Candy Garbett blog: academy conversion

12th March 2012 at 12:55
Candy Garbett is the Head of The Priory School in Shrewsbury, Shropshire. An outstanding secondary, the school received its Academy Order in January 2012. Candy will update this blog to share The Priory's experiences of converting to Academy status

Tuesday 4 December

It's been a busy term as always, but we are progressing well with our financial paperwork and general administration. We have now completed and submitted the Pupil Level Annual Schools Census (PLASC). We are also coming up to the year end for our self evaluation process - one thing that we have done in advance is to look closely at what we will be required to do at the end of our 15 month accounting period on 31 August 2013. Also, I am pleased to say that our Governors are already considering the final accounts for the end of next year, so we can plan well ahead. We do appreciate that academy funding is subject to the same legislation and regulations as any Government department which explains the detailed paperwork, but this doesn't stop it looking daunting sometimes!

However, being an academy is definitely helping with our administration and financial planning as we have more control over timescales and less bureaucracy to deal with, in getting things done. The only negative I have experienced lately is in following the Admissions Code of Practice. We are an oversubscribed school, so can only take on extra students under the Fair Access Protocol, which allocates school places in exceptional reasons. Where as before I would deal directly with the Local Authority (LA) over this, I now have had to set up and consult an Admissions Committee as well, meaning another layer to the process has been added.

But, on a positive note we are starting to get in the Christmas sprit, having just put on a production of `Little Shop of Horrors' and we still have a dance show to come!

Happy Christmas

Wednesday 14 November

We are back after half term, but unfortunately it was not as restful as I had hoped. A group of students visiting New York were stranded because of Storm Sandy- luckily everyone was ok, but their flights home were delayed by three days. As well as ensuring the students were well looked after, during their extended stay, our communications with parents was paramount, so we sent regular updates by e-mail and text message. The local media also became involved, so this helped to keep parents up to date. This is the first instance of an unexpected series of events as an academy, as usually I would need to involve the Local Authority (LA), but that was not necessary this time. This allowed us to concentrate on getting the students home as soon as possible, without having to keep the LA up to date on developments as well.

After an eventful week though, we have now settled back into the new term and my attention has been turned to the EFA financial return once again. I am struggling a little to get to grips with the paperwork, as there is a great deal of information to absorb, I am just thankful it isn't due until August 2013. We are also in the process of doing an administration review to check our current processes are fit for purpose as an academy- particularly as we need to complete the Priory's first Pupil Level Annual Schools Census (PLASC) as an academy, in the next month.

We have now been an academy for 6 months and it feels that the journey has only just begun - we now truly feel as though we are in charge of our own destiny.

Wednesday 10 October

Last week we had our first Open Evening as an academy and it went very well. Parents seemed very content with our academy status and they only had a few questions for us about what it meant for their children. We also had our first full Governing Body meeting - it was great to be focussing on teaching and learning again rather than the technicalities ofacademy status.The parents have elected two female parent governors, which addresses the gender balance of mainlymale governors, and they will join us at our next meeting.

Now the new term is fully underway, we are really discovering the pros and cons of being an academy, with the pros outweighing the cons. On the pro side,the bureaucraticworkload haslargely reduced - we have less reports to do now as we don't have to report regularly to the Local Authority (LA),the termlyPupil Level Annual Schools Census (PLASC) is a much less stressful process as we are given time by the DfE to upload the content, and our newly formed financial package has givenus greater control over our budget. On the negative side, the LA is discussing different structuresprotocols that they want to put in place in various areas of Shropshire, and I just think it's another way of being bureaucratic; we manage really well without these protocols so why do we need them now?

But the really good news this week is that we have over 40 followers already on Twitter in only two weeks! Please do follow us @PriorySch

Friday 28 September

The new term is well underway and I have been busy over the last couple of weeks attending various meetings, as we begin our first full academic year as an academy.

Last week, I met withour accountant andour responsible officer - who has the role of checking our financial controls, systems, transactions and risks - for an initial chat as we are in the process of establishing when we will need to submit our first financial returns to the Education Funding Agency. We also need to go away andfamiliarise ourselves with the new Academies Financial Handbook which was published last week, to see what changes have been made and how this willaffect us. Ihave also beendealing with the Local Authority (LA)to resolve some issues, such as pupil planning meetings for students at risk of permanent exclusions, but have discovered that some departments at the LA are now charging fordealing with queries, so we need to be mindful of this with our financial planning.

We have also had our first Executive Board meeting to discuss issues surrounding our role as a teaching school and have our first full Governing Body meeting this week, where we are going to welcome our new Company Secretary, but the exciting news this week is that The Priory School is now on twitter @priorysch, so we look forward to tweeting our news - please do follow us

Friday 14 September

What an amazing summer we have had with London 2012 - I was lucky enough to get tickets for a couple of the Olympic events and wanted to make sure that the euphoria surrounding the games continued as the new school term started. Our PE department are now in the process of producing an information booklet on outside sports clubs that our students might be interested in, to continue the legacy that the Olympics has created and inspire more children than ever to take part in sport.

The beginning of the new term has also allowed me to explain to students that took their GCSEs in the summer how the grade boundary re-alignment has affected them - we have seen a drop in students getting grade A* and grade A, and overall we have had a seven to 10 per cent drop in A-C grades in all subjects. However, in saying that, overall we have had our best ever results for those exams sat in June, so I am very proud of all the hard work put in by the students.

It has been particularly exciting starting the new school year as an academy, as we have been able to bring in lots of changes to improve the school further. Our Intervention Mentors for English, Maths and Science have now started and I look forward to seeing their progress. We have now trained all budget holders on our new finance software, so they are able to see their budgets online and in real time, reducing the burden on our business manager and finance team. The governing body has appointed a company secretary and are in the process of dealing with nominations for female parent governors to balance out our mainly male governing body, so as ever we are straight back to it and looking forward to another exciting year at the Priory!

Tuesday 28 August

After a bit of a break, I'm starting to think about getting ready for the start of the new school year in September. There are some changesthat come into effect at the start of the autumn term that I need to ensure the school is ready to implement.

Firstly, the new Teachers' Standards (which will replace the existing standards for Qualified Teacher Status), core professional standards and the GTCE's Code of Conduct and Practice for Registered Teachers in England comes into effect. As an Academy it will not be mandatory for us to follow them, but we have chosen to,in order to establish a consistent system. We have always had a transparent system regarding what is expected of our teachers, but we now plan to include these new standards in our teachers' job descriptions and as part of their performance management to ensure they are clear on what is required of them.

Secondly, we also need to ensure that key information, including howwe have used our pupil premium allocation, is on our website. We started working on this last term, so by September we will have an online booklet with information on the curriculumwhich details content andmode of delivery;details of our policies onadmissions, behaviour, charging and our SEN and disability provision; links to the school's Ofsted reports and DfE School Performance Tables and a statement of the school's ethos and values. Some of this already exists on our website and will be included in our on-line prospectus, so in some cases it is just a matter of reformatting or checking that the information is readily available.

The next task on my list is to read the new exclusion rules and guidance and see what is required there, so we can update our school behaviour policy. Lots to do, but getting an early start means no last minute rush.

Wednesday 17 July

Only a few days until the end of term and what a year it has been! As well as converting to an academy, we are becoming a teaching school in September, so all the hard work paid off. We now have appointed our Intervention Mentors, one for Maths and one for English, who will support the teaching of students who need help to develop certain skills - whether they are struggling to grasp certain concepts or are talented and need further support to extend their attainment. It certainly was exciting appointing these two new members of staff which has always been an ambition that has been fulfilled now we are an Academy. This week I have also met with our Responsible Officer whose role is to scrutinise the finance system and be an independent adviser to the Governing Body on financial matters, particularly important now we manage our own budget - we discussed how to streamline the reporting process to the Governors to make it less bureaucratic and more informative.

But one of the highlights was the good weather at our school fete on Sunday! We had a wonderful day, raising over pound;4000, which was fantastic and it gave us a chance to show off all our talented students hard work with dancing displays, live music and all the traditional School Fete stalls as well as the amazing climbing wall which is always popular.

It's been a busy year, it certainly has had it ups and downs and I look forward to taking breath over the holiday - but I certainly won't be putting my feet up for long, as I now need to start preparations for September..

Thursday 12 July

With the end of term fast approaching, we are busy getting as much done for the new term in September as we can, before we break up. We have had lots of applications for the three positions of Intervention Mentors and plan to interview in the next week. We also need to finalise all the existing accounts with the Local Authority (LA), and in the process we are looking closely at the service levels agreements that we have chosen to continue procuring through the LA. Currently we are being charged sporadically for different services, making our financial planning quite difficult, so we are in the process of seeing if we can group some of the payments together, possibly monthly or quarterly.

Earlier this week, we had an induction meeting for new students and parents, where we mentioned that there would be two parent governor positions available in September. We had a great response and lots of interest - particularly from women, who are currently under-represented on the governing body - so hopefully we can fill these positions soon.

The benefits of becoming an academy continue, opening up communication lines further between parents, students and staff at the school. We have always communicated well with parents and dealt with that any complaint or requests for policy change, however sometimes parents went straight to the LA and we never found out so now we hope that they will always approach us directly.

And as an employer, I feel I am gaining more freedom with HR decisions with regards to my staff and can tailor solutions appropriately. I'm also putting this blog to good use - I've been approached by other schools in Shropshire who are considering becoming an academy for advice and have been pointing them to my blog as an accurate record of the ups and downs!

So lots to get through, but one of the most pressing things on my mind this week is the weather, as we have our school fete on Sunday, so hoping the rain stays away!

Monday 2 July

As we hurtle towards the end of term it continues to be very busy as we settle into being an Academy and all that entails.

In my last post I mentioned we were due to have our first full Governing Body (GB) meeting. This was very productive - we discussed how to streamline our meetings and ensure they are supported by the termly, detailed, head teacher's report. Doing this will give the GB a clear snapshot of where we are on key strategic issues and will make sure we follow through on any actions.

As one of our governors will be leaving in September, we took the opportunity to carry out a skills audit of the GB so we could look strategically at the skills gap that would be created and how best to fill it. We came to the conclusion that what we need, ideally, is female lawyer. Currently we only have three women on a GB of 18 and we're a bit worried about under-representation.

We also began negotiating with the local authority on the closing down of the LA budget that we used to receive, but the big news on the financial front is that everyone was paid last Friday. This is the first payday since we converted so there was relief all round that the new system worked!

Most importantly, being an Academy means that by the end of term we'll have three new positions in the school for Intervention Mentors - positions that we wouldn't have been able to afford pre-conversion. We'll also be employing a Teaching and Learning Technician, whose role it will be to produce innovative resources for the teaching staff to help bring subjects to life, as well as producing ICT resources and having oversight of display. I'm sure they will really help the creativity flow in the classroom and will benefit the school enormously.

Tuesday 19 June

After the celebrations of last week, it was back to business. We have our first Governors meeting next week, so we have been busily preparing for that - we want a clear approach from the veryfirst meeting. First thing on the agenda is to look at the groups of Governors we currently have and assign them to Director's groups. We have also been considering how we might combine some of the work of some of the Governor's committee in orderto make the governance of the school more efficient. For example, we currently have a separate group for academic target setting, but weare considering placing this role in with the Governors curriculum group. We also need to review our crisis management plan as currently it is very dependant on the Local Authority, so we now need to take on more of the responsibilities. Since becoming an Academywe have received some very positive feedback from both staff and the wider community, in particular the staff are coming forward with new and exciting ideas that we can now consider under the freedoms that being an Academy brings, so plenty to considerdecide in the coming weeks!

Monday 28 May

With just days to go until we convert to an Academy on the 1st June, we have been busy finalising our budget that will run until Sept 2013. TheGovernors have approved the financial arrangements and service level agreements for the additional services we will require as an Academy, and I intend to have regular meetings with my PA andBusinessManagers to discuss all operational matters as we go forward in the coming weeks and months. OurStrategic LeadershipTeam have been busy drawing up a list of freedoms that becoming an Academy brings, including not having to operate the current performance management system - giving us the opportunity to create our own - and streamlining the Local Authority SEN monitoringprocess to only take a morning, compared to the usualtwo days. I continue to liaise closely with the Local Authority and will be issuing feedback to them on the process, so we can all learn from the experiences that we have had - having face to face meetings and working closer with our legal teams are twoof my top feedback comments!

Tuesday 22 May

Hurrah! After a few very stressful weeks, we have some good news at last - after working closely with the Local Authority (LA) over the last week we have finally managed to resolve the outstanding issues surrounding the playing fields and the commercial transfer agreement. This means we will be converting on the 1st June as originally planned, so we are all very excited! I continue to learn from this experience, and now realise thatif we had liaisedcloser with the LA over both our solicitors' concerns,itwould have allowed us to intervene sooner to avoid discussions becoming too bureaucratic, which lead to a lot of the delays. However, onwards and upwards, we arenow ensuring the financial arrangements are in place for when we convert and that all pending contracts for new staff can now go out in the Academy name. We will also be having various meetings over the coming week to discuss service level arrangements with the LA and other providers,to ensure theymeet our needs once we becomeanAcademy. As the day of the conversion draws nearer, it looks like it is finally happening!

Wednesday 16 May

The last couple of weeks have beenfrustrating and disappointing asproblems surrounding the lease of the playing fields continue. We have been granted a lease by the Local Authority (LA), but disappointingly it contains some clauses over priority use by the community and the other school,so there are still conflicts over usage. This has meant that the issue is back with the solicitors to try and find a way forward,and it is very likely that we won't be able to convert on the 1st June as planned. We are also being held up by issues with the commercial transfer agreement over the LA's indemnity once the transfer has taken place, so this need resolvingsoon too,otherwise we may experiencemore delays. In retrospect, something Ihavelearnt from this experienceis that when we went out to tender for the legal advice we should have ensured that in the quotation that there was inclusion for numerous reviews of the documentation within the price stated. Unfortunately we accepted a quote that limited the reviews of documents to a specific number so now we are incurring extra costs. Also I think it wouldhave beengood tohaveset up regular face to face meetings with the LA from theverybeginning to ensure that any problemswereironed out in a timely manner. However, I'm hopeful we'll make some progress soon, so that we can move forward and have a definite date for conversion.

Tuesday 24 April

At long last there has been some developments on the Local Authority (LA) leasing us the playing fields we currently use. Our Vice Chair of Governors suggested that maybe we could come to an arrangement with the LA by adding a covenant into the lease agreement which states that 1) the playing fields will not be fenced off at any point to allow them to be accessible for community use at the weekends and 2) there will be a right of way for the other school to use a corner of the playing fields for their athletics track.We hope this offers a way forward, so await the LA's decision. Unfortunately, this means we have had to put back the date for our conversion until the1st June, so we are keeping our fingers crossed that this matter is resolved by then! In the meantime we continue to plan for post-conversion.This includes looking at how we managethe budget over the coming year- we will need to juggle the LA budget until we convert, alongwith an Academybudget once we convert until the end of the school year. Then we need to plan the budget for the next school year when we will hopefullybe an Academy, so lots to think about.We are alsostarting to look at what will change and what will stay the same once we convert,so fingers crossed for June.

Tuesday 17 April

We are back after the Easter break and the date we hope to convert (1st May)is getting ever closer. At the end of the spring termthe whole schoolwas treated to a presentation byour Head boy and Head girl on what it meant to our school to become an Academy. The presentation was well received and gave a great oversight to what we hope tosee in the coming months. During the Easter break,we had a very useful meeting with the Local Authority (LA)about the building survey. The LA have agreed to fulfil the outstanding capital maintenance work that the school urgently needs, and we have agreed to continue to pay into a co-operative maintenance fund at LA level which will continue to help maintain the property in the future. The issue of leasing the two playing fields to the school once we convert is still outstanding, but the Departmentfor Education is now liaising with the LA, so we hope for a resolution soon.At afull governing body meeting last week, it was agreed that in orderfor usto go ahead with the conversion on the 1st May as planned, we do need the LA to grant us a 125 year lease on the playing fields. While we wait for the LA to come back to us, we're continuing to get all the paperwork in order and have started looking at how to set up financial systems andstructures that will benefit our ways of working in the future.

Tuesday 27 March

We met with the Governors as planned and it turnedout to be a very productive meeting. During the discussions for the Articles of Associations we decided that we needed to make the process of appointing staff and parent Directors as transparent as possible, so it was suggested thatwe produce a separate document to set out the process clearly.

Unfortunately, we were unable to come to a conclusion about the best way forward regarding the building survey as we are still waiting to meet with the appropriate Officers from the Local Authority (LA) which will clarify their position to whether they are able meet any of the costs, thereby reducing our liability. We are also talking to the LA about the two playing fields that we currently use and maintain, as they have indicated that theyareunable tolease them to us after the conversion - this is really surprising as we have had sole use of these fields for 30 years; this is very frustrating and time consuming.

After the meeting, it was down to me to get all the paperwork ready for the DfE deadline with only a day to spare, so it was a bit of a rush - in retrospect I should have allowed more days between the Governors meeting and the deadline, so something to consider if you are in the process of converting!As the Easter holidays approach I am looking forward to a rest, but I will continue to work on the Academy conversion during that time, as our date for conversion (May) is drawing nearer by the day and we've had to arrange the final Governorsmeeting confirming conversion in the second week. Great news this week though, we have been told we are to become aTeachingSchool in September 2012 so a really positive end to the term and a real boost for the staff andGovernors.

Tuesday 13 March

This week we finally got the property transfer from the Local Authority, but unfortunately it was missing the two playing fields that form part of the school,as they areseparate from the main school grounds. As we need to ensure access to them when we convert to an Academy, we have asked for them to be added to the property transfer as soon as possible, but this has meant we have had to ask for an extension for this part of the process. The Academy Project Board met again this week and it was decided that we would like to become a Multi-Academy Trust in the future, which is exciting! Also, a draft governance model was put to governors to consider at a meeting they have planned next week, so we wait to hear their response.We have also had some good news in the form of the Equality Duty report, which has concluded that we will not be disadvantaging any groups by becoming an Academy and that there is no need for a action plan, as we can continue to follow our usual monitoring process.

Thursday 8 March

This week sees us trying, but to date failing, to get hold of property transfer information from the LA(Local Authority). We only have a week to do this - as well as getting to grips with a building conditions survey which has highlighted that in the next three years a great deal of work, circa pound;1.5 million would be needed to carry out urgent repairs on the school building.In a few weeks timethe school's staffwill meet with the LA to discuss the transfer of employment. This is an important stage in the conversion to an Academy, but as we carried out a detailed consultation with staff before making the decision to convert, everyone seems relaxed about the process.

The DfE have also asked us to consider becoming a Multi-Academy Trust and whilst we would not want to take over responsibility for another school immediately, we are thinking that perhaps we should ensure that we have the legal documents in place so that if we want to do this at a later date then we can. This will be atopic for discussion at the Academy Project Board meeting later this week, as it would mean the Governing Body being responsible for more than one school, so a great deal to think about.

All in all its going smoothly, just waiting for the LA to actions their bit on the Buildings.

Monday 5 March

Another busy week, but we made a big decision - the name for our Academy Trust will be `Priory School Shrewsbury.'. Now we need to develop a governing body for our Academy. We plan to look at existing models and speak to Heads from other Academies to help us do this. On another note, we have decided to commission our own detailed building survey in order to understand what work may need to be done on the school, and we hope to apply for a Capital Maintenance Grant to replace our heating system in the first instance. Later this week, as part of undertaking the TUPE (Transfer of Undertakings Protection of Employment) process, we will be meeting with the local authority to ensure we are following this process correctly. It may be a busy time, but we are all still very excited about becoming an Academy.

Monday 27 February

On the first day back of term we had a staff meeting to update staff on academy status such as the measures, the first step in the TUPE (Transfer of Undertakings Protection of Employment) process, the Articles of Association and the Memorandum of Understanding. Staff spent some time looking at the Academy objectives and then went on to consider how the budget might be prioritised next year. Their ideas, along with Senior Leadership Team's, are going to be fed back to the Academy Project Board. We have to consider two budgets for next year as we plan to convert in May, so will be still be under the Local Authority in April. We are working out the best way to do this. This week we also have a meeting with the Academies project board to discuss next steps, including the Articles of Association, objectives and a name for the trust we need to set up, plus our regular weekly meeting with the union representatives and staff governors, so its going to be a busy first week back.

Moving forward we are busy liaising with our legal firm and ensuring we keep on track to convert in May. Check out the pictures from our staff meeting, where we are starting to "shape our destiny".

10 February

Getting our Academy Order.

In January we received our Academy Order, and the GB approved legal advisers for the conversion, so we're now at a really exciting stage. One parent asked me a lovely question: "What do you think you'll spend your budget on? What changes will you make?" We had been so busy working towards the Academy Order that it was a realisation we'd reached a milestone and could begin to have conversations about how to use our
freedoms. We've set up weekly meetings to talk about Academy issues with staff governors and union representatives so we continue to take everyone's views on board - the staff has so many great ideas for how to develop the curriculum, for example. It's important that decisions are taken as a school community, because the whole point of conversion is that it's for the benefit of everyone in the school. We're so looking forward to freedom and independence. It's been quite a journey getting to this stage but my strapline is "shape your own destiny" and that's exactly what we're doing. We'll come back after half term raring to go!

9 February 2012


Once we'd decided conversion was right for the school we ran a consultation and communications exe.rcise with parents and staff, and again invited unions to be a part of this so that both the opposing view and the positive view were heard. We organised a range of events including parent's evenings and drop in sessions, and made information available on our website, via email and text messages. The interesting thing was that despite our efforts, low numbers of parents attended the events - only three parents came to everything, just 26 parents attended a consultation evening in November and only seven households out of 710 responded in writing to the consultation. We concluded that this didn't mean that our parents were for or against academies - it meant they trusted us to do to the right thing for their child. Staff did have some concerns, mainly around pay and conditions, but we were confident we could address these and provide reassurance. On 13 Dec the Governing Body voted in favour of conversion 13 against three, with one abstention. The GB decided to continue the engagement and communications process moving forward to address any concerns or queries.

8 February 2012

Taking the decision to convert.

When the first `new' Academies were announced in September 2010 we set up a Governors' Working Party with union reps, staff governors, Chairs of Governing sub-committees and a member of the Strategic Leadership Team to consider the pros and cons of conversion. This working party had sub groups looking at the financial, curriculum and staffing aspects of conversion. The group spent a year looking at the issues, on and off. After a lot of discussion and debate we concluded that the financial and curriculum freedoms conversion brings would be beneficial and a real opportunity for the school. We simply weren't seeing the benefit of our total budget and wanted to be in charge so we could spend it to maximum effect. We're an outstanding school, but to stay that way we need to move forward and develop things - to prioritise and secure best value.

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