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The DfE has recently published new guidance relating to significant changes for academies

on Friday, 12 April 2024.

The guidance (the Guidance) has been re-framed around the matter of strategic place planning, specifically ensuring sufficient school places and managing any excess capacity which there might be in the system.

This update aligns with the renewed net capacity assessment programme initiated in 2023 in order to identify spare capacity in the system and ensure effective use of space and curriculum planning.

The Guidance, which comes into force on 22 April 2024, focuses on local authorities, academy trusts and the DfE working together in order to support local authorities in the delivery of their place planning responsibilities.

Ultimately, if the place planning process identifies a need to make a significant organisational change to an academy, then the academy trust is required to make an application to the DfE under Part 2 of the Guidance.

Note that maintained schools still go through the prescribed alterations route for their significant changes.

Part 1 - the 'sufficiency framework'

By setting out a step by step guide for delivering against an identified need for places, part 1 of the Guidance confirms the respective roles and responsibilities of the academy trust, the local authority and the DfE.

Sections follow on the sharing of information between the parties and the conduct of strategic pupil place planning conversations primarily between the local authority and the DfE. Those discussions will include a review of the performance of academy trusts. Following those discussions, local authorities will then follow up with the relevant trust.

Part 2 - relevant changes which require DfE approval

Note that (as before):

  • The fact that the LA has initiated and supported the change doesn't negate the requirement for the approval
  • Approval under this process doesn't negate the need for any other consents, most notably planning, land transactions and admissions
  • Failure to follow the significant change process is deemed to be a breach of the funding agreement

Annex A sets out matters for trusts and local authorities to consider ahead of an application (much of which replicates the previous guidance).

Rather than the previous route of either a fast track or full business case application, there are now three tiers for the application and assessment process:-

  • Tier 1 - most significant changes will be categorised as Tier 1 and the Guidance lists circumstances where applications will likely be approved. Note that approval is expected to come from the regions group division (rather than it going to advisory board).
  • Tier 2 - these are for significant changes which are categorised as Tier 1 but for which risks or issues are identified and they therefore move to a further internal assessment process within the DfE. More information will likely be requested before it is either approved at this level or re-categorised as a Tier 3 application.
  • Tier 3 - certain more contentious changes (set out in the Guidance) are immediately classified as Tier 3 and require a specific application form to be filled in. These include, for example, gaining or removing faith designation and amalgamation. Tier 3 applications will go to the regional director and may be referred to the advisory board, the relevant minister or the Secretary of State for determination.

Applications need to be accompanied by a consultation report and a letter confirming support from the local authority.


As before, academy trusts are required to consult on significant changes although more information is given regarding the required consultation. It states that a minimum of three weeks is acceptable, provided that at least two of those weeks are in term time. It also includes a list of required stakeholders. Consultation must include a written response from the local authority (and possible neighbouring local authorities if relevant) and the faith body if applicable.

Changes below the thresholds

There will be cases where the change will be 'below threshold' but will still necessitate a change to the funding agreement.

For changes which are below threshold, academy trusts may still need to secure:

  • Land transactions consent
  • Consent to vary determined admissions arrangements
  • Amendment of the funding agreement. Note that where capacity is changing, the funding agreement must be amended


The Guidance includes a separate section on admissions which includes a new separate form for seeking consent to vary admissions arrangements that have already been determined which are connected to significant changes.  Note that the lead-in time for determining admission arrangements is 18+ months ahead of intake, and therefore this will often be required for significant changes proposed to take effect within the next 18 months to 2 years.  

It also provides that there is no requirement to consult separately on proposed variation of determined admission arrangements in these cases (as distinct from proposed changes to admissions arrangements within the usual annual admission timetable/consultation window).

If you have any queries please contact Chloe Brunton in our Academies, MATs & Schools team on 
07920 281 889, or complete the form below.