Academy Application process for Church schools

Approval by the Diocesan Board of Education (DBE) is required for any Church of England school to become an academy.  Confirmation that such approval has been given is required by the DfE. Standalone academy conversion is no longer a practical option; therefore a school will be joining an existing Multi Academy Trust (MAT). 

There are restrictions on the MATs Church schools can join. It is the Board of Directors of a MAT that bears ultimate responsibility for all its schools. The DBE has limited the number of MAT partnerships it can sustain to where there is Church of England participation at Director level. In all its partnership MATs the Diocese is itself a shareholder (‘Member’).

The following are the MATs that have been approved by the DBE as its partners and the type of schools that can join them:

  Type of school

Multi Academy Trust

VA VC Foundation Community
All Saints Academy Trust Yes Yes Yes Yes
Berlesduna Academy Trust No Yes Possibly Yes
BMAT No Yes Possibly Yes
Canonium Learning Trust Yes Yes Yes Yes
Diocese of Chelmsford Vine Schools Trust Yes Yes Yes Yes
Epping Forest Schools Partnership Trust No Yes Possibly Yes
Genesis Education Trust Yes Yes Yes Yes
Great Oak Academy Trust Yes Yes Yes Yes
HEARTS Academy Trust No Yes Possibly Yes
LIFE Education Trust No Yes Possibly Yes
Mid Essex Anglican Academy Trust Yes Yes Yes Yes
Osborne Co-Operative Academy Trust No Yes Possibly Yes
Unity Schools Partnership MAT No Yes Possibly Yes

DBE approval is a two stage process:

  • Conditional Approval. This is ‘in principle’ approval taking into account the aspirations of the school, its vision and the shape of the Multi-Academy Trust the school intends to join or create. The DBE will be looking for evidence of considered vision, sound planning, good preliminary consultation as well as intention to comply with diocesan guidance and continuing engagement with its officers. The DBE may set appropriate conditions on detailed structures etc. Conditional approval allows a school to apply to the DfE for a grant to cover the legal costs associated with academy conversion.
  • Final Approval. This is normally a formality since diocesan officers and our respective legal teams will have agreed the details of Memorandum and Articles of Association, Supplementary Agreements etc. and the DfE will have conducted its own due diligence process. However, if conditions originally set have not yet been achieved, there might be a delay in granting final approval. It is therefore in the best interests of all parties to work closely together through the whole process.

In considering Conditional Approval, the DBE needs to be satisfied that the school will continue to be an effective church school and that its church school character will flourish as the foundation of its whole educational provision. It will therefore look for evidence of vision, moral purpose and consultation, including with its associated parish(es) who’s approval must also be obtained.

The DBE expects any church school to carry forward into the Multi Academy Trust it seeks to join or form at least the same proportion of church appointed Members and Trustees as its current governing board has (e.g. 51% for VA schools; 25% for VC schools). This is regardless of whether or not there are or may be former community schools in the MAT. VA schools currently enjoy a number of freedoms that VC schools do not (e.g. over Admissions, Religious Education and Staffing). A VC school might therefore consider converting to VA as part of the overall conversion process; it cannot do this after conversion.

Foundation Schools governing boards include the percentage of foundation governors they had when they were formerly VC or VA schools and they can only join an appropriate MAT based on that percentage (e.g. 51% for VA schools; 25% for VC schools).

Once a school has become an academy, responsibility for appointing the Church’s Members and Trustees passes to the Chelmsford Diocese Educational Trust (CDET). This is an incorporated body established by the DBE. The Trust was established because the Chelmsford DBE itself is not an incorporated body. CDET is a Member of every diocesan partner MAT.

Please, contact your School’s Diocesan Adviser or the diocesan Schools Team Office as early in the discussion as possible, and certainly before any provisional decisions are taken. The Team will help you as you move forward. The PCC of the parish church is required to offer its consent at the preliminary stage also since most church schools were established by local churches to educate the children of the parish. It is wise to engage with the PCC, perhaps through foundation governors, as early as possible.

Arrangements must fall within the parameters of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) which has been agreed between the Church of England and the DfE. That MOU provides the working framework within which applications from church schools to become academies will be considered by the RSC, who acts as decision-maker on behalf of the DfE.

The Academies scene is rapidly evolving. You will find here documents on legal process and administrative information. But even more crucial as your school embarks on a journey to becoming an Academy are:

  • vision - in the medium and long term as well as for the immediate future
  • understanding up to date guidance and policy - that of the Diocese, the Church of England; the DfE and Regional Schools Commissioner (RSC)
  • taking account of best practice - which is of course constantly evolving in the light of the experiences of others across the country.

These are long-term decisions with far reaching consequences. They should not be taken on the basis of personal friendships and relationships, but vision, policy and capacity.

The Government's Guidance notes for schools thinking about converting to an academy have several modifications to clarify the situation for Church Schools and the Diocese of Chelmsford in particular. Please make sure that you follow them carefully and check with the Diocese before committing to anything.

If you wish to convert to an academy the first step is to contact the Diocesan Schools Officer for an Application form.