In the first of our four-part series, Nicky Collins, partner at Slater Heelis LLP explains the step-by-step process of converting a school into an academy
Pre-registration and registration
You’ve done your research, made the decision that you’d like the freedom to be innovative with your curriculum, and you no longer want your hands tied over budgets, term times and even the length of the school day. You see a quicker route to improving the overall performance of your school and have realised that academy status is the way forward.
Registering your interest in becoming an academy at the earliest point will give you access to a Department of Education (DfE) project lead, which can help you though some of the big decisions that lie ahead.
Before registering, however, some important questions will need to be addressed. Firstly, do you want to convert into an existing academy trust or set up a new one?
The DfE currently expects schools to convert with another school or schools to form a Multi Academy Trust (MAT) or join an existing MAT. It is important to give serious consideration to this as once the structure has been put in place, it will be difficult, – maybe even impossible – to reverse your decision.
The key to ensuring the success of a MAT conversion is to conduct plenty of research, talk to as many people as possible about their experiences and plans for the future, as well as select organisations and individuals with complementary ethics and a shared vision.
It is still possible in some circumstances to convert alone, but you will have to convince the DfE that you have a good reason to do so, and you will still be expected to “support” another school to form a MAT.
Consultation is a legal requirement before you can convert, and whilst there is a degree of flexibility on when this can occur, it is advisable to do this early to gauge enough support in the process. Best practice is to consult before you submit a formal application.
Conversion to academy status will only succeed if your stakeholders are on board. Being open and up front with parents, staff, current and prospective students and the wider community will help to alleviate their concerns, avoid any misconceptions and give you the best chance of gaining a positive reaction. You should agree at the outset which key messages you would like to to convey.
Remember, some stakeholders and people in the wider community may still have the out-dated perception that conversion to academies is only for failing schools. It’s important that consultation addresses the positive reasons behind your decision.
Seek legal advice
Sounds obvious, but you will need to seek legal advice throughout the process and choosing the right solicitor at this stage will save many headaches down the line. Choose a solicitor who can demonstrate knowledge and experience of the conversion process, and one who can be ready to get started as soon as your application has been approved.
Next time: Eligibility and Application