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Becoming an academy – what next for schools?

Last week, the government announced plans to “set schools free” from local bureaucracy, by turning all schools in England into academies.

This is a controversial initiative, which is already facing a backlash from governing bodies, teachers and local communities. As it stands, all schools will have to convert to an academy by 2020 or at least be able to demonstrate that they are committed to doing so by 2022. Schools who do not meet the new requirements will be forced to convert by the government.

The Academies Act 2010

The Academies Act 2010, allows local authority run schools to apply to become non-fee paying academies and receive funding directly from central government.

The policy was originally conceived under Labour as a way to help improve struggling schools in deprived areas. However, the initiative has since evolved to cover all schools – and, in particular, the most successful – with funding provided to help them do so.

At present, the majority of schools in England are still run by local authorities. Indeed, despite a dramatic increase in the number choosing to become an academy since 2010, currently, only 4,515 out of 20,147 schools have academy status. This includes both secondary and primary schools.

However, while, until now, schools were invited to apply for academy status, and required the support of their governing body to do so, the government now plans to remove this choice entirely.

What is an academy?

Academies are charitable companies limited by guarantee. This means that they are non-profit organisations and must conform to the Charities Act.

While the daily running of these schools remains with the head teacher or principal, ultimately they are overseen by academy trusts. The trusts provide advice, expertise, and support to schools, and are responsible for land and assets.

The governance arrangements of each school are constituted under its Articles of Association. Each academy requires a minimum of three governors, and it is usual for these individuals to become directors. Some or all of the governing body may also become members of the trust.

The benefits of academy status

Supporters of the academy model argue that, in freeing schools from local authority jurisdiction, they gain greater control and the freedom to innovate by opting out of the national curriculum. Likewise, by giving more power to head teachers over issues such as pay, the length of the school day, and term times, academies drive up standards. Indeed, according to the government, academies improve twice as fast as other state schools.

Under the proposals, schools will also be able to apply for new funding to provide pupils with at least five extra hours of lessons or high-quality extra-curricular activities a week, including sport and art.

However, critics argue that the government is effectively privatising the education sector. They state that: “by forcing schools to become academies the accountability will be to a trust and to accountants”. They also contend that the government is “choosing to ignore the evidence from the HMCI, the Education Select Committee and the Sutton Trust’s own Chain Effects report, which clearly demonstrates that academy status not only does not result in higher attainment but that many chains are badly failing their pupils, particularly their disadvantaged pupils”.

What now?

Schools that do not meet the requirements of converting to an academy will be forced to do so. However, there is currently an online petition calling on the government to scrap the plans. This has already raised more than the necessary number of signatures required to consider the issue for debate in Parliament.

Faced with such a backlash, it is by no means sure that this initiative will go ahead. However, schools should certainly be taking steps to ensure they are ready for the implications of converting to an academy. Appointing the right legal support is essential to this process.

At Linder Myers, our solicitors have acted for both academies and local authorities during the conversion process. This includes matters relating to:

  • Academy Conversion application to DfE
  • Property (Lease of School from LA)
  • Commercial Transfer Agreement
  • Creation of Academy Trust
  • Due diligence re:
    •  Property
    • Contracts
    • Employees.

Helping schools to manage the process effectively, we provide a personal, face to face, bespoke service that protects your interests at all times.

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