Last reviewed on 11 April 2022
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Be clear on each step of the academy conversion process so you know what you need to do from start to finish. Use our handy checklist to keep track of the tasks to complete, to make sure everything's covered.

This article is aimed at the chair of governors, and it's based on the detailed guide to the academy conversion process from the Department for Education (DfE) - the chair, or your headteacher, will be completing the steps outlined in here.

Conversion should take around 6 months according to the New Schools Network, so make sure you're clear on the steps as well as your role throughout this process. 

Download our checklist

Download our checklist for the conversion process so you've got all of the steps you need to follow at your fingertips, and you can tick them off as you go:

The rest of this article details what we've included in the checklist - so we'd suggest reading the article before using the checklist. Plus, there are some FAQs at the end.

Step 1: before you apply

  • Register your interest
    • Once you've filled in and submitted the form, you'll be given the name of your DfE project lead
  • Read the Academy Trust Handbook
  • Read the good practice guidance for academy trusts
  • Consider the different types of academy (see the sub-section on this directly below)
  • Get consent (see the sub-section on this below)
  • Prepare for your application
  • Initiate informal discussion with staff, parents and pupils
  • Tell your DfE project lead about any private finance initiative (PFI) contracts your school has
  • Seek legal advice
  • Get an actuarial assessment
  • Ask the school’s landowner to gather all land registration documents
  • Compile a list of any:
    • Contracts
    • Assets
    • Service-level agreements
    • Licenses
    • Sport England or Football Association grants
  • Discuss the Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Employment (TUPE) process with staff

Get more detail on each of these items in section 1 of the DfE's guidance.

Consider the different types of academy

Schools can choose whether they wish to convert:

  • As a single academy
  • As part of a multi-academy trust (MAT)

Discuss the 2 different models with your DfE project lead - they'll be able to help you decide the best option for you.

To be able to convert as a single academy:

  • Your latest Ofsted rating must be at least 'good'
  • Your pupils' attainment and progress must be high
  • You will need to prove that your school's finances are healthy

If you convert as a single academy, your school will be expected to support at least 1 other local school when you convert.

To convert as part of a MAT, you can join an existing trust or you can set up a new trust with other schools.

To create a new MAT, you can either:

  • Convert with schools you already work with
  • Start a relationship with a new school

Each school must submit a separate application, and you'll need to provide evidence of how the stronger schools will help the weaker schools improve.

If you're part of a federation, let your DfE project lead know. You must have the support of at least 50% of your 'prescribed governors' before applying. These governors are:

  • The headteacher
  • Parent governors
  • Staff governors
  • Foundation governors

If you'd like to find out more about how academy governance works, read our article.

Get consent 

From your governing board: your board must meet to pass a resolution to convert, before you apply. Keep a record of this resolution safe - the DfE might ask to see it later in the process.

From other bodies depending on your school type:

  • If you're joining an existing MAT, the trust has to confirm that it's happy for you to join - you'll need to send the DfE a copy of the trust's consent letter later in the process
  • If you're a foundation school or voluntary school with a foundation, you must get written consent from the trust or foundation before you can apply to become an academy. Keep a copy of the approval safe - you'll need to send the DfE a copy later
  • If your school has a religious character, you must get written approval from the relevant religious body (for example, the local diocese for a church school) before you can apply. Again, you'll need to send the DfE a copy of the approval letter later

Step 2: apply to convert

Complete the application form

Mainstream schools: the DfE will only accept applications made via this online form

If you started your application to become an academy using the previous online form or a downloadable form, then you'll need to use the new form (linked to above). This is because the deadline to submit the old version has passed (14 August 2020).

Special schools: you should use the paper application form available here.

Pupil referral units (PRUs): you should use your designated application form available here.

Notify your local authority (LA)

Make sure you let your LA know of your plans to convert when you apply - it may have internal processes or timescales that you need to bear in mind.

Particularly if your school has:

  • A private finance initiative (PFI) contract
  • A deficit with a recovery plan agreed with the local authority
  • Major building works financed by the local authority

Then the process might take longer as you may have to go through elected members to get your LA's approval.

This is outlined in section 2 of the DfE's guidance

Step 3: set up or join an academy trust

After your academy conversion application has been approved, you will:

  • Be granted an academy order - this can take 2-6 weeks (after which you’ll receive a support grant to spend on the conversion process, and information on how much funding you'll get after conversion)
  • Prepare to set up your academy trust - this includes appointing a solicitor, having a formal consultation, completing the land questionnaire, and making sure your solicitor submits your draft funding agreement, memorandum and articles of association to your DfE project lead
  • Set up the academy trust (if you're establishing a new academy trust) - this includes appointing your academy trustees
  • Appoint your academy’s local governing body (if you’re establishing or joining a MAT)
    • Be clear on how many trustees you can have on your board in our article

Get more information in section 3 of the DfE's guidance, or get in touch with your DfE project lead for advice.

For all the documents you need, see the section 'set up or join an academy trust' on the DfE website here.

Step 4: transfer responsibilities to the academy trust

You'll be leaning on your solicitor for the tasks in this section. This part of academy conversion involves:

  • Land arrangements
  • Commercial transfer agreement (CTA)
  • Staff
  • Shared facilities and building works
  • Loans
  • Contracts with external providers

For more details, see section 4 of the DfE's guidance.

The DfE recommends you prioritise land issues early on as they can often be tricky, time-consuming and cause delays. This is explained in its important dates for academy conversion documents.

Step 5: prepare to open as an academy

Schools always open as an academy on the first day of the month. To open in your chosen month, you must complete all the necessary paperwork associated with the conversion in the previous month.

Depending on which month you choose, the DfE outlines the important dates and deadlines for sending documents and information to the Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA).

There are other final preparations you need to make. You need to:

  • Finish the statutory consultation - the governing board should review the responses and decide on what actions to take. You'll contact your project lead to let them know the outcome
  • Sign 2 undated copies of the final funding agreement - you'll sign this and publish a copy on your school's website when it opens as an academy
  • Open your academy’s bank account
  • Appoint academy officers and auditors
  • Register with the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO)
  • Make sure you have insurance
  • Make sure staff, governors and members have current Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) checks
  • Set up a complaints procedure - see our model complaints policy
  • Contact 'get information about schools' - this is to issue your new unique reference number (URN)
  • Notify exam boards - if you're a secondary academy, contact the National Centre Number Register on 01223 553 600 to let them know about your change to academy status

This is outlined in section 5 of the DfE's guidance.

Step 6: open as an academy

After your school opens as an academy, you'll receive a welcome letter from the ESFA outlining the steps you'll need to take within the first few months of opening.

You'll:

  • Receive your first payment from the ESFA
  • Submit your support grant expenditure certificate - send this to your DfE project lead
  • Publish your final funding agreement on your academy's website
  • Submit financial returns to the ESFA - find out more about them here
  • Complete your academy's land and buildings valuation - do this within 6 weeks of converting
  • Get support after conversion - contact the ESFA if you need any more information or advice
  • Be able to seek advice from peer-to-peer networks

Get more details in section 6 of the DfE's guidance

Frequently asked questions (FAQs)

Can we bring forward the academy conversion date?

You can, in theory. But it depends on whether it's feasible to do so within the DfE's indicative timescales for conversion. This includes whether the DfE can clear all the necessary documents.

If your school's in this position, contact your DfE project lead. A representative from the DfE explained this to us.

Can we delay the academy conversion date?

Speak to your DfE project lead in the first instance.

Whether you can delay your conversion date will depend on what stage you've reached in the process. 

However, bear in mind that some academy conversions are delayed out of necessity, normally because required steps have not been completed in time.

A representative from the DfE told us this.

Can the chair apply to convert without a governing board resolution?

No - if the chair did this, they would be acting without the authority of the governing board and would be open to legal challenge. 

A representative from the DfE explained this to us.

Does a MAT need a 'lead' school?

No - you're not required to designate one of the schools as the 'lead' school in a MAT.

But some MATs do identify one of their schools as the 'lead' school. This school "sets the pace" of the MAT and supports the other schools.

A representative from the DfE told us this.

Does a single academy need to change its articles of association when forming a MAT with maintained schools?

If a single academy converts to a MAT, then the change will need to be reflected in its articles of association and funding agreement. This is outlined on page 36 of 'Making significant changes to an open academy'.

But you should still contact your DfE project lead who'll be able to give you advice on your specific situation. 

While the single academy's articles might be adapted to form the articles for the MAT, this doesn't mean the current academy will become the MAT's lead school. Maintained schools in this type of arrangement can still contribute equally to the MAT's formation.

Our associate education expert, Brendan Hollyer, told us this.

Can a hospital school become an academy?

If a hospital school is designated as a maintained special school, it's eligible to apply to convert to academy status. These schools should follow the same process as other special schools.

A representative from the DfE explained this to us.

Can a nursery school become an academy?

Maintained nursery schools cannot become academies. A representative from the DfE told us this. 

Sources

Brendan Hollyer is the vice-chair of governors at a primary school and an all-through special school. He has been a national leader of governance since 2014 and provides training and support to schools in the south east. Brendan has also worked as the director of conversions and governance for a multi-academy trust.