Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
St Michael's Primary School is now an Academy, and is part of Salisbury Plain Academies, a multi-academy trust. Please click on the questions to expand the answers.
What is an Academy?
Academies are classed as independent state-funded schools, which have the freedom to determine some of their own policies. They aim to provide a free, first-class education for pupils of all abilities through a fresh approach to school leadership, teaching and learning. They offer a full, broad and balanced curriculum. This is enabled by the Academies Act 2010. Primary, infant, junior and secondary schools are all able to apply to convert into an academy and are accountable to the Secretary of State rather than the Local Authority.
Academies are managed by their own academy trust and are not the responsibility of the Local Authority. Academy trusts are given directly the money which would have been given to the Local Authority, so academies can choose how best to spend that money on the provision of education.
What is a Multi Academy Trust (MAT)?
All Academies are run by an Academy Trust. A Multi Academy trust is a single Trust which runs more than one academy. The Multi Academy Trust is the statutory Governing Body of each of its academies. It is a charitable company limited by guarantee, which means it may not make any profit, and because it is publicly funded it is subject to judicial review and to the Freedom of Information Act like any other public body. The trust has a formal agreement, or contract with the Department for Education (DfE) which sets out the parameters in which it must operate as well as being subject to charity law, public law (being publicly funded) as well as general company law.
Four schools - Avon Valley College, Bulford St Leonard’s, Durrington All Saints and St Michael’s School, originally converted to academy status and formed the Salisbury Plain Academies multi-academy-trust. Since conversion, two further schools have joined the multi-academy trust: Pembroke Park and Netheravon All Saints Primary schools.
Who decides which schools convert to an academy?
The decision for any school to become an academy rests with its governing body. Parents whose children attend the school in question along with local community stakeholders will be consulted on their views about the proposals. When a governing body makes an application for a school to become an academy, the application is considered by the Department for Education. Ultimately the Secretary of State for Education will decide whether or not to approve the application from the governing body, this decision function is delegated to the local Regional Schools Commissioner.
The Governing Bodies of the four schools that proposed to become academies within the new Salisbury Plain Academies trust resolved to become academies in July 2014, and submitted their academy conversion applications to the DfE. Full conversion to academy status took place on the 1st July 2016.
Can a school convert without the support of the governing body?
Generally, no. Anyone can register an interest in their school becoming an academy but the governing body has to agree for the school to apply to become an academy.
Under recent legislation, subject to limited circumstances, when a school is in difficulty (ie, where a school is either failing or “coasting”), the Secretary of State is able to make an Academy Order without an application from the governing body.
Can a faith school i.e. a Voluntary Aided/Controlled school or Catholic school be part of a Multi Academy Trust?
Yes, but this is subject to the prior agreement with the Church of England or Catholic Diocese. This agreement will be with conditions designed to protect the distinctive religious characteristics of such schools, and the conditions vary. Generally speaking, a Catholic School may only join a Multi Academy Trust with other Catholic Schools, but the conditions for Church of England schools are more flexible in some Dioceses.
The Diocese of Salisbury fully supports the proposed plans put forward by the four schools and has given its consent for the CofE schools to become academies within the new Salisbury Plain Academies trust.
If our school becomes an academy, will they be able to spend the majority of time teaching or will they have to spend it on bureaucracy?
The Multi Academy Trust allows schools to focus on teaching and learning, allowing the trust itself to handle all the bureaucracy.
Do schools need to consult before converting?
Yes. All schools are required to carry out a consultation but it is up to them to decide with whom and how to consult. There is no specified length of time for the consultation and schools have flexibility in how it is conducted.
Academies may wish to consult with a range of people and organisations, for example:
local schools and the local community
the Diocese and other local trusts
local councillors and politicians
Why would a school want to convert as part of a multi academy trust?
A MAT, as a single legal entity, allows schools to achieve strong collaboration and to use this collaboration and accountability to drive up school standards. Where there are underperforming schools in the group, representation in the trust can ensure there is sufficient challenge and support to turn those schools around. Equally where there are strong high performing schools in the chain, being part of a MAT enables closer sharing of best practice to improve standards further.
The MAT can also agree to delegate as much or as little power down to advisory boards of the schools involved, which again allows each MAT to define where decisions are made according to the circumstances of the schools involved.
Being part of a MAT can also help the schools to target intervention resources more directly to improve outcomes for children.
Having the MAT as employer of the staff at all schools also allows flexibility around sharing resources to meet the needs of the individual schools involved.
The MAT can also provide a clear, consistent strategy and vision across a group of schools working together which can offer exciting career development opportunities within the group of schools.
MATs can often negotiate contracts and services that achieve much better value for money than if each school was to negotiate individually.
What are the main responsibilities of the MAT once the schools have converted and the trust opened?
Typical activities include:-
Setting a strategic direction for improvement of educational attainment
Ensuring that the right infrastructure is in place to deliver the necessary changes to support the educational improvement (leadership & management)
Challenging progress in all areas of the schools’ operations whilst providing support and guidance aimed at promoting success
Responsibility for the performance of the academies, including monitoring and where necessary establishing a plan of action to improve performance
Setting up committees with a specific focus to monitor aspects of academy life
Leading involvement with parents and the wider community, to promote the MAT and support community regeneration
Ensuring value for money and good use of public funds, and leveraging in other finance and resources when needed
Championing the MAT in the wider community in order to bring new resources to the schools and the trust, for example through holding events, arranging mentoring and building links with business
The Governing Body
How will the role of governors change if our school becomes an academy?
All academies in a MAT are governed by one trust and a single Board of Trustees.
The Board of Trustees is responsible for decisions relating to how each academy is run, from the curriculum to staffing. The MAT will establish an advisory board for each of its academies, to which it can delegate some of its functions. The MAT remains accountable for these functions.
Within Salisbury Plain Academies every school will have an Academy Advisory Board made up of representatives from the school, the trust, the parents and the community to respond to the context, needs and resources of its school community and its connections to the wider world. A core principle of the Salisbury Plain Academies model is the assumption of strength in centralised governance and support, alongside local empowerment for culture, ethos and community engagement.
Governance of Academy Trust
How will the Multi-Academy Trust be governed?
The MAT will have a group of Members and a Board of Trustees.
The “Members” are like shareholders in a commercial company, they appoint the Trustees to run the MAT, and are the only people able to amend the Articles of Association of the Company (and for this they require consent from the Secretary of State and any religious Diocesan Authority). The “Trustees” are those people who actually run, determine policy, and make decisions for the MAT. They are the statutory Governing Body of each academy within the MAT.
An Academy Advisory Board has been established for each of the schools within the MAT. This approach has been discussed and agreed with the Diocese and the Regional Schools Commissioner on behalf of the Secretary of State to ensure the model is fit for all schools within the MAT.
Will our school have to change its faith / non-faith status?
No. Each of the schools will convert and retain its distinctive ethos and status as either a faith or non-faith school. The structure of the Academy Advisory Board for each school in the MAT will be reflective of its current status as a Voluntary Aided, Voluntary Controlled or Community school.
As referred to above, the MAT enters into a “supplemental funding agreement” for each school, and these vary according to the type of school. In addition, the constitution of the MAT (it’s “Articles of Association”) distinguish between Church of England and Community Schools.
The MAT is committed, both in terms of its vision and legal obligations, to maintaining the individual ethos of each school, and the Articles of Association of the MAT stipulate that the individual ethos of each type of school shall be maintained.
Special Education Needs
My child has special education needs. How can I be confident that they will be given the same level of support, attention and care?
The Academies Act 2010 and the Children and Families Act 2014 (Part 3) require academies to follow the same statutory framework for special needs as local authority schools.
Schools will receive funding for children with existing statements of special educational needs and, from September 2014, Education, Health and Care (EHC) plans in the same way, whether they are academies or local authority schools. If children have statements/EHC plans with an enhanced package of support, both types of school will get additional funding directly from the local authority, again, in the same way.
Where children have special needs, but do not have an EHC plan, once again, academies are required to have regard for the SEND Code of Practice 2014, in exactly the same way as local authority schools. This means that in both types of school, children will be supported according to the level of need and involvement of external agencies.
Under the 0-25 SEND Code of Practice 2014, all schools, including academies, are required to identify and address the SEN of the pupils that they support. Mainstream schools, which include maintained schools and academies that are not special schools, maintained nursery schools, 16 to 19 academies, alternative provision academies and Pupil Referral Units (PRUs), must:
use their best endeavours to make sure that a child with SEN gets the support they need – this means doing everything they can to meet children and young people’s SEN
ensure that children and young people with SEN engage in the activities of the school alongside pupils who do not have SEN
designate a teacher to be responsible for co-ordinating SEN provision – the SEN co-ordinator, or SENCO. (This does not apply to 16 to 19 academies.)
inform parents when they are making special educational provision for a child
prepare an SEN information report and their arrangements for the admission of disabled children, the steps being taken to prevent disabled children from being treated less favourably than others, the facilities provided to enable access to the school for disabled children and their accessibility plan showing how they plan to improve access progressively over time.
There is a member of the Board of Trustees or a sub-committee with specific oversight of the schools’ arrangements for SEN and disability. School leaders should regularly review how expertise and resources used to address SEN can be used to build the quality of whole-school provision as part of their approach to school improvement.
Will the schools’ uniforms change?
Salisbury Plain Academies did not change the uniforms at the time of conversion.
School uniforms may still change in the future, but as with any school, this would follow a process of consultation.
Will the schools’ names change?
No, except that the Church of England Schools will no longer have “VA” or “VC” in their title. (They will still retain all the characteristic of a VA or VC school, and will still be called “Church of England”, but in legal terms VA and VC refers specifically to maintained schools).
School names may still change in the future, but as with any school, this would follow a process of consultation.
Who deals with complaints about schools that have converted to academy status?
Parents/carers who have a complaint about their child’s academy school will need to contact the academy directly, and follow the Complaints procedure that is available on the school websites. Academy schools are independent of the local authority. The local authority has no authority to investigate complaints.
What if my complaint is around my children’s Special Educational Needs?
The procedure for complaints around special educational needs is the same for academies as for maintained schools.
If there are extended services provided by an academy or on the same site, for example a Children’s Centre, will these be affected by the change?
When a school becomes an academy the local authority has to take a detailed look on how extended services are provided. These services will continue to be available for parents, pupils and the wider community but we need to ensure that they operate on the correct legal basis. Parents should be assured that academy status is not about removing important extended services that may be offered in your locality.
Funding to the schools within a MAT continues to be allocated on an individual academy basis.
Funding is governed through a master funding agreement between the Secretary of State and the MAT and a supplemental agreement between the Secretary of State and each school within the MAT.
How is academy funding calculated?
Most funding for the running of academies comes from the general annual grant (GAG). This is paid to academies by the Education Funding Agency (EFA), based on a formula provided by your local authority. The EFA will tell the Trust and schools how much GAG funding the Trust and the schools will get and how the grant has been calculated. The GAG is made up of:
school budget share – calculated on a comparable basis to the running costs of maintained schools in the same local authority
education services grant – allocated to academies based on the number of pupils they are responsible for, to buy services no longer automatically provided by the local authority
Will we get more money as an academy?
Academies receive the same level of per-pupil funding as they would receive from the local authority as a maintained school plus additions to cover the services that are no longer provided for them by the local authority.
The Government is clear that becoming an academy should not bring about a financial advantage or disadvantage to a school. However, academies have greater freedom on how they use their budgets, alongside the other freedoms that they enjoy.
Can schools convert with a budget deficit?
The DfE will consider conversion applications from schools with deficits, but approval to convert will be subject to a number of additional checks. If a school is predicted to continue to operate in deficit after the conversion, then the academy trust must be able to show how it can recover this deficit to the DfE as part of the process for the DfE to approve the application to become an academy.
After the conversion your local authority must finalise each school’s closing balance within 3 months of the conversion date.
If the agreed closing balance is a surplus, your local authority must pay it to the academy trust within 1 month of finalising the amount.
If the agreed closing balance is a deficit, by agreement between the DfE, the Trust and the local authority, the DfE will either settle that amount with your local authority, and the academy trust will set up a repayment plan with the EFA after conversion; or the academy trust will make their own arrangements to repay the deficit directly with the local authority.
What will happen to the school’s surplus budget when it converts to an academy?
The academy will inherit the closing financial balance at the date the school ceases to be maintained by the local authority. This will apply whether the balance is a surplus or a deficit.
Will academies be forced to buy in expensive services?
No. Academies are not forced to buy in any type of service by particular providers. The experience of academies to date is that they can buy in services more effectively for themselves which leads either to better quality or lower prices meaning they can make savings and re-invest money elsewhere. They are free to buy back the services from the local authority or find them elsewhere.
All academies are required to take out insurance and have arrangements in place to help academies secure best value for money.
All academies must abide by the rules and regulations laid out in the Academies Financial Handbook - This sets out the financial management, control and reporting requirements with which academy trusts must comply and requires academies to follow public procurement regulations and therefore have a procurement policy. A key aspect of this is that academies are required to make decisions that are in the public interest, and to submit to accountability through openness and transparency.
What will happen to the various service contracts that a school has in place?
Academies will need to look at the contracts their schools hold with external suppliers and the local authority, for services such as catering, cleaning, security and ICT. If they want to keep a contract with an existing supplier, they will need to discuss with them how to transfer it to the academy trust. Software licenses will need to be renewed or transferred to the trust.
Academy trusts must also decide whether their existing financial and management information systems are suitable for the requirements of an academy and multi-academy trust, as they will have to produce management accounts, cash flow reconciliations and balance sheets.
Will we have to raise our own capital funding as an academy?
No. All schools, including academies, will be able to apply for Government capital funding.
Capital spend for VA schools is part funded by their Diocese. On academy conversion, the Diocese will transfer any capital funds held for the school, or inform the trust of any capital owed to the Diocese by the school. This is part of the procedure of “due diligence” through which the MAT ensures that each school is financially viable. After conversion, VA schools no longer need to find the 10% “Governor Contribution” to capital projects.
What happens if there is a capital emergency at the academy? Would it have to cover costs?
Academies are eligible to seek an earmarked annual grant from the Education Funding Agency (EFA) for emergencies, in the same way the LA can pay a maintained school a contingency payment.
Academies are required to take out insurance at specified minimum levels of cover to protect against potential capital emergencies. The DfE would expect schools to use their existing budgets to cover the cost of this.
What support is available to academies if they get into financial difficulty?
Academies, like all schools, are expected to maintain strict budgetary controls and are required by their funding agreement to balance their budgets.
The academy receives ongoing Grant (‘General Annual Grant’) which covers the running costs of the school. The EFA monitors academies’ financial position on behalf of the Secretary of State, and if a deficit occurs or appears likely, will intervene. It will provide advice and support to the academy to find an appropriate solution to bring costs and income back into balance, usually in the form of a restructuring plan, and will give additional contingency funding if absolutely necessary.
What does the conversion process involve?
The conversion process has been made as simple as possible for all schools. The key steps the school must take are all explained in the Department for Education’s conversion guide and may differ according to the type of school and who owns the buildings and land.
The areas of work are related to any legal transfers of land or assets, regularising any leases, financial review and budget setting, TUPE transfer (whereby all staff transfer with continuity of service, retaining as closely as possible their existing terms and conditions) and HR work.
In addition, support to transition the governance structure from a Governing Body to a multi-academy trust is also provided.
Most schools are able to convert in around four months. It can, however, take longer where there are further issues to resolve such as arrangements for running a nursery or complication relating to land ownership. It may also take longer for schools converting and forming a new MAT where they need to develop the new governance arrangements and agree these with several parties.
Can the school withdraw from the conversion process?
Schools are able to withdraw right up until the point that they sign the Commercial Transfer Agreement, and strictly up until the point where the Secretary of State signs the Funding Agreements. Once these are signed there is a legally binding agreement between the Secretary of State and the academy, and the termination would require a long notice period (seven years).
Who pays for the cost of converting to an academy?
Total costs for conversion will vary from school to school. In exceptional circumstances (for example if the school is involved in a PFI contract and needs additional legal advice) support above this level may be agreed.
Where a number of schools are converting together and forming a MAT, additional grants are sometimes made available to support the development of the new MAT arrangements.
How will ownership of the land work if our school becomes an academy?
The community school sites are generally all owned by the local authority who will grant a 125 year lease, rent free, to the academy trust for the purposes of running the school only. The trust cannot sell, share or sub-let the site or any part of it without the consent of the local authority and the Secretary of State.
The playing fields at Church of England schools are also typically owned by the local authority, and leases will be granted as above, with the same restrictions.
The buildings and hard play areas at the Church of England schools are typically owned by the Diocese. The Diocese will enter into an agreement for each Church of England school allowing the trust to use the site for the purposes of operating the school only. This agreement does not have a fixed period, but runs with the Funding Agreement for the school, so the basic notice period is 7 years. Again, the trust cannot sell, share or sub-licence the site to anyone.
Where land is owned by the school or a foundation trust associated with the school, specific circumstances will be agreed the trust will not be able to sell, share or sub-let to anyone without the consent of the Secretary of State for Education.
These agreements are another means by which the distinctive religious characteristic of the Church of England schools is protected.
Transfer of Staff
What happens to the staff when a school becomes an academy?
When converting to Academy status, all employees of a school, whether they are employed by a local authority or a school’s governing body, are entitled to transfer to the employment of the new academy trust at the point the school converts. This takes place via the Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations 2006 (commonly known as ‘TUPE’) which protects employees’ terms and conditions of employment when their employment is transferred from one employer to another. In the case of a multi-academy-trust (MAT) - all the staff in all of the schools are then all employed by the MAT.
For Salisbury Plain Academies trust, during the conversion process staff and the Trade Unions were consulted with about the transfer. As there were three employers involved at the schools a process of due diligence was undertaken to ensure all staff details were understood to enable effective transfer plans to be shared. The schools worked with specialist advisors to ensure this took place effectively and detailed and specific FAQs were developed for the staff and meetings arranged with all schools for all staff.
Will staff be able to work in the different schools?
Across the MAT there will be opportunities in the future, either moving from one school to another, or working across more than one school depending on the type of role.
Will the admissions arrangements change for our school?
Academies retain the admission arrangements they had as maintained schools when they become academies: they are required to comply with the Admissions Code and can only change their admission arrangements following the procedures set out in the Code.
We do not envisage changing admission arrangements when our schools become academies.
As their own admissions authority, academies are required to consult on their Published Admission Number (PAN) where they propose either to increase or keep the same PAN. This means that:
The MAT will be responsible for consulting on and determining (‘finalising’) each school’s admission arrangements in accordance with the School Admissions Code.
The MAT becomes responsible for organising admission appeals in compliance with the School Admission Appeals Code, not the local authority.
Once admission authorities have determined their admission arrangements, they must notify the appropriate bodies and must publish a copy of the determined arrangements on their website, and the website of each individual school, displaying them for the whole offer year (the academic year in which offers for places are made).
The MAT may not decrease the “PAN” without the consent of the local authority (because the local authority still has a statutory duty to ensure that it offers enough places for all of its children, so reducing your admissions to your reception year would prejudice the ability of the local authority to meet this statutory requirement).
My school is a faith school. Can we continue to admit children on the basis of faith?
Any converter academy which currently admits pupils, or a portion of pupils based on faith, will be able to retain those arrangements.
Will academies have to take part in the local authority’s coordinated admissions processes?
Academies are required through their funding agreements to participate in the local authority’s co-ordinated admission arrangements in the first year of opening.
As an academy, would our school be able to increase the number of pupils in the school?
Academies are subject to the provisions of the Admissions Code. This allows schools to increase their admission numbers through the process set out in the Code for changing Admission Arrangements. This would require the trust to consult those bodies set out in the Code for any 8 weeks between 1 November and 1 March and then determine the arrangements as final before 15 April prior to the relevant academic year.
Schools can admit additional pupils over their admission number for post-16.
Does the academy trust have to participate in Fair Access Protocols?
Yes. Academies are required under their funding agreement to participate in Fair Access Protocols.
The fair access protocol is operated by the local authority and all schools must participate. The protocol enables children who are hard to place to be allocated a school place quickly.
What is an academy required to do in relation to admission appeals?
Academies are required to offer all pupils refused admission the right to an appeal in front of an independent appeal panel.
Academies are responsible for setting up the appeal and must do so in accordance with the Appeals Code. The panel must be independent of the school.
The difference for an academy is that the trust is the “Admissions Authority” rather that the local authority, but Appeals Code applies to them just the same.
Who handles objections to academy admission arrangements?
Objections to proposed admissions arrangements during the consultation period will be handled by the MAT as part of the consultation process. Appeals against admissions decisions will be handled by an independent panel in accordance with the Appeals Code.
The Education Funding Agency (EFA) is the government agency responsible for investigating complaints about academy panels. The EFA can only investigate complaints about panels that did not follow the procedures set out in the School Admission Appeals Code 2012 (the ‘Appeals Code’). Factsheet: Complaints about an academy independent admission panel: The schools adjudicator considers objections to academy admissions in the same way as he considers those to maintained schools.
Will the school be inspected by Ofsted?
Yes. Academies are inspected by Ofsted using the same framework and timescales as for maintained schools.
Will the school follow the Wiltshire Council school term times and holidays once it has converted to an academy?
There are no plans to change term times, and any future discussion around term times will take other local schools into account, in particular the impact on families with children at other local schools.
Capacity & Expertise
What happens when the Trustees who are all volunteers and have key expertise want to move on?
Within the Salisbury Plain Academies all Members and all of the Trustees are volunteers.
An important expectation, reviewed by the Regional Schools Commissioner (RSC), and one that the Salisbury Plain Academies is committed to, is ensuring that there is succession planning across all levels of leadership in the MAT.
The steering group has agreed a set of skills that it is looking to ensure is secured initially and then maintained across the Members and Trustee Boards. The founding Members and Trustees have been selected from both within the existing school governing bodies and Avon Valley College Trust for their skills and to give continuity from the four schools, with the addition of experienced charity trustees and business expertise to create the right set of skills across the boards. The Members and Trustees profiles and skills that we have brought together has been approved by the DfE, RSC and Diocese.
A commitment has been made to the RSC about the plans to ensure strong succession planning in the MAT for both governance and operational leadership. The Members and Trustees will ensure new Members and Trustees are appointed when required through a fair and open process and in a timely manner to facilitate transition.
Whilst the Trustees are the accountable board for the MAT, a Board committee structure has also been developed. Some governors from the existing school governing bodies will move to the Academy Advisory Boards and, where they have the skills, experience, capacity and interest to be involved at a ‘cross MAT’ level, may be involved in central committees. This adds to the skills across the MAT.
Who will be the CEO? Will it be one of the current Heads?
During July/August 2015 the steering board recruited an Interim CEO, Helen Mathieson, who took up post from September 2015. The interim role will be in place through the conversion period and early stages of the trust operation. A substantive CEO was appointed in September 2017. It has been agreed that the CEO position will be filled by an external candidate to bring additional capacity and broader expertise to all schools.