The education White Paper Educational Excellence Everywhere provoked much debate earlier this year regarding academisation, especially after the so called ‘u-turn’ or ‘s-turn’ as it has also been described.
The recent political implications of ‘BREXIT’; the appointment of Theresa May; her new Secretary of State for Education; and a new Shadow Secretary all mean the future direction of education is a little uncertain at present. That said, it seems highly likely that the momentum of academisation will continue.
Strategic decisions around academisation
Schools face the daunting prospect of joining a Multi Academy Trust (MAT) if they don’t want to become a stand-alone academy initially, especially as the implication for headteachers is the dilution of the autonomy they have worked so hard to achieve. The MAT model is one that will naturally expand given the current education agenda, although questions about their effectiveness have been asked for some time and key issues were highlighted in July’s Commons Education Committee.
Governors and school leaders need to fully understand the options available to them from the outset of any structural change deliberations. A good way to undertake this is for governors and school leaders to firstly agree the vision and strategic direction of their school through visioning sessions. Once these crucial underpinning principles have been agreed governors and leaders can begin to look around to find a ‘best-fit’ MAT. The process can be difficult at times, and no two conversions are the same. The DfE recommend that schools obtain professional advice to support them through the conversion process which can be delivered by HR specialists and legal firms.
Academy Conversion Case Study
St Wilfrid’s CE Primary School converted and joined the St James and Emmanuel Academy Trust. They used the services of One Education’s 'Academy in a Box.' Following an initial meeting with our project manager in January, the transition to academy status was achieved easily some months later.
Our HR consultant provided support to the school by:
- Meeting with the headteacher to discuss the requirements of the TUPE process
- Briefing the school on the process/timescales involved
- Arranging and leading the TUPE consultation with the Trades Unions
- Undertaking a TUPE presentation to all staff and responding to any subsequent queries
- Advising the school on the information required for due diligence.
At the same time One Education’s legal partners Slater Heelis were working hard to complete the funding agreement, commercial transfer agreement and gaining charitable status. The project manager from One Education ensured that timelines were adhered to and key milestones achieved.
Legal implications of academy conversion
It is not uncommon for unusual or complex legal situations to evolve during the academy conversion process but with our specialist help these can be efficiently resolved. Richard Riley from Slater Heelis explains, “Together with One Education we acted for a Multi Academy Trust who had issues relating to the Metrolink tramline. The local council had built a tramline across a portion of the school land and there were historic issues regarding land ownership documents. The same MAT also had to deal with the local council granting Metrolink an option to build a tram line around school playing fields without reserving a right of way meaning that pupils would have had to trespass over the optioned land to reach the playing fields. Both these situations were successfully negotiated to allow the MAT to operate”.
Another example is when a religious school set up its own Multi Academy Trust and had to deal with a number of issues including persuading the Department for Education to deviate from their usual position on funding arrangements. This involved negotiating with an unusually high number of parties and managing their responses to secure continued progress. There was an impact on the constitution of the MAT which necessitated moving away from the usual structures to accommodate the different foundations and they were heavily involved in negotiating and agreeing this.
Other considerations for academy conversion
Legal and HR matters are not the only areas schools should consider during due diligence. Our ‘Academy in a Box’ service incorporates the services of Property Tectonics to provide a systematic review and analysis of the physical characteristics of the school premises. Richard Rhodes-Heaton from Property Tectonics explained that one academisation project included a number of individual service areas including:
- A schedule of condition of the premises covering building, mechanical and electrical elements, functional suitability of the existing space
- Asset register of major plant and equipment
- Health and safety premises policy review
- Premises-related statutory compliance review
- An energy audit.
Academy in a Box
Our Academy in a Box offers a unique service that brings together experts who have long-standing relationships with schools. By combining educational support, experienced legal and HR advice, and financial and property specialists, your school will be in the best possible position to convert.
The route to becoming an academy is different for every school depending upon the strategic aims for that school, but what can never be in doubt is that any changes are primarily for the benefit of the pupils. #PuttingChildrenFirst
If you are considering converting to academy status, joining a MAT, or would like further information and support around any of the topics raised in this blog, contact Rachel Foster, HR Director on 0844 967 1111.