Stephen Munday explains the head’s role in a conversion
Becoming an academy seemed to be the best option for us, given the educational landscape that was emerging. Our school and governing body had a long-standing belief that we wanted to be given the maximum level of delegation of resource and decision-making power in order to take the fullest level of control over the education that we provided for all our pupils and our local community.
My advice to other heads would be to view it in this way: whether we like it or not, the old support structures are disappearing and it is up to us to make the system work in the interests of all. While it may feel like a leap into the dark for some, the process of becoming an academy can represent a great opportunity for taking a school forward and confirming the essence of what we want our schools to be.
Points of contact
As a head, you will be leading the process of becoming an academy together with your governing body. You would be wise not to underestimate the time the process requires. This might mean your day job – which does not go away – will get squeezed. Establishing points of contact in the regional schools commissioner’s office and the legal firm helping to oversee the process will, therefore, be important. If these contacts are effective, many of the things that need to be done will simply be sorted out for you.
It would be wise not to focus on any other major projects during the process of becoming an academy. Of course, as always, meaningful delegation of aspects of the work are bound to be needed. However, there is little doubt that you need to be seen to be leading this significant decision.
Do not see the process as a burden. Instead, view it as ay useful opportunity to confirm the essence of what your school is really all about. This can be galvanising for everyone.
Effective communication during the academy conversion process is crucial. If you get the messaging wrong – or don’t bother at all – you will breed suspicion and discontent about what is happening and why. Prioritise communication and engage everyone involved in the school with what you are aiming to do. It is better to over-communicate than under-communicate on this issue.
You will naturally want everyone to be on side with the proposed development, but even if they don’t agree, it’s important for them to understand why you have made the decision. As such, discussions – even debates – should not be shied away from but rather embraced as a good way to clarify important matters.
It is really important not to neglect staff in this process. While it might seem easier to focus on the external side of the consultation, staff are absolutely fundamental. As with all key decisions, there needs to be a feeling that we are all in this together.
What will change
As part of the conversion process, you will have to outline how things will be different once you are an academy. In some ways, nothing will be different. The morning after the school officially becomes an academy, the same pupils, staff, curriculum, lesson structure and facilities will be exactly as they were.
This is, of course, how it should be: these things are in place to try to ensure the best possible education for all pupils.
However, what might have changed is the mindset. Ultimately, if becoming an academy is about anything at all, it is about a belief that our destiny needs to be in our own hands. It is up to us how things will be organised and what we should do with our schools.
Of course there will be external constraints and, of course, we might not like all of them. However, we will decide what to do next in order to seek to provide the best possible education for all pupils rather than wait for anyone to tell us.
Stephen Munday is executive principal of Comberton and Cambourne Village Colleges and chief executive of the Comberton Academy Trust
What type of school can convert?
Schools with inspection judgements of good and outstanding and that are “performing well” (ie, results show children make good progress) can apply to their regional schools commissioner to convert to academy status. Church schools need to talk about their plans to become an academy with their diocese. Schools with poorer results or an inspection grade of requires improvement need to join an academy trust that can demonstrate it has the capacity to ensure the school will rapidly overcome the challenges it faces to achieve higher performance.
The key steps of becoming an academy
Pick your partners
You need to have a vision for what the academy trust your school will join or establish will aim to achieve. Having this understanding means that you can either find the right trust that fits your school’s ethos and aims (so that you will achieve within it) or be brave enough to form and lead a trust of your own.
Pick your trustees
You need to draw up the ideal skills mix your trust board would have before deciding on the individuals to appoint. Where you lack specific expertise, the Academy Ambassadors scheme can assist. Find out more at www.academyambassadors.org
Pick your chief executive
Trusts need leadership, so it’s vital to grasp the nettle and make an early decision on who will fill this role.
Allow four to five months from the decision to make this step for the process of applying, being approved, carrying out consultation and making the legal changes to be completed – the Department for Education provides a grant to cover the legal costs.
For further information, see the DfE’s guide to academy conversion at bit.ly/AcadConversion
Dr Tim Coulson is the regional schools commissioner for the East of England and north-east London