The job of a headteacher is to provide vision and strategic leadership. Most heads would argue that deciding whether or not their school becomes an academy is an integral part of that vision. But as the recent case at Kelsey Park Sports College, in Bromley, south-east London, shows, it is not straightforward.
Kelsey Park's head, Brian Lloyd, has claimed his school is being pushed towards academy status, citing pressure not just from campaigning parents, but also from the local authority, and even the Department for Education. But can a school be forced to become an academy if the head is against the idea?
Partly, it depends on the school's record. If it has been rated "good" or "outstanding" by Ofsted, the head is in a strong position. In theory, the governing body could still vote to convert but would be unlikely to do so against the head's wishes. However, if a school has been judged "eligible for intervention", the secretary of state can force it to convert under new powers laid out in the Academies Act.
But how likely is it that the DfE will use these powers? Sara Tomlinson of the Anti Academies Alliance says that if the head's views are echoed by governors and parents, the Government would be unwise to throw its weight around. "It's hard to believe they would impose academy status if the whole community was against it," she says. "That would be a recipe for disaster."
In other words, for heads like Brian Lloyd, the key is to win the battle for hearts and minds. "It's important to hold a public meeting as soon as possible so that both points of view can be expressed," suggests Ms Tomlinson.
Last year, Sinfin Community School in Derby fought off an attempt by the local authority to turn it into an academy, in what head Steve Monks described as a "victory for democracy".
But for heads who make a stand and lose, the risks are obvious. The DfE says that even if a school is issued with an academy order, it does not necessarily mean the head will be replaced. "As always, it will be down to the sponsor of the academy," says a spokesperson.
In reality, however, if a head has openly opposed the move to academy status, there is a good chance they will be asked to step aside or made to reapply for their jobs. Whether this is legal is open to debate. Some experts believe that heads should have the right - as teaching staff do - to continue in their jobs under transfer of undertakings (TUPE) regulations. So far, this has not been legally tested, as most heads who have been replaced have agreed on a financial settlement.
At Kelsey Park, meanwhile, Mr Lloyd remains circumspect - and accepts that his is just one voice in the debate. "We're currently consulting with parents," he says. "Everyone can make their opinions known. After that it will be down to the governors and I will be happy to support their decision."
- Schools that are "eligible for intervention" can be ordered to become an academy.
- This includes schools that Ofsted has judged "to require special measures or significant improvement".
- Schools judged "satisfactory" could also be targeted, if leadership is judged to be weak or they show little capacity to improve.
- Michael Gove says academy orders will only be issued when there is "a lack of decisive action" by the local authority.