Academy option reopened for sixth-form colleges

The government is to reopen the option for sixth-form colleges to academise – widening its pool of potential sponsors.

Nearly all sixth-form colleges have been able to convert to academy status since George Osborne, then chancellor, changed the rules in November 2015.

Many took up the opportunity as it freed them from VAT bills.

However, the window of opportunity closed in March when a government review into post-16 colleges ended.

The Sixth Form Colleges Association (SFCA) has been campaigning for the “arbitrary” deadline to be extended indefinitely – and sister title FE Week understands the Department for Education has agreed.

“This is a welcome and sensible development and we expect updated guidance to be published later in the year,” said James Kewin, the deputy chief executive of the SFCA.

It is not known, however, whether colleges will have to pay the full conversion costs themselves, which can range between £40,000 and £90,000. Schools get a £25,000 conversion grant if they academise.

Kewin added: “This guidance could bring some consistency to the type of academisation that is permitted and hopefully confirm that the academy conversion grant available to schools will also be available to sixth-form colleges.”

The change makes sense for the government, which is under pressure to widen its pool of good academy sponsors.

John Abbott, the principal of Richard Huish College, Taunton, said his college was unable to academise through the area review process because of the “complexities of providing education for international students”.

He said this remained an “on-going issue”. The Huish Group now included one secondary and four primary schools, as well as the sixth-form college.

Abbott said there was a “growing logic and desire that the college becomes a 16 to 19 academy in order to formally consolidate” into a trust.