FAQs: Converting to an Academy
But first, some background information
· National context:
The current Academies programme has been a feature of government education policy since 2010, with the election of the Conservative/Liberal Democrat Coalition government. In 2010 the Academies Act was passed, with the aim of making it possible for all publicly funded schools in England to become Academies. With a Conservative majority government elected in 2015, the policy was strengthened and in the March 2016 White Paper, ‘Education Excellence Everywhere’, Nicky Morgan asserted that all schools would become Academies by 2022. Ms Morgan subsequently lost her job and with a new Secretary of State for Education the Academisation policy has been down-played. However, with significant reductions to Local Authority funding from central government, the number of schools converting to Academies has continued as Local Authorities are increasingly unable to provide good levels of support for their maintained schools.
· Local context
This is the position we are facing in Oxfordshire. The services to support schools that were formerly provided by OCC are withering or being out-sourced. In February 2016, the Cabinet of OCC voted to cut the education budget for 2016-17 by 77%, compared with the previous year. This meant that services formerly provided by OCC were cut back to the statutory minimum. For example, we no longer receive any free professional staff development, or support from advisory teachers on the curriculum or for SEND/EAL. In the back office, there is no longer a named HR adviser and queries all have to be submitted via email. Increasingly, school staff feel isolated and unsupported.
Furthermore, OCC is fully in support of the academisation of all its schools. The county’s position regarding the Academies programme is as follows:
- The county council wishes to support all schools to become academies.
- The council wishes to encourage governing bodies and the leadership of the school … to consider how they might become an academy as part of a larger group of schools.’
As more local schools convert to become Academies, OCC will be increasingly less able to maintain the level of services it currently provides. Governors now feels that we have reached a ‘tipping point’, with OCC unable to provide adequate support for the school and that it is vital/necessary to seek alternative solutions.
· What are the options for St Ebbe’s School
Our options are:
1. To stay with OCC
2. To set up our own Academy Trust and invite other schools to join.
3. To join an existing Multi Academy Trust
Option 1 – see above
Option 2 – a primary school the size of St Ebbe’s would be most unlikely to gain permission to set up an Academy Trust and the work required would be an enormous drain on school staff and governors
Option 3 - as a Church school with Aided status, we are required to gain the permission of the Oxford Diocese if we wish to become an Academy. Furthermore, the choice of trusts that the school could join is restricted to those with a majority of CofE Aided schools. Oxford Diocesan Board of Education state that, 'ODBE consent is not granted for designated CE schools to join non-church multi-academy chains.' In discussion with the ODBE, they have told us that the only suitable MAT currently within geographical proximity to St Ebbe’s is the Oxford Diocesan Schools Trust [ODST].
What is an Academy?[TL1] [T2]
Academies are publicly funded independent state schools. They get money directly from the government via the Education Funding Agency rather than from the Local Authority. This is enabled by the Academies Act 2010. Academies are accountable to the Secretary of State, not the Local Authority.
All Academies are run by a charitable company, which is referred to as the Academy Trust. The Trust enters a contract with the Secretary of State for Education to run the school; this is known as the Funding Agreement. The Academy Trust employs the staff, becomes the Admissions authority for the school and is responsible for the operations and performance of the school(s) under their governance. The Funding Agreement provides the framework within which the Academy must operate. Because the types of Academy vary, funding agreements will vary.
Academies have greater flexibility over how the school is run. They do not have to follow the National Curriculum [although they must teach English, Maths and Science], can set their own term times and have additional freedoms over school name/uniform/etc. They still have to follow the same rules on admissions, special educational needs and exclusions as other state schools. They are inspected by OfSTED and pupils take the national assessment tests such as SATS and are ranked in league tables like any other school.
A Multi-Academy Trust (MAT) is the term used to describe an organisation with a single shared Board of Directors (governing body) governing more than one school. There is a single Funding Agreement between the Trust Board and Secretary of State for all schools within the Trust. Funds & governance responsibilities are delegated to each school at the discretion of the Trust Board.
What is the role of governing bodies in Academies?
MATs have a central board of directors [also called trustees] who are responsible to the Secretary of State for overall standards for each school in the MAT. The role of the board is broadly similar to that of a governing body of a maintained school. However, there are additional duties under company and charity law that they will also be responsible for undertaking.
A Local Governing Body [LGB] will also be established which will be responsible for the day-to-day operational matters. The Local Governing Body does not take on the additional requirements under the Companies Act and therefore governors with the necessary skills will be sought as before from the local community. They will have delegated responsibility for their particular school. ODST supports the current composition of the school Governing Body, with representatives from staff, parents, local churches and the Local Authority. Within the ODST MAT, the LGB of St Ebbe’s would oversee the day-today running of the school, identify areas for school improvement and be responsible for the overall effectiveness of the school.[T3]
Parent complaints and escalations would follow current procedures as published on St Ebbe’s website with ultimate recourse to the Secretary of State for Education via www.education.gov.uk/help/contactus/dfe
Which types of school can become an Academy?
All schools are eligible to become Academies. In the case of a Church of England school, such as St Ebbe’s, an agreements exists with the DfE which ensure that the faith dimension is retained. See ‘Memorandum of Understanding between the National Society and the Department for Education’.
How quickly can a school become an Academy?[TL5]
There are certain steps that must be taken when a school converts into an Academy. These include TUPE consultation on the transfer of staff terms and conditions and agreements with the local authority. Consultation has to take place on the land arrangements and there will be consultation with stakeholders.
All of this takes time and the length of time can vary, depending on the complexity of the issues in individual cases. The time required for a conversion to occur therefore varies from school to school. When an application is made, it is a minimum of two weeks before the Department for Education grants an Academy order. It can take longer. Once the order is granted, timescales vary from two months to much longer for the conversion to take effect.
A typical process is currently expected to last around 6-8 months from the initial application to formal conversion – however, this timeline can be affected by a multitude of factors, so will differ for each school converting.
Is there any benefit in delaying any conversion decision?
The Governors believe that now is the right time to consider the Academy question and in the current climate, they believe that it is in the best long-term interests of the School to join the ODST MAT. It is acknowledge that many people still have questions about this matter and so the Governing Body has deferred any formal application to September 2017, thereby giving more time to address any outstanding questions.
Governors feel strongly that in the current education climate the school requires more support than OCC can offer if it is to retain its ‘Good’ OfSTED evaluation and continue to move forward towards becoming ‘Outstanding’.
Do Academies operate more like businesses? How will this impact the ethos at St Ebbe’s School?
Different Academies have adopted different visions and ethos for their trusts. While all Academy Trusts are established as charitable trusts (and are therefore limited in their ability to operate the business “for profit”) it is clear that some trusts have chosen a more commercial approach and ethos to their running of the schools within their trusts and that some have been found to have been misusing educational funding.
On the other hand, there are several Foundation (faith)-based Academy Trusts that have adopted operating models that are strongly grounded in a Christian ethos and values and place the education and wellbeing of pupils at the forefront of their objectives. Governors believe that ODST falls into this latter category.[TL6]
ODST state on their website, “As a limited company operating within the family of the Diocese of Oxford, we are motivated by our Christian values to serve our local communities, but we do not impose those values. Admissions policies are open, and priority is normally given to children in the local area. We welcome those of all faiths and none, and we are proud of the ethnic diversity within our Academies which reflects that of their local community.”
This vision very much aligns with that of our school.
What/Who are ODST?[TL7] [T8]
The Trust was founded in 2012 and has grown steadily since that time; currently there are 23 schools within the Trust with a number of other schools already seeking to join in the near future. The vision and ethos of ODST align closely with those of St Ebbe’s. ODST state on their website, “At the heart of our vision is our belief in educational excellence. We believe we are called to serve our pupils, staff, parents and their local community by providing Academies with the highest levels of academic rigour and pastoral care. Our Academies are places where children and young people develop and thrive intellectually, socially, culturally and spiritually.”
The board of ODST comprises 11 trustees of whom 10 have significant experience in education, while the eleventh is an academic. Pen portraits of the trustees can be found in Appendix A of this document.
ODST and local primary schools
Have we spoken to schools who’ve already converted to become ODST Academies and what has been their experience?
Members of the school governing body have met with the heads and governors of schools already in ODST and discussed with them their experience of the process of conversion and what it is like to be an Academy within the Trust. Those we have spoken to have been very positive about the guidance and help received during the conversion and the ongoing support given by the Trust.
Are there schools with a similar ethnic mix to St Ebbe's within ODST?
St Christopher's, Temple Cowley and John Henry Newman, Littlemore are already Academies with ODST and have shared characteristics with St Ebbe's. As does SS Mary & John, East Oxford, whose academisation open meeting governors attended last November. ODST are proposing to set up 'hubs' as the Trust grows and it seems likely that St Ebbe's would be linked in with similar city schools within ODST at some time in the future.
What is the position regarding conversion to Academy status in neighbouring schools?
We know that a number of the schools in the same area as St Ebbe’s are either closer to becoming an academy or actively pursuing this agenda. North Hinksey has documentation on its website but in the case of other local schools Governors feel that information about their plans to become an academy has been given to us in confidence.
What becomes of the Cherwell Partnership of Schools of which St Ebbe’s is a member?
The Cherwell Partnership (chaired by Susie Bagnall) comprises 14 local schools who have combined within a climate of collaboration, co-operation and professional learning to raise children's achievement, though it is not an Academy Trust.
If St Ebbe’s was to join an Academy then is does not necessarily follow that it would have to leave the Partnership but as more and more of its schools join Trusts then the Partnership becomes more fragmented and less effective.
Consultation with stakeholders
What input do parents/staff/stakeholders have as part of the decision making process?
Consultation with parents, staff, and church representatives forms an important part of the consultation process. Their views, alongside other stakeholders, will be considered by the school governors as part of the decision-making process. The governors are, however, responsible for making the final decision.
Parents/staff and other local stakeholders are also represented directly on the Governing Body.
Should the school choose to convert to Academy status, there would be a further formal consultation process regarding the specific proposal from the governors.
Is the consultation process a vote on whether to proceed?
No. The decision whether to go ahead has to be, and can only be, taken by the governors of the school. The consultation is an opportunity for interested parties to comment on the proposal. The GB is keen to take into account the views of parents, staff and other stakeholders, and is actively doing so before a decision is made. All views will be considered, and feed into the Governing Body’s decision.
The other parties who have to confirm the school can proceed are the Diocese of Oxford, the Department for Education and the church councils of St Ebbe’s and St Matthew’s.
If the school becomes an Academy will it be possible to change back to local authority control in the future?
The decision to convert to become an Academy is binding for seven years. Governors understand that schools can choose to convert back after that time. However, as the Academies Act has only been in place since 2010 we are not aware that any schools have chosen to do so. And as our local authority, OCC, has firmly supported the Academy programme it would be very unlikely that converting back would mean returning to the current arrangements.
Impact on school staff
How would staff cope with the extra work during conversion?
There would inevitably be a period during and shortly after the conversion that would require additional effort from the Head and administrative staff. We would seek to minimise the effect of this. The impact on teaching and other support staff and hence the experience for children during the conversion would be minimal.
What will happen to teachers’ pay and conditions if the school becomes an Academy with ODST?[T10]
Teachers’ pay and conditions would remain the same because of the protections of the Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations 2006 (TUPE). TUPE protects employees’ terms and conditions of employment when their employment is transferred from one employer to another. The Academy Trust would become the new employer.
Academy schools are free to develop their own terms and conditions for new staff. However, as a result of proactive engagement by teachers’ unions (ATL, NASUWT, NUT) and support staff unions (GMB, UNISON, UNITE), the majority of Academies, and this includes ODST, continue to honour the national pay & conditions framework for teachers as set out in the School Teachers’ Pay & Conditions Document (STPCD). Pay and conditions for support staff would also remain the same, because even though support staff do not have a national framework, the ODST delegates full responsibility for staffing to the LGB.
Academies have to continue to offer the Teachers’ Pension Scheme (TPS) to teachers. Where a school becomes an Academy, it becomes responsible for ensuring that contributions continue to be made to Teachers’ Pension Scheme and that the complex administration of teachers’ pensions continues be carried out effectively. The pensions of Teaching Assistants are carried over into the Local Government scheme.
Staff Professional Development
The LA no longer has the capacity to provide any professional development. In order to continue being a good school moving towards outstanding, we recognise that all staff need high quality professional development. ODST's experience in leadership and management includes the design and delivery of leadership courses and training materials for school leaders as well as governing bodies across the diocese. Also ODST work with individual schools and their local hubs to support subject teaching in all areas, and have particular expertise in the curriculum development, subject focused development and aspects such as SMSC.
Staff appointments would remain the responsibility of the Local Governing Board, although the appointment of a new head would have ODST involvement (where previously the ODBE was involved).
Impact on school organisation[TL12] [T13]
Will there be changes to the school curriculum?
Academies are required to teach the core subjects of English, Maths and Science and children will continue to take SATs. ODST have stated that they do not want ‘identikit schools’, so will not impose a standardised curriculum on schools within the Trust. St Ebbe’s has invested considerable time in developing a creative curriculum and we do not envisage there being any changes to this. However, the school would have opportunities to change the curriculum in the future if this was for the benefit of the children.
Coordination of admission arrangements stays with OCC but the Academy becomes the admission authority. However, as a Church of England Aided Primary School, St Ebbe’s has always been responsible for setting its own admissions policy after local consultation and following the Admissions Code; this would remain the case if we joined the ODST.
Standards & Accountability[TL14] [T15]
Will becoming an Academy raise standards?[TL16] [T17]
Whether the school becomes an Academy or not, the school leadership continually strive to raise standards. However, those schools who have already joined ODST report that school improvement support is rigorous and challenging. Every school in ODST has an experienced School Improvement Advisor who will make regular [6 times a year] visits to the school to carry out quality assurance and review of all aspects of a school’s work. In addition each school has a tailor made improvement programme aimed at helping the school get to good or in our case, move from good to outstanding.
Does deciding to become an Academy defer any OfSTED inspection?
No - any decision to convert does not stop the 'OfSTED clock'. This only happens if a school is forced to convert because it is judged ‘Requires Improvement’ or ‘Inadequate’.
How accountable is ODST?
ODST trustees are not elected by the local community, but appointed by the Diocese. Recommendations can come from heads and governing bodies. The ODST is traditionally consultative, and works on a basis of "assumed autonomy", which means that unless problems are apparent a school/governing body maintains its relative independence. There is an additional layer of oversight apart from the DfE and general audit requirements that apply to all businesses/charities.
Finance & Funding
How will the funding of the school change?
As an Academy the school will be funded directly from central government rather than the government allocating money to the local authority to fund schools in their area. The current situation is that the Local Authority takes some of this budget as a ‘top slice’ to fund school support services, and the school receives the remainder. As an Academy, the process is similar. The MAT receives the overall budget, and takes a slice to fund support services instead of the LA, then allocates the remainder to the school. For ODST, the current funding taken is 5%. There are some slight differences in the funding process which Governors are currently investigating, but it is believed that the overall budget available to the school would be very similar to the current levels. One advantage would be that funding would be aligned with the academic rather than financial year.
Will the school receive more money if it becomes an Academy?
Governors think it unlikely that the school will receive more money; we anticipate that funding as an Academy will be in line with the funding we would have received from OCC.
When will we find out how much funding we will receive from the DfE?
The funding agreement itself does not include details of the amount of grant that the academy trust will receive for the running of the academy. This information is provided in the annual letter of funding. Before the academy trust’s first payment, the DfE will send the academy trust an ‘indicative letter of funding’ detailing the amount of grant that the academy trust will receive to cover the period from the conversion date to the end of August. This letter is normally received four to six weeks before conversion. This should enable the governing body of the school(s) to review the figures within the letter at its final meeting before conversion.
A grant is provided for schools to convert. What is this money used for?
£25,000 is provided for schools to support the conversion. The majority of this is typically used to pay for fees to support the legal transfer of land, buildings and people from the church/LA to the MAT. Some is used to pay for items like software licences required to operate within the MAT.
Will becoming an Academy fund “fat cat” executives in the Academy trust?
Academy trusts are charities and as such are not for profit organisations. There have been cases in the press about highly paid executives running school Academies. One of the considerations in becoming an Academy is the ethos of the MAT we join and we believe that the ethos of ODST is in line with that of St Ebbe’s School.
Is there a risk that St Ebbe’s could suffer due to poor financial performance of other schools in the MAT?
MATs require that schools can balance their books, and the conversion process includes a process of due diligence to ensure that schools have robust budgets at the time they join.
Will joining ODST seriously impact the school budget?
Governors are aware that there may be a slightly larger top slice from the school budget to pay for the services provided by ODST. However, it is unlikely that the conversion process will be completed until the school enters the next financial year [2018/19], when the overall budget looks much stronger. We do not anticipate a major reduction in the school’s operating budget.
What happens to the school land? [TL18] [T19]
Ownership of the land and buildings, particularly for church schools, is often complex. As part of the conversion, the school land would be leased to the MAT.
How would services currently provided by the Local Authority be provided?
The MAT would provide all services currently provided by the LA, for example HR, finance and building services. Many of these services are currently sub-contracted by the LA, and the service providers are also used by MATs, including ODST, so in many cases the providers of the service would not change.
What guarantees are in place to ensure that services and support will be provided long-term?
Without a crystal ball it is impossible to say what will happen long-term, either if the school becomes an academy or remains with OCC. Governors are confident that ODST will provide a very good level of support and services in the short and medium-term.
Appendix A - ODST Trustees
Mrs Kathy Winrow (Chair)
Kathy has been a Headteacher for twenty years. She is a National Leader in Education and, in recent years, has successfully supported several schools in raising their expectations and improving their results.
Prior to Headship, she was Lead Inspector-Adviser on School Leadership in Hampshire and worked specifically with 12 schools/colleges. She has also been a registered OFSTED Inspector, and held regional and national positions in education.
She is passionate about improving opportunities for all students and staff, and enabling them to reach their full potential and enjoy their learning.
Mrs Anne Davey (CEO)
Anne is the Diocesan Director of Education for the Anglican Diocese of Oxford. A Theology graduate from Murray-Edwards College, Cambridge, her first career was in retail management, before training as a teacher at Moray House in Edinburgh.
She was Head of Bristol Cathedral School from 2004 to 2007, then School Development Adviser and later Deputy Director of Education in Salisbury Diocese, moving to her current role in 2011.
Dr Priscilla Chadwick
Dr Priscilla Chadwick has been Principal in both state and independent schools and Dean of Educational Development at South Bank University. In 2005, she was elected as the first woman to chair the Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference and is Chair of Governors at Wren Academy in the London Diocese.
Dr Chadwick is a published educational author with a particular interest in church schools and religious broadcasting. In 2008 she was appointed Chair of the Dioceses Commission and is also a member of the Church of England Board of Education. More recently Dr Chadwick chaired the Church School of the Future Review, guiding Anglican church school policy development over the next decade.
Canon Brendan Clover
Canon Brendan Clover is Senior Provost of Woodard Schools and was formerly Dean of Emmanuel College Cambridge, and Canon Precentor of Bristol Cathedral from 1999 to 2006. Brendan is deeply committed to education and to inclusive education in particular.
Sir Clive Booth
Sir Clive Booth has a first class honours degree in science and a doctorate in education finance. He has highly developed skills in governance, finance, management and human resources, research and media relations. He currently chairs an environmental charity and is president of a large civic society. During his earlier career he served in the senior civil service, Her Majesty’s Inspectorate (HMI), and as vice-chancellor of a large university. He chaired national public bodies responsible for the training of teachers and police officers and the pay of one million NHS staff. He has served as a governor on two school governing bodies. His publications have covered education policy and charity governance, among other things.
Mrs Tricia Pritchard
Tricia has extensive experience of education across all sectors, including twelve years of headship in three primary schools in Oxfordshire, ten years as one of Her Majesty’s Inspectors which culminated in her appointment as Policy Lead and Principal Officer for the inspection of initial teacher training and specialist commissioned inspections, and nearly three years as Director of Education for the Diocese of Ely and Chief Executive of the Diocese of Ely Multi-Academy Trust. She has sat on the Board of the Teacher Training Agency, represented Ofsted on the Board of the Training and Development Agency, worked with the DfE on several projects and worked with the National College as an operational associate on their licensed leadership development provision. Currently, she is working as a consultant for Lee Bolton-Monier Williams, conducting external reviews of governance for Diocesan Boards of Education and Multi-academy Trusts, and leading workshops on the academies agenda, including for Dioceses and in schools. Tricia is also working as a part-time education adviser for the Regional Commissioner for the East of England and North-East London. She is a trustee of two multi-academy trusts.
Revd John Reader
For 14 years John served as a Board member of a Stock Transfer Housing Association in Worcestershire, this has given him an insight into and understanding of the processes involved in turning a public service into a semi-private organisation. Now Rector of the Ironstone Benefice, John serves on the governing body of two Voluntary Aided Primary Schools and has been a chair of governors on three previous occasions.
Ms Asta von Stackelberg
Asta holds a BA in Development Studies and History as well as an MA in Anthropology from the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) in London. In her work for the ODST she combines her professional knowledge in international aid and development with the insight gained through more than eight years of school governance and is currently serving on the board of two primary schools in the Diocese.
Rt Revd Colin Fletcher
Colin has held the role of Area Bishop of Dorchester in the Diocese of Oxford since October 2000. His work involves him supporting around 300 churches in Oxfordshire, many of which have close links with their local school, and he is actively involved in the wider community, for example as Chairman of the county-wide Stronger Communities Alliance and in recent work, in response to the closure of children’s centres.
Sarah is a co-opted Governor at Leafield CE Primary School and a qualified Chartered Accountant by profession. She has significant experience across various sectors and is currently the Group Finance Director for a timber organisation.
Rev Dr Megan Daffern
Megan is Chaplain at Jesus College in Oxford as well as being a researcher in the Faculty of theology and Religion at the University.