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Ensuring a smooth school to academy conversion

With more and more Schools going through an academy conversion we thought a few tips on ensuring a smooth academy conversion might be of use.

Having worked with schools for over 20 years, we have a strong grasp of the changing landscape of the education sector.

“We would just like to thank you for the excellent support you gave in converting the Federation to a multi-academy trust.  Your commitment and professionalism were second to none and you have certainly made this academy conversion easier than we anticipated.  Your patience in dealing with the local authority was much admired!  We look forward to working with you in the future” 

Mike Powell – School Business Manager – White Hills Federation

Below we highlight some of the key areas you will need to consider when your school embarks on its academy conversion.

Focus on the main aim: Academy conversion

The governors and head teacher will need to have a clear view of why the school is considering academy conversion. This will be important when you submit your application to the Department for Education and when you are consulting with staff, parents and other stakeholders. Governors should discuss the pros and cons at an early stage and obtain as much information about conversion as they can, including sharing the experience of other schools that are going through an academy conversion or have been, through an academy conversion recently. Having a clear focus from the outset will make the academy conversion process simpler.

Establish a working party

While it is important that certain key decisions are made by the full governing body, there are many tasks which can be more efficiently carried out by a smaller group – often referred to as a ‘working party’, ‘steering group’ or ‘subcommittee’.

The terms of the delegation will need to be clearly set out by the governing body and, importantly, the governors should be clear about the decisions that need to be referred back to them.

Choose advisers who have education sector experience

Choose advisers who are experienced in the education sector and who can use their insight to make the academy conversion process as smooth as possible for you. Advisors with sector experience, such as Flint Bishop, are able to deliver value for money because they will have the best understanding of how to achieve the academy conversion as simple as possible.

We can also provide you with contacts in other sectors, such as accountants with academy conversion expertise.

Be aware of the Public Sector Equality Duty

Governing bodies of schools have a “Public Sector Equality Duty”. During the consultation period, and when a governing body takes the final decision to convert to academy status, the governing body must have particular regard to the Duty and take steps to demonstrate this.

We recommend that you take advice on this aspect in order to minimise the risk of legal challenge.

Communicate with your staff

As crucial stakeholders, it is obviously important to keep your staff up to date with the proposals, to take on board their comments and to talk openly with union representatives. Staff will naturally have concerns about their personal position and it is important that these concerns are responded to (preferably in writing) in a clear and accurate way. It is our experience that with unions, parents, staff and anyone else concerned that communication is key from the very beginning.

Locate your title deeds

The location of your title deeds will depend on your category of school and the owner of your land. If the governing body owns the land, they are likely to be held on the school’s premises or perhaps at local solicitors. If the local authority owns the freehold title or another third party, they are likely to be holding your deeds. Locate your deeds at an early stage and check whether there are any known issues with the title.

Review trading activities which you carry out on site

Schools are often able to generate income from hiring out their premises or from other trading activities. There are restrictions on the kinds of trading activities that an academy can carry out. You may need to set up a subsidiary company to carry out some activities. Make sure you review the position at an early stage and let your legal and other advisers know about it.

Organise contracts and staffing information, including third-party funding agreements

To save time later on, make sure you have copies of all contracts and funding agreements (such as grant agreements from Sport England, the Football Foundation or Big Lottery). These may need to be legally transferred to the academy. Check that your personnel records are up to date, including your safer recruitment checks and single central register.

Get insured

Academies are obliged to procure their own insurance, including for their land and buildings. This has to be in place from midnight on the day of conversion. Insurance costs will generally be reimbursed by the Department for Education but you will need to demonstrate that the insurance arrangements offer value for money. Try approaching your local authority first. Otherwise, you may wish to contact a framework provider such as Crescent Purchasing Consortium – we have a contact here if you want further information, or we can go via a broker we also use.

Above all: Keep calm and carry on

The path to conversion can be time consuming and intensive, but with good planning and the right advice, you will get there.

If you would like further advice on your school converting to an academy, please contact our Employment & HR team on 01332 340 211.

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