Academy status – some choose it, others have it thrust upon them

Chancellor George Osborne used his joint spending review and autumn statement to announce that sixth form colleges would be able to convert to academy status.

He said a benefit for colleges would be that they no longer had to pay VAT.

VAT has drawn some attention since the summer with regard to its complexity where hiring out facilities is concerned.

The announcement of more academies to swell the ranks of the existing 5,000 is consistent with the message that conversion is no longer exclusive to failing schools.

But while the types of institution falling within the funding model get broader, struggling schools are still within its sights, with new legislation raising the possibility of forced conversion.

The Education and Adoption Bill 2015-16 allows for government intervention in the case of ‘coasting schools’ – a term the bill does not define. In the past, ‘failing’ was denoted by an ‘inadequate’ rating from Ofsted. New yardsticks will widen the scope. Furthermore, the backdated period in which progress is gauged could be as long as three years.

Conversely, warning notices could be quick and come from the Secretary of State, who is enabled by the bill to supersede any previous warnings from a local authority. And performance standards – however loosely defined by ‘coasting’ – are just one set of criteria by which judgment will be made. A breakdown in governance could also trigger the warning notice – no longer contestable by way of representations to the Chief Inspector.

Initially, the procedure may see the government requiring collaboration with another school, having a say in the appointment of members to the governing body. But the bill has scope for mandatory conversion and would come by way of an order imposed by the secretary of state.

At Milsted Langdon, we are experienced in helping academies comply with the financial requirements that conversion brings. While such duties remain the same under forced conversion, the goalposts are moved somewhat in that schools will not have been planning for the change. For further information about conversion and its financial implications – and more importantly, how we can help – please contact us.

Posted in Academies.