Two in three sixth form colleges seek academy conversion after rule change

Almost two-thirds of sixth form colleges (SFCs) have registered an interest with the government in converting to an academy, it has been revealed.

According to the Sixth Form Colleges’ Association, about 60 of the England’s 93 sixth form colleges have registered an interest with the Education Funding Agency, the first stage in the conversion process.

The news comes after two colleges in Hampshire unveiled plans to set up a multi-academy trust.

The change to the rules governing sixth form colleges was announced by the chancellor George Osborne in November, following a long campaign by the institutions, which are currently liable to pay VAT, while other 16 to 19 institutions like academies are not.

But the Department for Education confirmed in February that academy status would only be considered for sixth form colleges as part of its nationwide review of post-16 provision.

Applications for academisation would be judged “alongside other recommendations arising from the review”, the department’s guidance said.

Sixth form colleges have the option to convert as either a standalone academy, or as a multi-academy trust – either by joining an existing trust or setting up a new one.

On June 9, Richard Taunton Sixth Form College, in Southampton, and St Vincent College, in Gosport, announced a new “working partnership”, with a view to the new trust being launched by September 2017.

Both colleges are part of a review of post-16 provision in the Solent area, which forms part of a series of reviews across the country aimed at encouraging institutions to merge with others.

Alice Wrighton, principal at Richard Taunton, said: “We are really excited about this opportunity.

“As we are the first colleges in the south to set out to develop an SFC MAT framework, we will be defining our own unique working model.”

Matt Atkinson, the St Vincent principal who also used to run Richard Taunton, said: “I know from my roles at both colleges that they share the same vision, ethos and values, so when I learned about multi-academy trusts, I immediately thought this would be a perfect fit.”

James Kewin, deputy chief executive of the Sixth Form Colleges’ Association, told Schools Week’s sister publication FE Week that it was “too early to say” how many colleges would be setting up a trust.

He said: “In terms of the detail of whether that’s a multi-academy trust or a standalone academy, or whether it’s with schools, you have to give an indication of that through the area review process, but there’s an additional process you have to go through about actually applying.

“That’s where a lot of the detail comes from.”

But he said most colleges that decided to academise would “probably look at” the option of setting up a MAT.

He said the advantages of that option were twofold: “Firstly you’re establishing it on your terms, and secondly you’ve got scope then for other institutions to join you over a period of time.”

Kewin, who said the association gathered the information on registrations of interest from discussions with members, was not aware of any SFCs having applied to convert to an academy.

As previously reported by FE Week, East Norfolk SFC, Lowestoft SFC and Paston SFC are in talks about forming a trust in the future.

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