The first sixth-form college to submit a formal bid to become an academy could convert as soon as January, TES has learned.
Since chancellor George Osborne gave sixth-form colleges the green light to convert to academy status in November, more than 50 institutions have now lodged their interest in conversion with the Department for Education (DfE).
Now TES understands that New College Pontefract has become the first to submit a formal application. Pending the approval of the steering group of the West Yorkshire area review, expected this summer, the college – which has already created an academy trust and has approval to open a 16-19 free school in Doncaster in 2017 – anticipates beginning a formal consultation period on the plans later this year.
If this meets with approval, principal Pauline Hagen – who was appointed OBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours – said the college hopes to transfer its assets to the trust on 1 January 2017.
'It’s a really exciting time'
“We’re the first one to go over the top,” she said. “It’s a really exciting time. As it's new territory, it's difficult to get a definitive line on the process from the Education Funding Agency (EFA) and DfE, but we are hoping for area-based review approval by the end of our meeting cycle, which will be early summer.
“Then there is a consultation period for several weeks, after which the New College Pontefract corporation will dissolve. We are hoping to transfer all assets to the Trust on 1st January 2017.”
James Kewin, deputy chief executive of the Sixth Form Colleges’ Association, told TES that “getting on for 60” colleges have now expressed an interest in academy conversion – around two-thirds of the total. However he said that colleges wishing to apply for funding from the government’s restructuring facility set up for the area reviews could see the process being slowed down.
“There’s more detail than there was, but there are still a few gaps,” he said. Under the conversion processes, colleges that express an interest are allocated an EFA adviser to discuss the process. Colleges also need to have the approval of their area review in order to press ahead with conversion, Mr Kewin added.
Also near the front of the queue is The Sixth Form College, Solihull. Principal Paul Ashdown told TES that the college board has voted to become an academy as part of the Ninestiles Academy Trust, and will shortly be submitting an application to the DfE.
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