Deborah Austin

BUDGET 2016 and working towards becoming an academy

In last week’s budget the Government reiterated its aim that every English state school be released from local council control and turned into an academy by 2020.

School governing bodies nationwide have been aware of this proposal for some time and many will have been considering when would be the best time for them to convert and what process they want to follow.

Academisation can be undertaken independently or in a group of schools (Multi Academy Trust); many schools will already be involved in a school cluster or local network arrangement and may leverage these contacts in deciding what path to follow.

Up to now schools have had various options for working together:

  • Soft Federation – this is an informal arrangement between schools to help drive improvement and attainment, and raise standards. There is no change to the existing Governance arrangements and both the school and its Board maintain their autonomy.  Skills sharing or mentoring should be encouraged to include the Governors as we are never too old to learn something new.
  • Hard Federation – this formal arrangement had been encouraged by local authorities and is again an arrangement between schools to help drive improvement and attainment, and raise standards.
    However this does entail a change to the Governance structure and should be looked at carefully and with proper due diligence.  An overarching Board (Federated Governing Body) is appointed with membership representation from all schools in the Federation, preferably following a skills audit and voting process.  Individual schools in the Federation also have a Local Board (usually made up of the former governing body members) to continue to oversee Performance & Standards, Resource Management; etc. these bodies then feed back to the Federated Governing Body.
    This arrangement can also result in cost savings and efficiencies from the improved bargaining position but can only be used for up to 3 schools. Those schools already in a multi school federation will be well placed to convert to Academies over the next few years.
  • Academy & Multi Academy Trusts (MAT’s) – this formal arrangement is that encouraged by the Government. It also entails a change to the Governance structure and should be looked at carefully and with proper due diligence.  An overarching Board of Trustees is appointed made up of business professionals and representatives from the schools within the Trust.  There are some differences in the legal responsibilities of the Board of Trustees to a Board of Governors and the legal position must be made clear to all members; however there is some Government funding available for the conversion process although the amounts available are reducing.
    For MAT’s cost savings and efficiencies from the improved bargaining position can be achieved, and services bought in from the LA can be brought in house or a specialist appointed at a lower cost.
    Most schools use CAPITA-SIMS accounting software which has the advantage of the LA payroll department being able to send monthly payroll and ad-hoc personnel information direct to the school accounting software.  However Academisation will relieve the school of the requirement to use LA services and allow both payroll services and changes to financial software to be implemented.

Given the 5 year window for conversion it is unlikely that many schools will now look to form a Hard Federation however the Soft Federation model will allow schools to test the water if they are looking to form a MAT.

For many schools the choice to Academise has been a response to an OFSTED judgement of Inadequate.  By Academising you are removing the judgement as the school effectively no longer exists and you now have 2 – 3 years to work at raising standards and attainment without the worry or reassurance of an OFSTED monitoring visit.  OFSTED now have a new category of “Coasting schools” so if you are not caught as an underperforming school you may be caught as a Coasting school and encouraged to along the academy path.

Governors have a responsibility to look into what is involved in converting to an Academy and what format is best for their school.  If the Board start the process themselves it will be their choices that count; however if it is an OFSTED judgement that forces the School to become an Academy the Board may find themselves replaced with little or no representation on the MAT or local Board’s.

To see how Dafferns can assist your school please contact Deborah Austin or Geoffrey Cox