Below are our top ten tips for schools converting to academy status:
The governors and head teacher will need to have a clear view of why the school is considering converting. This will be important when you submit your application to the DfE 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, or have been, through the same process. Having a clear focus from the outset will make the conversion process simpler.
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 'sub committee'. The terms of 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.
From bankers to lawyers, accountants and HR consultants, choose advisers who are experienced in the sector and who can use their insight to make the conversion process as smooth as possible for you. Advisors with sector experience are able to deliver value for money, because they will have the best understanding of how to achieve the conversion as simply as possible.
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.
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.
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 a 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.
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.
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. And check that your personnel records are up to date, including your safer recruitment checks and single central register.
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 DfE 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. Finally you can also approach insurers directly or via a broker, provided that you ensure compliance with the procurement rules.
Academies are obliged to comply with European procurement rules so make sure you understand how the procurement rules will affect you (and take advice if necessary) when entering into contracts for services to be delivered post conversion, particularly where the contracts are of high value.
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.
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