control.
- In Newham, for example, there are already free schools and a UTC.
What is the Newham landscape at present?
- There have been quite severe cuts to the council’s budget.
- Newham Council has already moved from being a direct provider of services to a commissioner of services.
- Here is a selection of the secondary academies already operating in Newham: Brampton, Langdon, JFK (Learning in Harmony Trust), the East London Science School UTC, Bobby Moore Academy, School 21, Oasis Silvertown, Stratford, Harris (Chobham). Eleanor Smith and Kaizen are now a MAT (EKO.)
- Rokeby, Sarah Bonnell and Lister are forming a MAT.
- There are now an increasing number of primary academies in Newham not listed here.
What are academies?
- Academies are publicly funded independent schools.
- Academies don’t have to follow the national curriculum and can set their own term times.
- Academies get money direct from the government, not the local council. They’re run by an academy trust which employs the staff.
- Some academies have sponsors such as businesses, universities, other schools, faith groups or voluntary groups.
- An academy trust is a charitable company limited by guarantee. In the case of a multi-academy trust (MAT), the MAT acts as the charitable company limited by guarantee.
What do academies and maintained schools have in common?
- Like maintained schools, academies must follow the law and guidance on admissions, exclusions and special education needs and disabilities (SEND)
What are multi-academy trusts?
- Schools may operate as multi-academy trusts (MATs), where the trust has a single funding agreement with the Secretary of State and supplementary agreements for the individual schools within the trust.
- There are several models as to how these can be operated but there is usually an over-riding board of governors.
How big are MATs typically?
- The majority of MATs are small – fewer than 5 schools.
Do academies raise or lower standards?
- The best available evidence shows no clear relationship between academisation and outcomes across the system. “Current evidence does not allow us to draw firm conclusions on whether academies are a positive force for change. According to the research that we have seen, it is too early to judge whether academies raise standards overall or for disadvantaged children.” (The Education Committee Report, January 2015)
What about teachers’ terms and conditions in an academy?
- In most MATs, teachers are transferred across on their existing contracts and terms and conditions. In effect, there would be no change to these.
Who funds the conversion process?
- The DFE.
How do schools convert voluntarily into academies?
- Schools submit their application to the DfE once they have a positive vote for the change from their governing body.
- Once the application is approved, the secretary of state issues an academy order and the school can join with a trust.
- Schools must hold some form of consultation before the funding agreement is signed (though this may change).
- The school does not need the permission of the local authority to convert and in Newham there is no longer any opposition– in fact, NPW have just launched a conversion service.
How long does it take?
- It varies, but the whole process can be done in less than a term.
How are academies funded?
- Academies receive their funding directly from the Education Funding Agency (EFA), rather than from LAs.
- Funding is based on the principle of equivalence. This means that academies receive the same level of per-pupil funding as they would receive from the LA as maintained schools. In addition, they receive funding to cover the services that are no longer provided for them by the LA
What are the pros of a MAT?
- By becoming one legal entity with one board, a MAT may ensure there is a strong and clear collaborative link between the schools involved.
- MATs may also allow schools to build on existing partnerships, work collaboratively and support schools to improve attainment.
- MATs may provide economic benefits, such as centralised services, and the ability to focus funds where they are most needed.
- MATS may provide increased and flexible staffing resources, such as the ability to send staff within a MAT to support a struggling school
- MATs may provide a clear and consistent strategy across all of their academies
- Governors may be moved around schools within the MAT, thus tackling questions of capacity and developing the experience of the governors concerned.
- MATs may provide a stronger brand to attract parents and applications for admission
- MATS may provide a broader base for developing leaders
- MATs may provide opportunities to build new primary/secondary curriculum and transition models
- A MAT containing primary and secondary schools may be able to break down the KS2 to KS3 barrier, and create opportunities for innovation and learning across both key stages.
- Academies can potentially top up their budget by as much as 10%. This is because on top of the regular per pupil funding, it gets money that would previously have been held back by the local authority to provide services such as special needs support.
- Some large academy chains run schools creating economies of scale themselves.
- More freedom over staff pay can mean they make savings or attract and retain good teachers by paying more, while control over the length of the school day can allow them to teach more lessons.
What are the cons of a MAT?
- Schools may lose some autonomy through shared accountabilities.
- There may be a short-term increase in costs before longer-term benefits.
- Schools in a small MAT may be isolated from the rest of the system.
- MATs may add another layer of layer of bureaucracy and accountability that may prevent a “lean” business approach.
- There is a danger that as the MAT grows it may become increasingly difficult to ensure consistent systems and procedures are applied across the trust. Directors of the MAT trust may feel that it is difficult to take on this responsibility for schools that they have had no day-to-day involvement with.
- There is a danger that the failures of one school affect the whole MAT and attached reputation.
- There may be insufficient leadership capacity to manage the challenge of too many schools taken on at once
- MATS may bring more bureaucracy when new schools are added to the chain.
- The core infrastructure may become overstretched.
- The financial gain of becoming an academy is being whittled away.
Are there any specific potential benefits to us of academy conversion?
- We would retain control of our destiny and could be part of a growing MAT organisation, rather than having later on to choose to join an established MAT or chain.
- We would be better able to retain the existing leadership of the school which Ofsted remarked was a strength
- A successful MAT could replicate and improve upon the support for young people that has been lost by the Local Authority
- There will be significant opportunities for our middle leaders to have an enhanced role in a MAT and increased promotional opportunities for staff
- We could develop within our MAT a proving ground for excellent teachers
- We can hold the external providers of services more directly accountable for their services and this has definitely been a problem in this school before
- We could borrow from the expertise of others within the MAT as we move towards improvement.
What is the difference between a sponsored academy and a converter academy?
- Sponsored academies are supported by an academy sponsor (see below). The academy sponsor will usually appoint all or a majority of the members and directors of the academy trust which will run the school. It is usual for this academy trust to run a number of academies.
- Converter academies receive a grant of £25,000 (plus any other grants e.g. primary chains grant) towards the cost of the academy conversion. Sponsored academies can receive a ‘pre-opening grant’ of up to £150,000 for pre-opening costs, including legal advice, project management, curriculum development, school improvement services and the early appointment of key staff. Full sponsored academies may also be entitled to an Environmental Improvement Grant of up to a further £80,000 for light capital works intended to make a visual statement that the ‘old school’ has become an academy, such as signage or refurbishment of reception areas.
What is the general consultation requirement?
- Even where the school is becoming a sponsored academy, the Academies Act 2010 requires either the school or the sponsor (depending on whether the conversion is occurring voluntarily or not) to consult “such persons as they think appropriate” on whether the school should become an academy. The statutory requirement does not prescribe who should be consulted or the length of the consultation required, so the general law on consultation applies.
- Generally, we would recommend consulting with all key stakeholders, including parents, staff, pupils, other schools, the local authority and the wider community.
- Staff may also need to be formally consulted about the transfer of their employment under the Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations 2006 (TUPE) (see below).
- Under TUPE, the current employer (and the academy trust where it is already incorporated and employees staff) must inform any recognised trade unions or elected employee representatives of the fact that the transfer is to take place, when it is to take place and the reasons for it. There is no obligation to consult unless it is intended that ‘measures’ will be taken. Measures include plans or proposals that would bring about any material change in existing work practice or working conditions. Examples include redundancies (whether voluntary or compulsory), a change to pay dates or loss of staff benefits. Even when consultation is required, there is no obligation to inform or consult with employees directly.
When should this consultation take place?
- The Academies Act 2010 simply requires that consultation is completed before the funding agreement is signed, which is usually around two weeks before the date the academy will open
What are the memorandum and articles of association?
- The academy trust is a charitable company limited by guarantee. Like all companies, the academy trust has a memorandum and articles of association. The memorandum sets out the names of the initial members of the academy trust and the articles are the rules that govern the running of the company.
When can we apply for our conversion grant?
- Each school can apply for its £25,000 conversion grant (plus any additional grant e.g. primary chains grant) once the DfE have approved the conversion application and the Secretary of State has issued the school with its academy order. The school then needs to complete the support grant claim form on the DfE website.
What is the process for converting to academy status?
- The conversion process involves at least five elements:
- The setting up of a charitable company known as the academy trust with memorandum and articles of association
- Putting in place a funding agreement between the academy trust and the Secretary of State for the running and funding of the academy school(s)
- Transferring the employment of the staff of the school(s) from the local authority or governing body (as applicable) to the academy trust in accordance with TUPE
- Negotiating a commercial transfer agreement for the transfer of assets and contracts of the school(s) from the local authority and/or governing body to the academy trust
- Arranging for the academy trust to have use of the land and buildings of the school(s), usually either by way of a 125 year lease with the local authority or the transfer of the freehold of the land, as applicable.
- Where a school is joining an existing academy trust, then there is no need to set up a separate company. If the academy trust currently runs only one school then their documentation will need to be updated so that it can become responsible for multiple schools.
- Multi academy trusts will issue a scheme of delegation which sets out which powers of the multi-academy trust board of directors will be delegated to local governing bodies.
- For PFI schools, converting to academy status raises particular issues and additional documentation will need to be drafted and negotiated between the governing body, academy trust, local authority and the contractor.
- The DfE have specified key dates when it expects to receive draft documentation, confirmation that certain documentation has been agreed and receipt of the final, signed documents. It is important that these key dates are met to ensure conversion on the desired date.
When is the last point at which the school can change its mind about conversion?
- A school can change its mind right up to the point where documents are sent to the Secretary of State for signature, which is usually during the last two weeks before planned conversion date
Who are the members?
- Members of a company limited by guarantee (like the academy trust) are similar to the shareholders in a company limited by shares. They are the ‘guarantors’ of the academy trust and promise to pay £10 towards its debts should the academy trust be wound up without enough assets to satisfy its creditors.
- The role of a member is largely a ‘hands-off' role. Members will have limited powers which will include the right to wind up the academy trust, amend the articles of association, appoint other members and appoint and remove one or more directors.
- The academy trust must have at least three members, one of whom must always be the chair of the directors (see below). The DfE prefer academies to have a smaller number of members than directors. In our experience, schools commonly choose between three and five members. Occasionally, it may also be appropriate for a particular body associated with a school (e.g. a foundation or diocese) to have entitlement to appoint a specified number of members.
Who are the directors?
- The individuals appointed to make strategic decisions about the day to day running of the academy trust have three names:
- They are directors because the academy trust is a company
- They are trustees because the academy trust is a charity (albeit one that is exempt from registering with the Charity Commission)
- They are governors because the academy trust is responsible for running the school(s).
- Members will always appoint at least one of the directors. Others might be appointed by parents, staff or by the directors themselves. The headteacher (for single academies) or the executive headteacher (for multi academies) will also often be a director. The articles of association will stipulate the number and types of directors which the academy trust should have.
- The directors come together to form the board of directors (‘board’), sometimes also referred to as the board of trustees or governing body. The role of a director is broadly similar to that of a governor in a maintained school. However, there are formal duties under company and charity law that apply to directors of an academy trust. we
- In multi academy trusts, each academy will usually have its own local governing body (LGB). These have a similar status to committees of a maintained governing body and the only powers they have are those that are delegated to them by the board. This is normally formalised into a scheme of delegation. Individuals serving on a LGB may or may not be directors of the academy trust. It is common for them to be referred to a ‘governors’, although technically the governors of an academy trust are the directors/trustees.