1. Before you apply
How to prepare for your school's application to convert to an academy.
It should be noted that although all these steps are part of the process when joining a larger trust, some of them are simplified because the trust is a known entity.
Register your interest
Before you apply to convert to academy status, the Department for Education (DfE) recommend that you fill in and submit a registration of interest form to let them know that you are interested in becoming an academy. Before doing that we would strongly recommend that you understand what type of trust you are joining or creating and what responsibilities you are taking on by looking at the next few stages first:
- Become familiar with the academies financial handbook
- Consider the different types of academy
- Get consent
Once your registration of interest is received, you will be contacted and given the name of your DfE project lead. Your project lead will work with you throughout the conversion process and answer any questions you may have.
Larger Multi-Academy Trusts (MATs) are familiar with the conversion process and many of the Department's project leads, and will be able to guide you through the process.
Become familiar with the academies financial handbook
Before you begin the application process, it is recommended you read the ‘Academies financial handbook’.
This document will help you understand the financial responsibilities of an academy trust.
Please bear in mind that if you are considering joining an existing MAT they will already be familiar with the Academies financial handbook and will have their own compliant financial procedures and processes in place which you will have to follow. If this is the case it might be better to ask for a copy of the finance regulations for the MAT to familiarise yourself with their requirements rather than the Academies financial handbook.
Consider the different types of academy
Diocese of Chelmsford schools have three options available as detailed in the document 'Diocese of Chelmsford Academy Guidance in a Nutshell'
The 3 academy Options are:
- Option A - Join the Diocesan Vine Schools Multi-Academy Trust
- Option B - Join an existing Church School-led MAT or create one with an existing standalone church school academy
- Option C - Create, with other church schools, a new church school-led MAT
It is important to remember when considering joining or creating a MAT that there are restrictions on the make-up of the Trust Board and Membership depending on the type of school you are. You can only join a trust where the church has the same or greater representation amongst the Members and Directors as your existing governing body. i.e. A VC school can only join a trust where there is at least one in four members and directors who are church appointed. A VA school can only join a trust where there is at least one in two members and directors who are church appointed. Foundation schools can also only join trusts which follow or exceed the church representation from their governing body. This is supported by the Memorandum of Understanding between the Church of England and the DfE as outlined in the document 'Diocese of Chelmsford Academy Guidance in a Nutshell'
As part of your application you will also need to provide evidence of how the stronger schools in your proposed MAT will help the weaker schools to improve.
If your school is part of a federation, i.e. where 2 or more schools are working together under 1 governing body, you must comply with the School Governance (Federations) (England) Regulations 2012, including the amendments that came into force on 1 September 2015.
According to these regulations, any federated school that wishes to convert to academy status must have the support of at least 50% of its ‘prescribed governors’ before applying.
The following types of governors are ‘prescribed governors’:
- the headteacher
- parent governors
- staff governors
- foundation governors
If your school is part of a federation, let your project lead know at the outset.
Consent from your governing body
Although this comes after the section on registering your interest you are strongly advised to get the governor's agreement before completing the registration of interest.
Before your school can apply to become an academy, the governing body has to meet and pass a resolution to convert. You should keep a record of this resolution in case it is asked for later in the process.
Consent from the multi-academy trust (for schools joining an existing multi-academy trust)
If your school is applying to join an existing multi-academy trust, the trust has to confirm that they are happy for your school to join them. Bear in mind that if your conversion has been directed because of a poor Ofsted the MAT will be able to apply for additional funding of at least £45,000 towards school improvement.
You will need to send the DfE a copy of the trust’s consent later in the conversion process.
You should also keep a copy for your records.
If you are proposing to join the Vine Trust they have experience of the process and will manage and guide you through it including liaising with the project lead making this unnecessary.
Consent from your trust or foundation (for foundation schools and voluntary schools with a foundation)
If a trust or foundation is responsible for appointing any of your school’s governors, then you must get the trust or foundation’s written consent before you can apply to become an academy. This includes the PCC but not the Diocese who's permission is dealt with below
You will need to send the DfE a copy of their approval later in the conversion process.
You should also keep a copy for your records.
Consent from the Diocese
Church schools all require the permission of the Diocese before you can apply. To do this you need to contact the DBE. On receipt of your application you will be sent a form to complete asking for details of your proposed conversion to be considered at the next appropriate meeting. You will be sent a conditional approval to start working through the process but final approval is withheld until the DBE is satisfied that the legal documents are correct.
You will need to send the DfE a copy of the approval later in the conversion process.
You should also keep a copy for your records.
Prepare for your application
The first step ot conversion is deciding which of the three options you will be applying to convert to as this will affect how your project lead evaluates your application.
You should discuss your school’s finances and performance with your project lead before you apply.
Your project lead will also be able to give you advice and answer any questions you may have as you prepare your application.
The DfE consider applications on a case-by-case basis. Schools that want to convert to an academy will need to demonstrate that they are in a strong enough position to do so. They will look at:
- your school’s exam results from the last 3 years
- the progress your pupils have been making over the last 3 years
- your most recent Ofsted inspections
- your school’s finances
They will also ask for the names and experience of the people that will be part of your academy trust’s governance structure. You will need to discuss this with the Diocese before getting final permission for conversion. Get in touch with your project lead to discuss how academy governance works before you apply.
If you are unsure whether you meet the eligibility criteria for converting to academy status, discuss this with your project lead.
We recommend that you let staff members, parents and pupils know that your governing body is considering applying for your school to become an academy.
If your school has a separate unit that offers education for children with special educational needs (SEN) or alternative provision, you should let them know about your plans to apply to convert to an academy.
If your school has a children’s centre or nursery, it would also be worth discussing your intention to become an academy with them.
You should also let your local authority know about your plans to apply to become an academy when you apply.
If your school has a PFI (private finance initiative) contract, you must let your project lead know before you apply to become an academy.
Your project lead will then guide you through the additional steps that you, the local authority and your PFI provider will have to take during the conversion process.
Schools with PFI contracts usually take a minimum of 6 months to convert.
Seek legal advice
You need to decide where you will go for any legal advice that you will need during the process. We strongly recommend you use the same solicitor as the Diocese. You will be responsible for the Diocese's legal fees and there is a considerable saving in using the same firm.
However, you should not appoint a solicitor or legal adviser until you have been granted your academy order.
Get an actuarial assessment
An actuarial assessment will help you understand how much money your academy trust will have to spend on pension contributions for any staff members who are part of the Local Government Pension Scheme.
We recommend that you get an actuarial assessment now because the outcome could affect your decision to apply to convert to an academy.
There are 2 ways of getting the assessment. You can either:
- ask your local pension scheme provider to give you the actuarial assessment
- commission your assessment from an independent actuary - you will have to cover the costs for this out of your conversion grant.
The Diocese holds land records for most schools and will work with the solicitors as necessary.
If you are a voluntary-controlled or voluntary-aided school, the local authority will usually own the playing fields, and the diocese or trust will usually own the school buildings.
If a trust or foundation is responsible for appointing your school’s governors, you must also get them to confirm that they are happy for the school’s premises to be used as an academy. You should keep a copy of their approval for your records.
You should compile a list of any:
- service-level agreements
- Sport England or Football Association grants
that your school’s governing body and local authority hold. You will need to make arrangements to transfer or re-negotiate all these contracts and agreements later in the conversion process.
Transfer of staff: discuss the TUPE process with staff
We recommend that the employer of your school’s staff starts informal discussions with all employees about your school’s conversion to academy status at this point. This will help you complete the TUPE process more quickly later.
Please be aware, however, that the formal TUPE process cannot begin until you have been granted your academy order.
The employer of the school’s staff must comply with The Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations 2006.
Employees are entitled to seek compensation from their employer if the TUPE process is not followed correctly, so we recommend that your governing body consults your legal adviser as early as possible.
If your school is a voluntary-controlled school, then the employer of your school’s staff is the local authority. Ask your local authority to discuss the conversion with staff.
If you are a foundation or a voluntary-aided school, the employer of your school’s staff is the governing body. It will be responsible for discussing the conversion with staff.
A guide about the TUPE process is available.