Leader magazineASCL - Association of School and College Leaders

The academies programme

There has been a good deal of publicity about the government's desire to expand the academies programme but, as of yet, far less detail about how the new academies will be governed and funded, and what the process to change status will require.

ASCL has put forward a list of more than 70 questions to Secretary of State Michael Gove seeking clarity about the programme.

What we do know is that under the 'fast-track' programme, schools rated 'outstanding' by Ofsted are automatically eligible; others can apply and put forward a business plan. Although applications from outstanding schools will normally be approved, that will not be the case if they have a deficit of more than 100,000 or other exceptional circumstances apply.

The local authority need not be consulted before a school moves to academy status. Nonetheless, ASCL recommends that extensive consultation be carried out. If the school has an existing foundation, the foundation must agree to the change. Academies are run by academy trusts, which are 'exempt charities'. This means the academy doesn't have to register with the Charity Commission.

One of the main attractions of academy status is the additional funding and schools will receive a 'local authority central spend equivalent grant', which will vary according to the local authority. Early estimates put additional funding at 10 to 12 per cent, but it is likely that the final figure will be less - possibly as low as 3 per cent in some cases but probably 5 to 9 per cent.

ASCL is seeking clarity as to how many years this additional funding will be made available. With the need to cut government spending long-term, it is possible that the additional payments may not be maintained. The experience of grant-maintained schools was that the financial incentives reduced with time.

The proposals to allow the new academies to act outside the provisions of the School Teachers' Pay and Conditions Document (STPCD) will have implications that individual members will no doubt want to consider carefully.

Experience with the current crop of academies is that heads and other senior leaders have been left extremely vulnerable, in some cases with employment conditions much less favourable than under the STPCD.

Once a school becomes an academy, the governing body is free in future to change the terms and conditions of all staff, including the head.

While it appears that schools can register interest in becoming an academy without the approval of the governing body, no doubt ASCL members will want to discuss the implications fully with governors, and consult staff and parents before making a decision. Registration of interest with the Department for Education does not commit a school to going through with academy status.

This is an ongoing process and schools which do not register interest immediately will not lose the opportunity to become academies in the future. ASCL will continue to provide information as it becomes available.

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