With extensive experience working for local authorities Darren Ashworth, Associate at berg, looks at academy conversion from an alternative perspective from that of a school. examining some of the principal issues which are likely to require consideration by a local authority and have a knock-on effect on working together with a school towards successful conversion.
Despite a change in political agenda, it is still expected that a number of conversions of local authority maintained schools to academies will occur nationwide in 2017. Any such conversion process inevitably involves significant changes in responsibilities, financial arrangements and working relationships. The impact of those changes on the relevant local authority, and its officers, can sometimes be forgotten in the drive to secure the conversion.
While it is by no means a definitive list, some of the principal issues which are likely to require consideration by a local authority in the context of a conversion include:
- The hope of working with a sponsor or trust who is responsive to local needs and who will, ideally, inspire confidence in the local community, build partnerships with members of the local community and ensure that the school environment remains safe and productive.
- Public perception concerning the transfer of public land (often enhanced at public expense) at nil value to an unelected body (albeit subject to the protections afforded by the Academy Act 2010). For example, in some cases, it may not be appropriate for on-site caretaker accommodation to be included. In other cases, there may be plans for the school premises transferred on conversion to be redeveloped in the short to medium term. The standard conversion documentation does not make any provision for the future surrender of any parts of the school site no longer required post conversion (which, for example, could instead be utilised by the local authority for the provision of housing or for the generation of a capital receipt). It is also worth noting that some local authorities may be keen to secure continued community access to classrooms (for example, for community night or weekend classes) and/or playing fields (for example, for use by local sports clubs).
- Pressure on internal resources (the work involved in a typical conversion process includes, among other things, liaising with the Department for Education, involvement in TUPE and pension transfer issues, financial reconciliations and transfers (including dealing with any deficits), preparation of commercial transfer and land transfer documentation and liaising on data security). It is notable that the standard conversion documentation makes no express provision for the recovery of the local authority’s internal costs and some local authorities have independently developed internal policies insisting on reimbursement.
- Reduction in the provision of local authority services (and the potential impact on officers’ jobs) – some local authorities may be keen to explore the potential for local service level agreements to be established with converting schools which enable continuing local authority provision of services such as catering, cleaning, finance and audit, IT support, asset management, insurance and energy management.
- Concerns over data sharing and the provision of sufficient information to allow, post conversion, monitoring of pupil wellbeing and performance in the borough and the fulfilment of the local authority’s continuing duties (such as safeguarding, elements of transport provision and monitoring of sufficiency of school places in the borough).
Ideally, the converting school, its stakeholders and the relevant local authority will work together in partnership (with a mutual appreciation of the pressures and concerns that can arise from the process) to ensure a successful conversion and, most importantly, the best possible outcome for the children and young people attending the school.
To find out more about the issues raised in this post, or to discuss any queries regarding academy conversion get in touch with Michelle Gray on email@example.com or call +44 (0) 161 829 2599.
The information and opinions contained in this article are not intended to be comprehensive, nor to provide legal advice. No responsibility for its accuracy or correctness is assumed by berg or any of its partners or employees. Professional legal advice should be obtained before taking, or refraining from taking, any action as a result of this article.