Maxine Rothwell advises independent schools on the best ways to opt in to the state system. There are obvious advantages in being state-funded but any independent schools considering opting-in to the maintained system need to consider their position carefully.
There are two routes by which an independent school can come into the state system: as a voluntary or as a grant-maintained school.
The voluntary school route requires the co-operation of the local education authority. Under the current climate, it is perhaps a more difficult route.
Any school which successfully attained voluntary status would still be required to consider a ballot for grant-maintained status every year, and so stability would not be guaranteed. Also, the funding rules might mean that in certain areas a voluntary school would at some point become funded by the Funding Agency for Schools.
The grant-maintained route does not require the co-operation of the education authority, but it is difficult to achieve without the consent of the Secretary of State.
An application for grant-maintained status by an independent school will be judged against the need for school places in the area. However, other factors may be considered.
Any school contemplating entry into the state system would need to consider how it might disengage itself from the system were the political or philosophical climate to change in the future. In contrast to former direct grant schools (which were able to disengage relatively easily), it is more difficult for a voluntary or grant-maintained school to come out of the system.
A successful school might find it particularly difficult, as there is, in reality, no process by which this can be achieved unilaterally by the school.
So a school, and any organisation behind it, will need to give thought to handing valuable assets over to the state system.
It may be possible to put in place structures which allow assets to be held outside the state system, but this will need careful planning, and cannot be guaranteed.
Maxine Rothwell works for the solicitors, Eversheds