1 in 5 sixth form colleges starts academy conversion process

1 in 5 sixth form colleges starts academy conversion process

A fifth of sixth form colleges have already sent formal proposals to convert to academy status, the academies minister has revealed.

Lord Nash (pictured above) made the announcement in front of more than 100 college leaders at the sixth form college association’s conference in London today.

Schools Week’s sister paper FE Week previously reported that around 70 per cent of sixth form colleges had registered an interest in becoming an academy following recommendations in their area’s review of post-16 education.

Schools Week also previously reported that Priestley College, in Warrington, Hereford sixth form college, Rochdale sixth form college, and New College Pontefract had started formal proposals.

But Lord Nash’s comments today mean that around 18 of the country’s 93 sixth form colleges are now in official discussions with the Department for Education to change status.

He told the conference: “As academies minister I am really pleased with the way in which sixth form college’s have responded to the opportunity of converting to an academy.

“Over half of you have expressed an interest in converting and a fifth have already started a formal process to make the change.

“This will, I’m sure, bring great benefits to you, the schools you work with and the education system as a whole.”

Sixth form colleges were first told about the opportunity to convert in November 2015. At the time, former chancellor George Osborne said that becoming an academy would allow colleges to avoid paying VAT – which costs an average £317,000 per college.

The colleges can either convert a standalone academy, or as a multi-academy trust – either by joining an existing MAT or setting up a new one.

The Sixth Form College Solihull is expected to be the first sixth form college to blend into an existing MAT if plans are approved for it to join Ninestiles academy trust from the start of the next academic year.

Sir Dan Moynihan, chief executive of the Harris Federation which runs 41 academies, also spoke at today’s conference and urged all sixth form colleges to convert.

He said that while staying as a college would give leaders the “autonomy used by independent schools”, academy conversion would give them the opportunity to make a “system impact” and reduce costs during a time of declining budgets.

“Clearly there is the advantage of avoiding VAT, but there is much more than that,” Moynihan said.

“You lead powerful and high-quality organisations and, in some ways, you are a model for what the government ultimately wants the whole education system to look like.

“My contention is academisation will allow you to continue what you do now, but in a way that could further strengthen your colleges by broadening your reach, strengthening your finances and capacity and allowing you to have a system impact.

“Whichever model you choose logically you would wish to provide central services from within your group and you will be able to charge a budget top slice to do this, and if done well it is an opportunity by which you can drive economies of scale and reduce your own costs.”

He added that the latest funding agreements with the DfE allow the budgets of academies in a trust to be “pulled and reallocated”, which creates the “flexibility to allocate funds based on needs”.

Speaking to Schools Week after his speech Moynihan said that while he could understand some college leaders may prefer not to convert, it is “probably a good move for the country for the majority to do it”.