Guidance

Become an academy: information for schools

How schools can convert to become academies.

Academies are publicly funded independent schools that are not managed by a local authority. They can set pay and conditions for their staff and also change the length of their terms. Academies don’t have to follow the national curriculum.

Maintained primary and secondary schools, special schools, alternative provision schools and 16 to 19 providers can all apply to become an academy. A school can convert on its own if it is performing well, with the support of a sponsor, or as part of a group of schools (an academy chain).

Schools can’t acquire or remove their faith character, expand, become mixed or single sex, or introduce selection as part of the conversion process.

Once converted, academies are run by an academy trust, which is a charitable company limited by guarantee.

Conversion usually takes around 5 months, but the process could move more quickly, or take longer depending on your school’s circumstances. Schools convert on the first day of the month.

All the documents you need to convert to an academy are available online.

Converting as a single school

Schools that want to convert as a stand-alone academy need to demonstrate that they are in a strong enough position to do so. We will look at the following criteria to decide if you are performing well enough to convert:

  • the last 3 years’ exam results, which must be above floor standards, and whether they are above, or moving towards national averages
  • comparisons with exam performance in similar schools and those in the local area
  • the most recent Ofsted inspection, which must show that you are an outstanding school or that you are good with outstanding features - we will look in particular at what Ofsted says about the school’s capacity to improve and the effectiveness of the leadership team
  • assurance that the school is in good financial health
  • any other information the school thinks would help their application and any exceptional circumstances that we should be aware of

If you’re converting as a stand-alone school you will be expected to support another local school when you become an academy.

Converting as part of a chain

Schools can convert together as part of a multi-academy trust or an umbrella trust. Converting as part of a chain means you can share staff and expertise, and make savings when buying goods and services. Additional funding is available for multi-academy trusts where most of the schools are primary.

You can convert with schools you already work with, or begin a new relationship with a school before starting the conversion process. Each school in your chain needs to submit a separate application and each governing body must pass a resolution to convert to become an academy.

If a school is already in a ‘hard federation’, where 2 or more schools are working together under 1 governing body, the governing body should submit an application covering all the member schools.

Although there aren’t conversion criteria for chains of schools, as part of your application you will need to provide evidence of how the stronger schools in the chain will help the weaker schools to improve.

If you are a faith school, some dioceses find it useful for their primary and secondary schools, whether they are voluntary aided or voluntary controlled, to convert in chains. This way they can support each other and be supported by their diocese. It is also possible for non-faith schools to join multi-academy trusts with Church of England academies while retaining their non-faith status.

Multi-academy trust (MAT)

All academies in a MAT are governed by one trust and a single board of directors.

The board of directors is responsible for decisions relating to how each academy is run, from the curriculum to staffing. The MAT can establish a local governing body for each of its academies, to which it can delegate some of its functions. The MAT remains accountable for these functions.

Umbrella trust (UT)

Each academy has its own trust, but all the schools in the UT can share governance and procurement of services.

If a group of schools wants to convert as part of a UT, each school converts separately, but will set up an umbrella trust to join together. The schools can agree that the UT will appoint governors or members of the trusts in each of the schools, and set a joint vision.

Registering an interest

You can download a schools checklist, which lists the things you should consider when deciding to apply to become an academy.

To speak to us about becoming an academy, you should register your interest by completing our online registration form.

We will get in touch to discuss your registration.

Submitting your formal application

If you decide to formally apply, you’ll need to do the following before you submit your application:

  1. Your governors should meet to pass a resolution to convert. If you are a foundation school or voluntary school with a foundation, your governing body will need the support of your trustees and anyone who can appoint foundation governors. If you are a faith school, you will need the approval of your diocese.
  2. You should start informal discussions with staff, parents and pupils.
  3. Ask the landowner (usually your local authority) to gather land registration documents and information. Your solicitor will need this information when preparing your land questionnaire later on in the conversion process. If you are a voluntary school, or foundation school with a foundation pre-dating the Education and Inspection Act 2006, your trustees, and those entitled to appoint foundation governors, may have an interest in the land. If they do, they will need to agree that you can continue to use the land and premises for the academy.
  4. Compile lists of contracts, assets, service level agreements and licences held by the governing body and local authority. These will eventually need to be transferred or renegotiated.
  5. Decide where you will go for any legal advice you’ll need during the process.
  6. Identify at least 1 weaker school in your area that you will support once you have converted. You will need to include details of this school as part of your application. If you are performing well and converting as part of a chain you can support a weaker school in your chain. Support should start in the first term after you convert.

You can download the application form and send it to us. Include any copies of supporting letters from the foundation and the trustees, if applicable.

You will be asked to include your school bank account details in this form. Schools wishing to convert to academy status receive a £25,000 conversion grant to contribute towards legal expenses and other costs incurred by your conversion, and we will pay this grant into your account once your application has been approved.

If it is agreed in principle that the application can go forward, the Secretary of State will approve an academy order, and write to you and your local authority to confirm the decision.

Setting up the academy trust

After your academy order has been approved, the next step is to set up your academy trust. To do this, you (or your solicitor) will need to complete a memorandum of association and articles of association and agree them with the Secretary of State. Model versions are available, and amendments to these should only be proposed in exceptional circumstances.

Complete and return your memorandum of association and articles of association to your project lead as soon as possible after you have received your academy order.

The academy trust must have at least 3 members, who will establish the trust. The members appoint the academy’s governors. Initially your school’s existing governing body will decide who should be the members of the trust and who should be the new governors. If you’re a foundation school or a voluntary school with a foundation, the foundation will also be involved in this decision.

You can be both a member of the trust and a governor, but keep the number of members relatively small. Think about the kind of expertise that would benefit your school when appointing members and governors.

The composition of the new governing body will be agreed between the academy trust and the Secretary of State, as set out in your articles of association. There are legal requirements regarding the number of parent governors and the proportion of governors who can also be academy employees.

When the department tells you the memorandum and articles have been approved, you can register your academy trust with Companies House.

Faith schools

Faith schools should use one of the model documents. These have been agreed with the churches via the National Society and the Catholic Education Service when they apply to convert:

  • model 1 is for Church of England voluntary aided schools where the diocese board of education or the trustees of the school appoint the majority of the governors
  • model 2 is for former voluntary controlled schools where the diocese board of education or the trustees of the school do not appoint the majorityof the governors
  • model 3 is generally used by Catholic schools

Each of these models preserves the character, ethos and role of the religious authority of the school.

Consultation

You should start consulting those with an interest in your school about whether it should become an academy. The consultation must be completed before your school and the Secretary of State sign your academy funding agreement.

Allow time for everyone with an interest to respond and ask questions. Your governing body will decide who to consult, how and how long the consultation will run. Faith schools should also consult their diocesan board or relevant religious authority.

Transfer of land and buildings

Your solicitors will deal with the legal arrangements for the land transfer. They will also conduct searches, and title and covenant checks, which you may need to discuss with your local authority, governors, or an existing foundation body.

The trust will need to enter into a leasehold agreement with the current landowner, or seek agreement from the landowner to transfer the freehold to the trust.

Your solicitor will complete a questionnaire on ownership and usage of the school’s land, after consulting our academy land transfer guidance. The questionnaire should be submitted as soon as possible after your academy order has been granted.

Transfer of staff

The current employer of your school’s staff will need to start the formal Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations (TUPE) process once you have your academy order. You can take your own specialist legal advice on TUPE, although we expect that for most schools, the local authority will be able to advise on the TUPE process.

For community schools or voluntary-controlled schools, the employer will be the local authority. Tell them as soon as you have applied for academy status, so the TUPE process can be started early.

For voluntary-aided and foundation schools the employer will be the existing governing body.

Staff and their representatives are entitled to information from their current employer in relation to the transfer of employment.

The employer must write to employee representatives, usually a union. In some cases they must consult representatives and individual staff. Compensation can be awarded if this process is not followed correctly, so governing bodies need to take legal advice if they are the employer of the school’s staff.

The current employer must write to tell employee representatives:

  • that the conversion and transfer is to take place
  • what the implications are for employees
  • any action or arrangement the employer is planning in connection with the transfer that affects staff or their working conditions - the employer must allow enough time for a consultation between providing this information and the actual transfer
  • any action or arrangement the employer thinks the academy trust will take in connection with the transfer that affects staff and their working conditions

The academy trust must write to the employer to inform them of any action or arrangement the trust is planning in relation to staff.

Pension registrations

The academy trust will be responsible for the pension arrangements of its staff, even if the local authority is acting as payroll provider for the academy. The occupational pension schemes are the local government pensions scheme (LGPS) for non-teaching staff and the teachers’ pensions scheme (TPS) for teaching staff. TPS is managed by Capita Teachers’ Pensions.

Academies’ funding agreements require them to offer LGPS membership to all non-teaching staff and TPS membership to teaching staff.

Existing staff who are already members of the LGPS or TPS will be unaffected, and after conversion any new staff will also be able to join the LGPS or TPS.

Email Teachers’ Pensions as soon as your academy order has been signed to let them know that you are in the process of converting.

Contact details

Teachers' Pensions Academies Team

Shared use agreement

Where you have shared facilities, such as sports centres, you will need to draw up an agreement between your academy trust and the relevant parties to set out the arrangements including hire charges and terms of use.

Building work

You need to agree who has responsibility for completing works to make sure that unfunded liabilities for ongoing building work don’t pass to your academy trust after you convert. You should agree with your local authority or whoever else is involved how the rest of the work will be paid for, before signing your funding agreement.

Commercial transfer agreement (CTA)

This records information about staff transferring to the academy so their salaries and pension contributions will continue to be paid. It includes details of assets and contracts that will transfer to the academy trust and those that won’t. The CTA needs to be agreed between the trust and the employer (usually the local authority) before the academy opens.

The model CTA should be used with no changes, except in exceptional circumstances. If you want to make significant changes, discuss them with your project lead first.

Loan repayments

If you have a loan from your local authority, responsibility will normally transfer from the governing body to the academy trust, and repayments continue from the general annual grant (GAG) funding you receive as an academy. The transfer should be reflected in a legal agreement between your local authority and the trust. This could be done either by adding it to your CTA or in a separate agreement.

Sign your funding agreement

Your project lead will work with you to make sure that all legal documents relating to governance, land, property, staff transfer and company registration, as well as your consultation, are completed.

Your trust and the Secretary of State will then sign the funding agreement for the academy, stating when the academy will open. Model academy funding agreements are available. Amendments to the wording of your funding agreement should only be proposed in exceptional circumstances.

When you’ve signed the funding agreement you will keep the same establishment number but Edubase will send you a new unique reference number (URN). It will be used by EFA to calculate funding and by Ofsted when your academy is inspected.

Diocesan loans

If your school has a diocesan loan, the academy trust should sign an agreement with the diocese to continue repayment as previously agreed. The liability to repay the loan normally transfers from the current governing body to the trust, and this should be reflected in a legal agreement between the diocese and the trust.

The principal or headteacher of a single academy trust should be appointed as the accounting officer. In the case of a MAT the chief executive should be appointed as accounting officer. The role of accounting officer includes a personal responsibility to ensure financial regularity and value for money.

The board of trustees must appoint a statutory auditor to certify the academy trust’s accounts. They must also appoint a principal finance officer to act as the trust’s finance director or business manager. This position can be filled by a salaried member of the trust’s staff, or a contractor.

More information is in the ‘Academies financial handbook 2013’.

Insurance

Your trust will be responsible for insurance. You must be insured from midnight of the date of conversion.

Your insurance must cover:

  • premises and contents – at replacement cost, against damage by subsidence, fire, lightning, explosion, storm, flood, riot, malicious damage, terrorism and similar risks
  • business interruption
  • employer’s liability and public liability insurance
  • any statutory motor transport insurance

More information on insurance is available.

Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO)

You must tell the ICO in writing that the academy is opening and will be responsible for processing personnel and pupil data. If you don’t it’s a criminal offence. The information you give will be added to the ICO register, which is open to the public. You’ll have to pay a fee of £500, but you can use some of your grant to pay for this.

Inform exam bodies

Contact the National Centre Number Register to let them know your change of status, and any change of name. All awarding bodies will then be told and you won’t have to contact each one separately. As an academy, you can continue to use the same exam centre number.

Contact details

OCR: National Centre Number Register queries

Upgrade your financial systems

You must decide whether your existing financial systems are suitable for the requirements of an academy, as you will have to produce management accounts, cash flow reconciliations and balance sheets.

Contracts and licences

You will need to look at the contracts your school holds with external suppliers and your local authority, for services such as catering, cleaning, security and ICT.

If you want to keep a contract with an existing supplier, discuss with them how to transfer it to the academy trust.

Software licenses will need to be renewed or transferred to your trust.

Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) checks

All members of staff, governors and members of the trust must have a current Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) check before being appointed. Any check on the chair of governors must be sought through the department and countersigned by the Secretary of State. Your project lead will tell you how to go about this.

School balances

The academy will inherit the closing financial balance at the date the school ceases to be maintained by the local authority. This will apply whether the balance is a surplus or a deficit.

Support

Once your school is an academy, EFA will be your main source of support. They have a dedicated email address for open academies.

Contact details

EFA academy questions

For all academies and free schools with queries for the Education Funding Agency

Questions about teaching schools and leaders of education

The National College for Teaching and Leadership (NCTL) helps schools, including academies, get in touch with national and local leaders of education.

Contact details

Help desk

Opening hours: Monday to Friday 9am to 5pm GMT, excluding UK bank holidays.

Peer-to-peer networks

You may also want to seek advice from peer-to-peer networks of academies, such as:

  • Freedom and Autonomy for Schools – National Association (FASNA)
  • The Independent Academies Association (IAA)
  • The Schools Network (SSAT)
  • National Association of School Business Management (NASBM)

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