The process of converting a school into an academy typically takes around 3-4 months from receipt of the Academy Order, though it is likely that discussions and consultations will have been ongoing for up 12 months before this.
This conversion process is a legal one with technical requirements which require specialist advice to complete smoothly. In this blog, we will give you a brief overview of what exactly converting your school into an academy entails to give you a better idea of what you will need to do during the process.
What are the steps to conversion?
The conversion process can be broken down broadly into seven steps, these are:
- Application to convert and pre-approval checks
- Completion of legal documents and processes
Although this makes the process appear relatively simple and linear, a wide range of skills and stakeholders are involved at every step and some of the steps can overlap or even occur in a different order. We will now go into further detail on what these steps entail.
The process of converting.
- Discussion: The Governors will usually discuss the pros and cons of becoming an Academy over several meetings. The discussions will likely involve deciding whether to convert, whether to convert into an existing Trust or set up a new one and, if setting up a new one which other schools to support or join with. The Department for Education (“DfE”) currently expects schools to convert with another school or schools to form a Multi Academy Trust (“MAT”) so this should be considered at this stage.
- Consultation: Once the Governors have an idea of how they will convert they should then consult with stakeholders. Stakeholders in this context is a broad term and would include pupils and their parents, prospective pupils and parents, and the wider community or other groups that may use the school. This consultation can occur after the registration of interest stage but it is advisable to do it before the formal application stage.
- Registration: Registration of interest with the DfE is the start of the more formal aspects of the process. To begin the academy conversion, you must first register your interest using the relevant online form. Following this, the DfE will assign a Project Lead who will guide you through the process.
- Application to convert and pre-approval checks: Once the consultation has been completed and the responses considered, your school’s governing body (assuming the consultation was in favour of conversion) will pass a resolution to convert, and the school will submit a more detailed and formal application form to the DfE. If all goes well, the Secretary of State will then approve the proposal and issue an Academy Order allowing the school to convert when it is ready to, though it has to convert on the first day of a month. Following this, the local authority will start the process
- Completion of Legal Documents and processes: As soon as the Academy Order has been submitted your school will be able to submit their grant claim to the DfE. This will enable you to receive a grant of £25,000 to help cover the costs of conversion. Once this has been approved, the school will then look to engage its professional advisors to complete the legal processes including:
- The transfer of school staff across to the new Academy on their current terms and conditions.
- Investigating the school land and buildings with a view to formalising its occupation (the way this is done depends on the type of school and the members of the board, but a long lease is the usual position).
- Agreeing the governance structure of the Academy and the MAT and getting this set out in the Articles of Association of the MAT. This document is the MAT’s constitution and is agreed with the DfE based on their model precedent.
- Negotiating a Funding Agreement with the DfE. This is the contract between the MAT and the DfE whereby the DfE will provide money to the MAT in return for the MAT providing education and ancillary services to the community.
- Entering a Commercial Transfer Agreement with the local authority setting out the terms on which all the assets of the school (its physical assets, contracts, licenses, staff, and surpluses) will transfer from the ownership and control of the Local Authority and the Governing body to the MAT.
- Pre-opening: at the same time as the above legal processes are taking place the MAT will need to deal with the more practical aspects of conversion including: obtaining a new establishment number; transferring its computer licenses; opening a new bank account and agreeing levels of funding with the Education Funding Agency; arranging new insurance; setting up appropriate provision for pensions. This will all have to be put in place before the new Academy opens.
- Opening: Once the Funding Agreement has been signed the MAT must open the Academy on the relevant date so the rest of the legal processes and pre-opening requirements must be in place before the new Academy opens on the first of a month. If the conversion has gone smoothly it is unlikely that staff, pupils, and parents will notice any day to day changes but the Academy will now be in a position to take advantage of the freedoms that come from being an Academy.
This should give you a good idea of what will be involved should you make the decision to convert your school into an academy.
At Slater Heelis, our Schools & Academies Team are specialists in helping schools make the conversion as quickly and efficiently as possible. If you’re currently in the process of converting or are considering converting in the future and have any questions you can contact our team on: 0161 969 3131.