In the second of our four-part feature on converting to academy status, Nicky Collins, partner at Slater Heelis LLP covers eligibility and application
Once you have undertaken the initial steps that we discussed last time, your governing body will then need to meet and pass a formal resolution to convert to a Multi Academy Trust (MAT). At this point, you’ll need to submit a more detailed and formal application to the Department for Education (DfE). Schools that want to convert to academy status will need to demonstrate that they are in a strong enough position to do so.
Eligibility will depend on several factors: exam results from the past three years; the progress your pupils have made over the same period; your most recent Ofsted reports; and the state of the school’s finances. You will also need to provide the names and experience of the people who will be expected to be a part of your MAT’s governance structure (though the DfE acknowledge and accept that this may change as the conversion progresses).
The application to become a MAT can be made online unless you are a special school which requires a paper application.
It is at this stage you should notify your local authority that you are making a formal application – they will likely know about your intention to convert as a result of the consultation, and will receive a copy of the Academy Order (discussed in a later part of our feature), but it helps to keep them informed. A local authority cannot block your application to convert and we tend to find that most local authorities are now accepting of academy conversions. However, we do still come across some that are resistant to the academies regime and may try to put you off by requiring you to pay costs beforehand. This would include legal fees dealing with the documents that are produced, the transfer of staff, as well as any additional contracts involved. Therefore, you should be prepared for your local authority to try and retrieve these fees.
You may also need to contact other third parties for consent to the transfer, as appropriate, especially if you have private finance initiative (PFI) arrangements or other grants.
If all goes well with your application, the Secretary of State will issue an Academy Order allowing the school to convert, though it must convert on the first day of a month.
Once your application has been successful you may also apply for a grant of £25,000 to help cover the cost of conversion. Additional grants could also be available if, for example, you are converting with a failing school in order to drive up standards and your Project Lead can provide more details on this. You will also find out at this stage how much funding it is likely you will receive after conversion.
Getting the legal wheels in motion
Now your legal adviser can work closely with you to prepare the legal documentation. Next time we will take a look at the legal processes in respect of land, funding, assets and staff.
Read Part One here