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What is an Academy?

What does the government intend by this new academy programme?

The government provides the opportunity for large numbers of schools to convert into academies, thereby gaining greater autonomy (freedoms) in respect of finance, curriculum, employment and the organisation of the school day, week and year. An academy has no necessary relationship to its Local Authority and is not maintained by it. It is bound by the terms of its Funding Agreement to collaborate with the LA (e.g. over admissions and the care of pupils with special educational needs).

What does it mean to be an Independent School?

An Independent school is separate and independent from the state, run by a private company, or trust (perhaps also charitable) that delivers an education service that parents wish to buy.

The legal framework of independent schools is found in the Independent Schools Regulations which depend on the Education Act 2002. It is much slighter than that obtaining for maintained schools.

Is an academy just like all other independent schools?

An academy is different to other independent schools. Its contract is with the government, not the parents, and the government can impose conditions through the Funding Agreement which are not imposed upon other independent schools. However, an academy is like other independent schools: it is the academy company that is responsible, just as though it were the owner of a commercial educational enterprise.

Is an academy a business?

An academy is not run for profit, but otherwise it does need to be run as a business with a single customer - the government. This is very different from ordinary independent schools, where the customer is the individual parent. An academy therefore needs a business plan (as indeed does a maintained school) but not be the same kind of business plan as an ordinary independent school, except to the extent that the number of parents wishing to send their children to it will dictate its income. This contractual relationship to government with a practical relationship to local parents contains some very real potential tensions.

So who owns the business?

The academy company owns the business and the members own the academy company. This is more like the trustee ownership model than the foundation school with a foundation ownership model. Note that the government presumes that the governing body members of a converting community school would (each individually) become the company members. In the Church of England context there is a real tension here between concepts and models which can spill over into governing body/diocesan relationships if the process of potential conversion is not handled openly and carefully by all parties. The model documents are set up to prevent the companies of Church of England academies being comprised of individual persons (e.g. the previous governing body members) who themselves appoint their successors without the involvement of the school trustees or their Church proxies. We advise that, in order to safeguard the Church of England character of the school and the trusts on which the sites are held, the companies of Church of England academies must be based around Church of England corporate bodies. These become the core owners and are given powers in the models to protect the school’s character and ethos into the future.  The corporate body used by the DBE for the Diocese of Chelmsford is the Chelmsford Diocese Educational Trust (CDET)

Who runs the business?

The governors in a single academy run the business. However, in a Multi-Academy model it is the directors who do so, with local governing bodies which may have substantial delegated powers subject to those powers being removed at will by the directors. This is a requirement of the Charity Commission. Also, as noted above, the members are responsible for their company. They appoint most of the directors (in the multi-academy model) and most of the governors (in the single academy model). The members can remove and replace directors/governors at will without the procedures that surround the removal of governors in maintained schools. Hence, the members have much greater powers of intervention than do the trustees of maintained schools. The model documents are set up to secure this power firmly in the hands of Church of England corporate bodies in the majority model (for VA and Foundation majority converters). In the minority model (for VC and Foundation minority converters) the position of Church of England bodies as foundation members and foundation governors secures (as far as possible) the powers that are required to protect the character and ethos of the school – worship, RE, employment and the various powers of the DBE either under the Measure or (as in the case of admissions for example) under other legislation.

Does becoming an academy mean leaving the family of Church of England schools?

No. Indeed it could be the way to closer and stronger relationships, especially for VC and Foundation schools. It is essential to approach conversion with this continued and close relationship in mind. Dioceses will in turn need to consider how they can offer support (under various sorts of service level agreements) to their academies. They will need a range of these. Dioceses could also broker (and manage?) mutual self-help services between academies or themselves group together to provide strong regional services where this seems appropriate. There may be a role for some national services (school standards perhaps) and the National Society will discuss such possibilities with dioceses and schools.

Does it mean leaving the Local Authority family?

Yes. An academy cannot be considered part of the LA family, but it could still work in partnership with the LA and collaborate with it whenever possible. An academy may well find it helpful to buy in services (eg payroll) from its LA at least initially if the LA is willing to provide them.

What are the academy freedoms?

Academies are not actually as free as might be supposed, and are significantly less free than other independent schools. However, they are not bound by (a) the school teachers national terms and conditions (b) the same for non-teaching staff (c) the National Curriculum (d) the Basic Curriculum (e) the school day week or year except in so far as elements are imposed by the Funding Agreement. Academies are also not covered by the extensive laws and Regulations that govern much of the detail of the life of maintained schools – again except in so far as these are imposed in the Funding Agreement and its annexes. Academies are bound by the Admissions Code but not by Maintained Schools Staffing Regulations. Mapping out this new framework of freedoms is a considerable task and we advise that schools should be cautious but also be aware that they can be more experimental and creative than in the very highly regulated maintained sector.

What are the revenue consequences of converting?

On the one hand the school will have 100% of its revenue budget without any LA top-slicing. The latter can be a significant element in some areas. On the other hand, the school has to buy in services it currently gains from the LA out of the top slice. It also needs to budget for unexpected demands. The costs of a major court case for example may not all be recoverable from insurance. So the extra revenue is not all gain. However, the academy has power to be able to use its full budget as it wishes. If an academy develops a deficit it will have to cut expenditure to recover the position, even if the deficit has been caused by circumstances outside its control.

What are the capital consequences of converting?

This is uncertain. However, there will be capital that the academy will get anyway (but we presume it will be free to spend on non-capital if it wishes).That capital will always come at 100%, so the 10% VA governors’ contribution disappears. How larger capital grants will be made available and prioritised is not yet clear, much less what scale of capital is likely to be available in the near to medium future. Academies will always get their fair share worked out in some way and their plans and aspirations will be entirely in their own hands (subject to the consent of the trustees).