Academy Application Process

Church school Academies: Introduction

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) or forming a new school-led MAT with other schools. Each church school will need to go through its own conversion process.

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 active 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).

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. They should follow the VA or VC models as applicable in what follows.

The Diocese of Chelmsford has published Guidance. It explores the options for church schools in this diocese. You should begin your exploration by reading this document.

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 Academy/MAT.

The Diocese wishes there to be a good academy home for any church school that wishes to convert. There are three Structure Options that the DBE is willing to consider. 

Option A -  Join the Diocesan Vine Schools Multi-Academy Trust

Option B -  Join an existing church school-led MAT

Option C - Create, with other schools, a new church school-led MAT

In most cases this is likely to be the Diocese’s own Multi-Academy Trust (MAT), the Vine Schools Trust. Joining the Vine will mean not simply joining a large MAT, but with a smaller grouping of more local church schools - a hub – within the Trust.

In some cases it could mean joining with an existing church school academy and forming or expanding a school led MAT together.

It could even mean starting an entirely new church school-led MAT. However, bear in mind the importance of establishing something that will have a longer term viability.

Please read the Guidance carefully before considering establishing a mixed-MAT (i.e. one that includes both church and non-church schools). It will be essential there are sufficient church-appointed Directors (51% if involving a VA school; 25% if only VC schools). Think long-term.

Please, contact your School’s Diocesan Adviser or the diocesan Schools Team Office as early in the process as possible, and certainly before any provisional decisions are taken. The Team will help you as you move forward. Arrangements must fall within the parameters of a Memorandum of Understanding 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.

The Following information has been taken from the Government's Guidance notes for schools thinking about converting to an academy. There are several modifications to clarify the situation for Church Schools and the Diocese of Chelmsford in particular.

1. Before you apply

How to prepare for your school's application to convert to an academy.

2. Apply to convert

Links to the academy conversion application forms, and information about notifying your local authority.

3. Set up or join an academy trust

What actions to take following approval of your academy conversion application.

4. Transfer responsibilities to the academy trust

What responsibilities you should transfer to your academy trust as part of your school's conversion to academy status.

5. Prepare to open as an academy

What final preparations you should complete before your school can open as an academy.

6. Open as an academy

What actions you should take in the first few months after your school opens as an academy.

It should be noted that there are several steps in the process that will require the Diocese to be involved and there will be a charge for supporting the process.