What is a Maintained School?
What does it mean to be maintained?
All Community, Foundation and Voluntary schools are maintained schools. They are maintained by the relevant Local Authority under the provisions of the School Standards and Framework Act 1998. This is not particularly to do with buildings but means that the school is funded, supported, advised and resourced by the LA.
The LA’s duty to maintain the school is at the heart of the school’s present existence. Even if an LA is in some respects poor at its job, it is still the body where the buck stops. For example, it must stand behind the Governing Body if legal or employment problems arise and has a range of duties to fund, advise and support Voluntary and Foundation schools in the same way as it advises and supports Community schools.
When a school becomes an academy the buck stops at the academy company. It is responsible for every aspect of the academy both as an educational establishment and as a business. It is Independent. An academy has no automatic back up body unless it has agreed (and funded) back up from its diocese or from other agencies.
However, in some respects the DfE replaces the LA. It controls both revenue and capital funding. Also, the DfE may impose conditions on academies which it is not generally able to impose on other independent schools. These conditions are normally incorporated into the Funding Agreement, the contract between the Secretary of State and the Academy Company under which the academy is run. However, the DfE has no duty to maintain. It has a contract with the academy which it can enforce or terminate in accordance with the terms of the Funding Agreement. The DfE’s only duty to the academy is to pay it: the duties of the academy to the DfE in return are considerable and go beyond the normal duties of an independent school.
The ultimate responsibilities and powers of an academy company lie not with the staff or the governors (even though the latter are the directors of the academy company and have responsibility for the day to day running of the school). The buck stops with the members of the academy company who must be prepared to accept this responsibility. Because of this, the membership of the company is treated in detail in the Model Documents and it is why the Supplemental Agreement is an essential element for all Church of England converters, especially for VC and Foundation Minority ones.
Church of England schools were designated under the School Standards and Framework Act 1998. A school can acquire or remove a religious designation only by closing and re-opening as a new school. When a school converts into an academy it is not closing and re-opening and may not acquire or remove a designation in the process. It would have to apply to the Secretary of State to become an additional school under sections 9 and 10 of the Academies Act 2010 if it wished to become a new academy and gain or remove a religious designation. No Church of England school may lose its designated character without also losing its site and buildings.
An independent school can in theory remove or acquire a religious designation without closing. However, the model documents are so drawn as to make removal impossible. This both protects the religious character of the school into the future and protects the trusts on which the existing trustees own the school site. There seems to be nothing to prevent an academy acquiring a religious character subsequent to conversion. It is uncertain at this stage how the DfE would react to such a proposal, but it must in principle be possible. Any ordinary independent school could certainly make this change.