ACADEMIES ACT ROUND UP
The Academies Bill received Royal Assent on 27 July
What is the current status of Academies and free schools post the Academies Act?
Governors have to consult whom they believe is appropriate during the process of transforming into an Academy. Consultation can take place between being granted an Academy order and signing the Academy funding agreement. The Government expects governors to consult parents. Government amendments were made to require the Secretary of State to consider whether establishing an ‘additional school’ (i.e. a free school) would have an impact on maintained schools and existing academies, and to require those who wish to set up an additional school to consult with persons thought to be ‘ appropriate’.
All Academies had been required to have one elected parent and one governor appointed by the local authority. Beyond this, Academies were free to determine their own governance arrangements. There will now following the new Act be at least two parents on Governing bodies of Academies .
Academies must abide by the Admissions code. Nick Gibb said – ‘We are committed to fair admissions through the code, and all academies will be bound by it through the model funding agreement’.
Fair access protocols are established by the local authority and the requirement to take part in them is set out in the school admissions code. Since participation is a requirement of the code, it is applied to academies in the same way as other aspects of the admissions code, through the funding agreement. This means that academies, along with all maintained schools in a local area, will take their fair share of hard-to-place pupils, including those previously excluded from other schools. Gibb said that “The funding agreement is crystal clear about the compliance requirements.” The admissions code requires all schools, including academies, to give priority to looked-after children when making decisions as to which children to admit. That does not change as a result of the Act.
Academies funding agreements require them to act in accordance with the law on exclusions as if the academy were a maintained school, and to have regard to the Secretary of State’s guidance on exclusions.
New Schools Network
The NSN is acting as the first point of contact for groups wanting to set up a free school, and provides information and advice on the process of setting up a new school.
Free Schools – demand
Free schools, known as additional schools in the Act, will have to show that there is a demand for a new school in their local area .Nick Gibb said “ A free school proposal will be required to demonstrate parental demand and support. Where there is such demand, we will not turn down the proposal simply to protect other local schools.” Gibb also said “ we expect groups to provide evidence of this demand, perhaps through a petition or a declaration from interested parties, but in every case demonstrating clear evidence of unmet local need, not just expressions of support”.
Free schools- local impact
Secretary of State will now be obliged by statute to take into account the impact on other schools of any new school established under the Bill. That is now in clause 9.
Free schools; Legal status
Free Schools will have the same legal requirements as academies. Free Schools are normally brand-new schools set up by charities, universities, business, community or faith groups, teachers and groups of parents where there is parental demand. Academies are usually a change to an existing maintained school. Legally the structure is the same, and they are expected to meet the same requirements as other academies. Free Schools will also benefit from the same freedoms and flexibilities as academies, see below:
Free schools and Independent schools
Independent schools can apply to become a Free School and become state-funded independent schools. These schools will need to meet the entry criteria – including an agreement that their admissions policy is in line with the Admissions Code, demonstrate they have a good record of success as an education provider and financial viability. Independent schools applying to become Free Schools will not be able to retain any existing academic selection admission arrangements.
Independent schools wanting to apply need to follow the outlined process and start by filling out the proposal form.
The Act tightens up the requirement on SEN. Amendments to the Bill in the Lords gave children with special educational needs greater rights to admission to academies than existed in previous academies legislation, and new requirements for funding for low-incidence special needs have been added. One important additional fact that emerged was that there will be a Green paper in the autumn on SEN which will look at SEN, more generally, and include LA, Academies and free school support. The Government also intend to review funding from 2011 onwards. It will be working closely with local authorities and other partners, and the Minister confirmed “that we will give specific consideration to the funding of SEN services. A SEN advisory group is also being established.
Community Engagement, Cohesion
On community engagement, Gibb said the model funding agreement specifically states that academies should be at the heart of the community and share facilities with it. In a concession the Government will add to the funding agreement ‘ an explicit requirement that academies will be required to be at the heart of their communities, to promote community cohesion and to share their facilities with other schools and the wider community’
The Act removes the requirement to consult the local authority before opening an academy
The Act deems academy trusts to be exempt charities. Meaning that they have Charity status but are not regulated by the Charity Commission
Reporting to Parliament
There will now be an annual report to Parliament on the Academies scheme.
The ‘academy freedoms’ the Secretary of State has identified include:
freedom from local authority control
the ability to set their own pay and conditions for staff
freedom from following the National Curriculum
greater control of their budget
greater opportunities for formal collaboration with other public and private organisations
freedom to change the length of terms and school days
freedom to spend the money the local authority currently spends on their behalf
The DFE academies website (FAQ section) states that the funding for existing schools converting to academy status will be based on the level of local authority funding already calculated for the school, plus additions for central services that would normally be provided by the local authority (LA) and to cover VAT. Grant payments to academies to replace local authority services will depend on the level of central expenditure in the LA, and may vary considerably from area to area. The DFE has produced a ready reckoner which gives schools an estimate of the funding they might receive. There will also be a contribution to the costs of the conversion process, which will be a flat-rate grant, normally £25,000. The Bill’s Impact Assessment estimated the average cost of conversion at £78,000 per academy or £66,000 without VAT. It added that the cost to the DFE could be reduced to £25,000 per academy if the rest of the costs were met from the existing balances of converting schools.
The Government has stressed that becoming an academy should not bring about a financial advantage or disadvantage to a school, rather the change is to enable converting schools to have greater freedom on how they use their budgets, and other freedoms. However, commentators have questioned the effect of the changes on non-academy local schools, the ability of local authorities to provide central services where many schools in an area become academies, and the funding implications where schools converting to academy status have surpluses or deficits, for example.
153 schools have said they wish convert so far, which includes about 45 primary schools, at least 12 faith schools and more than 20 grammar schools. Critics suggest this is a disappointing figure, but set against the figure of the 200 Academies currently up and running , it is in fact reasonably impressive, particularly given that the original Academies scheme has been running for over eight years .