Frequently asked questions

Frequently asked questions and answers about the academies programme in Oxfordshire.

Thinking of converting/in process

Does my school have to become an academy?

Schools can choose to become an academy, provided that strong performers work in partnership with others to raise standards.

Schools can join an existing Academy Trust or, if converting as a single academy:

  • your latest Ofsted rating must be 'outstanding' or 'good with outstanding features'
  • your pupils' attainment and progress must be above the national average
  • you will need to prove that your school's finances are healthy
  • you will be expected to support at least one other local school

Some schools may be informed by DfE that they are to become a sponsored academy as sponsored academies are the government's intervention strategy of choice. Criteria for identifying new sponsored academies can be applied to primary, secondary and special schools whereby:

  • attainment is low and pupils progress poorly
  • Ofsted judge the school to be eligible for intervention or requires improvement
  • there is a record of low attainment over time
  • pupils in secondary schools achieve poorly compared to schools with similar intakes.

How long does it take to become an academy?

Conversion from a school to an academy takes on average 16 weeks from the issue of the academy order. Please see the conversion guides on the conversion guide page for further information on timelines.

The schedules set out key dates for schools planning to convert in the coming months. It provides deadlines for when documents, and information such as bank details, must be sent to the school's departmental project lead and the Education Skills and Funding Agency. This helps to make the school's chosen conversion date viable.

If deadlines are missed it may be necessary to move the conversion date back a month. In some conversions, even where these deadlines have been met, complex issues can arise which need to be resolved prior to conversion date.

Each school is different, so the time it takes to convert will not always be the same. 

The Council have now published guides to provide schools with information to aid with the conversion process such as a detailed timeline for conversion and documentation to assist with the Commercial Transfer and Land Transfer agreements.

For sponsored academies please be aware that this timeframe is likely to be longer to account for the additional stages involved in the process.

Depending on when you are granted your academy order, please consider the 16 week minimum conversion period as well as school holidays when calculating the earliest date on which you could potentially convert. Please contact the academies team to confirm and agree your planned conversion date, understanding that your conversion date will not be considered agreed until you have consulted both your DfE project lead and OCC Academies Team. Please also be aware that we do not advise 1 September nor 1 January as a conversion date due to previous experience of this being difficult to achieve with staff in the authority, school and DfE being unavailable over the school holiday period in which the deadline for completion of the necessary transfer documentation would occur.

Is there a financial advantage in converting to an academy?

Becoming an academy should not bring about a financial advantage or disadvantage to a school. The greater autonomy offered to academies may give opportunities to make savings in some areas of expenditure. These include the benefits arising from collaboration with other academies leading to the ability to offer greater development opportunities for staff, to benefit from economies of scale and the opportunities for greater curriculum options..

What are the typical aspects of the process which hold up the conversion?

Typically the areas of conversion which have the potential to cause delays are those related to land and building issues and finance. Examples of such delays related to prolonged discussions and disagreement over access rights and the leasing of land, joint use agreements with third party users and significant financial deficits and loans to be repaid to the LA prior to conversion. The key to overcoming these issues and avoiding delays is to communicate as early as possible with the LA so any potentially difficult areas can be discussed early in the process.

How should my school use the £25k for conversion costs that we received from DfE?

The DfE will provide you with £25k on granting your academy order to aid with costs associated with conversion. It is therefore for each school to decide how they wish to use this grant. The LA advise that, whilst this will normally be used in part to cover the legal fees for the transfer documentation, you should consider how these funds can be used to cover the associated additional workload which your head / governors/bursar may encounter during conversion. Please be aware that schools choosing to convert to academy status will be subject to a fee from the Local Authority to cover some of the costs incurred such as those for legal fees and HR/TUPE work. This is outlined in the guidance documents and schools will also be informed of this early in the conversion process.

What types of information are the LA asked to provide to DfE prior to us receiving our academy order/becoming an academy?

For voluntary converters the LA will be asked to complete a pro forma from the DfE prior to your school being granted their academy order which asks for a variety of types of information relating primarily to school finance, net capacity and land and buildings arrangements.

For sponsored academies additional information around attainment and LA support for the future academy will also be sought.

Are the same services my school currently purchase through the County Council (now encompassed within the Business services to schools) as a maintained school available to us as an academy?

Many of the services you can purchase as an academy will be the same as your current package, however you will not be able to continue with payroll, finance or insurances services. We advise that you review your contracts as early in the process as possible and confirm which services you would like to be in place from conversion day as all current services will cease the day before conversion with new services being entered into on the first day you open as an academy. 

There may also be services you receive that do not come through the ESS which have separate service level agreements, and may need to be individually addressed or discussed as part of your transfer.

Please visit the Business services to school ntranet pages for more information on what will be available to you as an academy and to download your buy-back form.

Can my school continue to benefit from County Legal Services and what can you provide?

Oxfordshire County Council’s legal team is made up of committed and experienced solicitors, each of whom has specialist knowledge. When you contact us with an issue, you can be assured that you are receiving the very best in legal advice. While solicitors in private practices might claim the same, working with us has clear benefits. The legal team have:

  • Many years of experience in advising schools on all kinds of legal issues
  • An excellent understanding of the role of the local authority and the interplay with academies
  • Broad experience of working for public-sector organisations and the particular problems they encounter
  • Significantly cheaper rates than private practice as they don’t aim to make a profit from their work
  • Considerable experience of providing bespoke training

Academies can continue to benefit from the following legal advice and services:

  • Employment law
  • Land and property law
  • Contracts and procurement law
  • Disability discrimination claims
  • Child protection
  • Managing pupils’ behaviour
  • Parental complaints and behaviour
  • Disputes
  • School admissions
  • Data protection, Freedom of Information, and access to educational records

The only area in which we cannot act is in the unlikely event of a conflict of interest arising.

For full information on each of these services and to discuss payment options please contact:

Diane Surman, Office Manager
Tel: 01865 323949
diane.surman@oxfordshire.gov.uk

What are my school's options for collaborating more formally with a group of schools if we are not ready to become an academy?

We have put together a set of model documents which provide everything you need to set up a company limited by guarantee with a group of Oxfordshire schools. Such an agreement does not require changes in governance structure and can include any type of school regardless of their status (maintained, voluntary aided, controlled or academy). For information or to discuss this collaborative option please contact the Academies Team, and also visit the collaborative company pages.

Is there anyone we can talk to or who can come and talk to us about collaborative/academy options for our school ?

Your main points of access for information are with your DfE project lead and the OCC Academies Team. You are encouraged to contact both parties as early in the process as possible to discuss options for your schools and to confirm your conversion date once your academy order has been granted as both DfE and the LA will need to agree this date. For initial enquiries and to inform us of your intentions to convert you can email the academies team on academies@oxfordshire.gov.uk.

If you wish to arrange for an OCC representative to come out to your school to discuss options specific to your school/group please contact the Academies team to arrange a representative attending your meeting.

Are the options different for a church school?

For schools in the Catholic Archdiocese of Birmingham the model for academy conversion has been clearly set out. Schools must convert with at least one secondary school in the group and must form a Multi-Academy Company (MAC) using approved models and documentation.

Schools in the Church of England Oxford Diocese can choose to join the Oxford Diocesan Schools Trust or can join Multi-Academy Trusts (MATs) with maintained schools as long as they retain their religious character. The academy policies for the Oxford Diocese can be found here: http://www.oxford.anglican.org/schools/

My school is thinking of changing its school organisation e.g. expansion of physical capacity or lowering the age range for admissions. Will this affect my application to convert to an academy?

Schools must convert ‘as is’ therefore if you are considering a change in age range or an expansion of physical capacity you should either complete the statutory process for maintained schools prior to applying for academy status or wait until you have converted, it cannot be a feature of your conversion.

Such changes post-conversion will be for the academy to agree with the Education Funding Agency (EFA).

If we want to stay with the SAP finance system do we need to do anything?

Academies do not have access to the SAP system used by the County Council. This means that upon conversion, academies will transfer SAP, finance and payroll services to their preferred supplier. Often services are offered by Trusts and converting schools will be well aware of the options in good time to convert but to avoid complications and delays, it is important to consider these options well in advance of the transfer date.

Once a school has converted, any information that had been held on the SAP system will be unavailable. This means that it is very important that schools follow the recommended procedure to run all reports just prior to conversion so that any data that may be needed is accessible. Information on how to run the reports is available in the conversion guidance here.

Will the LA help us with the HR processes?

Yes. For community and VC schools the County Council is the staff employer, whereas for VA and foundation schools staff are employed directly by the school. Maintained schools currently buy HR services through Hampshire's Education Personnel Services (EPS) and the County Council will commission this service to assist in the TUPE process. A representative from the service will contact your school to discuss the procedure with you and assist in consulting your staff on the transfer.

Contact the EPS team on eps.consultants@hants.gov.uk or telephone 02380 383500

What are my responsibilities under the LGPS?

A school converting to an academy will become a scheduled employer (as defined within the LGPS Regulations) which means that the academy must automatically enter all non-teaching staff in to the LGPS from the first day of conversion. New non-teaching appointments are deemed to be members of the LGPS immediately, unless employment is for less than 3 months, or casual staff who do not have a mutuality of obligation.

As a scheme employer, an academy will be required to make various policies determining how the academy will exercise its discretions specified within the regulations - please see the OCC website for further information. A guide for new academies to administer the LGPS can also be accessed here.

Please contact Pension Services at the point that you start to consider academy status. We will need a list of your current staffing structure for the actuarial report, which takes a minimum of 3 weeks to produce. We need a minimum of 2 months to complete this process.

For contact details and further information please see the conversion guides page for leaflets of what you need to consider under the LGPS regulations you will be subject to as a separate scheme employer.

How will becoming an academy affect any planned repairs and maintenance building work due to take place at my school?

For maintained schools there is a set process which determines work to be entered into the planned programme for the Schools Structural Maintenance Programme (SSMP) (the Planned Repairs and Maintenance Programme was originally funded through DSG but this has now been stopped as the funding is now devolved to Maintained Schools as well as Academies). Prior to academy conversion all schools will have been subject to the same procedures in determination of the programme for the next financial year. Schools convert on an ‘as is’ basis and will therefore be neither disadvantaged nor receive additional works to that which would have been completed were they not to have converted. Any work already in the published annual programme will be carried out, as will any work in a second or later phase upon which completion of the project depends on completion of all stages. The funding for SSMP to Oxfordshire County Council (OCC) will be in line with the number of pupils that are in OCC maintained schools and future programmes will only be based on those schools which are OCC maintained.

For the Schools Structural Maintenance programme, conditions surveys will professionally and objectively assess whether projects are defined to present ‘health and safety issues’, or ‘present risk of catastrophic failure’. Where this is the case the project will be put forward for inclusion in the planned programme of works.

There is staff housing (e.g. a caretakers house) on my school site, how will this be affected by the transfer?

If the staff housing is located on the edge of the school site and can be easily disposed of, and has never formed part of the school or been maintained by them, then it should be excluded from the transfer. It is further recommended that where staff housing is “off-site” OCC should retain the housing and rent it directly to the school [as opposed to the member of staff who would TUPE to the Academy]. This will ensure that OCC does not end up with a lease to a non-OCC employee.

There is a Children’s Centre on my school site, how will this be affected by the transfer?

Where there is a Children’s Centre (CC) on a school site decisions on CC governance will be made on a case by case basis taking into account the authority view, the school view and a judgment on their ability to manage the service effectively if they do want to manage it.

The authority will continue to use the SLA management and monitoring processes to ensure quality where the management is retained by or transferred to the academy.

The Academies team will alert colleagues responsible for CC provision in the authority re dates of any intentions by schools to convert to academies so that there are early discussions about the implications re CCs. All contracts will include the continued right to occupy existing space for CCs.

Enough time will be built into discussions about a conversion between the school and authority so that all the staff and future management implications can be discussed properly. The key thing is for schools to tell us when they are thinking about conversion so that all the right conversations can start and so that by the time the school embarks on formal consultation with parents etc. on this a view has already been agreed with staff and management.

As an academy will my school be covered by the OCC insurance policy in the same way as a maintained school?

Upon conversation to Academy Status, your insurance policies with Oxfordshire County Council will cease. It is therefore important prior to conversation that you arrange separate insurance to ensure that you are fully covered on the date of conversion. We would recommend that you read the advice on the DfE website which can be found here or by searching for 'Academies risk protection arrangement (RPA)'.

Contact the insurance team for more information on insurance@oxfordshire.gov.uk, 0333 014 3385

How will the transferring of our accounts and funds to the academy be addressed?

The process of final balancing of the school accounts will be in accordance with agreed principles. The school accounts will need to be closed and new accounts set up for the academy trust for conversion. Cash in bank accounts remains the property of the LA until it is spent by the school. Therefore on the date of conversion these cash and bank balances return to the LA. There is a surplus balances mechanism in place to deal with any transfer of balances due to be administered by the academy. This requires both agreement of school/academy and local authority.

Any monies identified as partnership funds held on behalf of the partnership will also be excluded from any balances calculation. Should the partnership then agree for the academy to continue to run the partnership’s finances then the monies are passed to the academy.

Additionally, any assets held by the schools partially or wholly funded with partnership funds cannot transfer without prior agreement with the partnership to ensure that the transferring contract with the partnership is listed in the Commercial Transfer Agreement and any comments regarding access to the item by the partnership noted to safeguard use.

Contact Nick Baggett, Education Finance Manager for more information on telephone number: 07584174692 or preferably by e-mail nick.baggett@Oxfordshire.gov.uk

My school has a loan with the local authority, what will happen to this loan on conversion?

Depending on the type and amount of the loan different options will be available to the school to transfer the agreement to the academy or pay the remaining outstanding balance in full prior to conversion.

Finance

For loans which have been taken out under the Scheme for Financing Schools the loan scheme is clear that school loans are borrowed from balances of all schools, not from Council funds. We do not consider that the council actually has the power to lend unspent maintained school balances to academies. Also, there has been no consultation with maintained schools to ascertain whether they would be prepared for this to happen hence requiring these loans to be repaid prior to conversion.

Energy-

For Salix or Prudential loans taken out with the Carillion Energy service, for example for new boilers, the school can decide if they want to pay the loans off prior to conversion or continue with the repayment schedule and carry the loan over to the academy. If novated, relevant documentation will need to be provided to the solicitor (i.e. copy of loan agreement/repayment schedule), unless it is relatively low value in which case the novation can be covered in the CTA.

My school currently purchases swimming time at our local leisure centre or benefits from other sports facilities on or off site, can this continue once we are an academy?

In July 2015 the council ceased to provide centrally employed swimming instructors. Schools now either hire swimming instructors directly or through their local pool, depending on the pool used.

We do, however, continue to hold ‘Joint Use Agreements’ with district councils for several of the pools we use. Please note that when schools swim in a pool that is subject to a Joint Use Agreement, the pool hire continues to be through Oxfordshire County Council and those swimming in ‘joint use’ pools will be charged for pool hire by Oxfordshire County Council.

If your school is swimming in a joint use pool that is managed by GLL, they will charge you for pool hire and pass that income to Oxfordshire County Council.

Academisation does not affect your right to use a pool under a Joint Use Agreement.

Contact the School Services Manager for specific queries.

Sandra Higgs, School Services Manager 07917087603
sandra.higgs@oxfordshire.gov.uk

Will the school still be part of the OCC childcare voucher scheme when we convert?

Upon conversion, the school will no longer be part of the Oxfordshire County Council (OCC) voucher scheme. The school can, of course, join any voucher scheme but this will need to be set up by the school or the Trust that the school is joining. The school should ensure that members of the voucher scheme are aware that it will be coming to an end and should ensure that they are informed of any new scheme that may be put in place. OCC currently use Edenred as a service provider and they can be contacted on 01244 625378, (Louise.Millett@edenred.com) should you have any questions about your current service or if you wish to contact them about potential future involvement with this particular scheme. If you wish to talk to OCC about the scheme, please contact County HR, 01865 815399 or staff.benefits@oxfordshire.gov.uk.

Post conversion to academy status

Do we have to share any information with the LA once we become an academy?

Data sharing -

The LA has produced a Data Sharing Agreement between academies and Oxfordshire County Council regarding the sharing of information relating to individual children and data transfers that enable the LA to fulfil its statutory duties for all children and schools in Oxfordshire. Paramount amongst these duties is the need to meet the Council’s and the Academy's safeguarding requirements and to enhance the ability of partner organisations to support the learning and welfare of children and young people through the exchange of data and the use of information.

This exchange of information will also enable the Council to fulfill its statutory duties to ensure that there are sufficient school places in the county, promote high educational standards, ensure fair access to educational opportunity and promote the fulfilment of every child’s educational potential. They must also promote diversity and increase parental choice. A data sharing agreement will be required for each individual Academy. In addition this agreement provides the consent that the DfE requires in order for them to share academy data e.g. attainment data with Oxfordshire County Council.

Net capacity -

At academy conversion the converting school will convert at the current net capacity held by the authority. This is separate from the process to set published admission numbers (PAN). Such a proposal is only set for one year at a time and subject to full public consultation each time as set out in the Admissions Code. In the event that any major school organisation change has been formally agreed, this will be reflected in the Commercial Transfer Agreement and the Funding Agreement.

School Capacity Collection (SCAP) -

The regulations that govern the SCAP survey require local authorities to provide data and information on the number of available school places in all state-funded primary and secondary schools (except special schools). Local authorities are also required to provide pupil forecasts which are collected for each year group in schools and additional district level forecasts for non-unitary authorities. All academies are required to respond to this request for SCAP information, generally the figures will be taken from the academy funding agreement.

How can we obtain information from the LA as an academy?

Floor plans -

For academies wishing to obtain the electronic floor plans of buildings held by the LA they can request these through the School Organisation and Planning Team who will send the academy a form to sign before the plans are sent, which the academy will need to sign and return to their School Organisation and Planning Officer. The form confirms that the LA will release the plans subject to agreement from the academy that they are aware that the plans are provided 'as is' and the Council does not warrant that they are accurate or up to date, along with further terms. For more information or to receive a form please email the academies team on academies@oxfordshire.gov.uk.

As an Academy can we set our own admissions number/criteria?

Academies have certain freedoms as an admissions authority to initiate changes to admission numbers and criteria but must do so in line with the Schools Admissions Code.  This is available on the DfE website or you can contact the Admissions Team for further information.

Do we need to inform the LA Pension Service upon academy conversion, as we will now be a separate scheme employer under the LGPS?

Yes, when you have successfully converted to an academy, you need to inform the OCC Pension Service as The Oxfordshire County Council Pension Fund is the administering authority responsible for the management of the pension fund money and administration of the scheme benefits. For full contact details and information as to what they will need to know, please see the conversion guides page for leaflets on your new LGPS employer responsibilities.

Who do we contact if we wish to use the LAs Key Stage 1 Moderation service as an academy?

As an academy you can choose which service provider you use to undertake moderation of your Key Stage 1 results. You may wish to use another provider, but if you wish to continue with the County service please contact the School Improvement Team on 03300 249046 schoolimprovementteam@oxfordshire.gov.uk

Who is responsible for carrying out Capital works?

The delivery of building works on academy sites shall, where practicable, be through direct delivery by the Academy under the terms of a grant funding agreement. Where appropriate and accepted by the Academy the agreement shall integrate delivery of design / construction through arrangements procured through the council.

In exceptional circumstances;

  1. where design procurement and delivery of works has entered the construction phase at the point of conversion to Academy status delivery shall be through direct delivery by the authority under the terms of a Works Licence Agreement or provisions in the Commercial Transfer Agreement with the Academy;
  2. where a specific request is received from the Academy funding may be transferred to enable direct delivery by the Academy under the terms of a grant funding agreement, via the academy’s own provider, e.g. DFE/ ESFA framework, local architect/contractor;
  3. where VAT issues arise the procurement approach will be evaluated to establish the solution based upon a cost benefit analysis.

Do academies still need to provide independent advice and careers guidance to pupils in y9-11 ?

Yes. The Education Act 2011 sets out a duty to secure access to independent and impartial careers guidance for their pupils from September 2012.

These duties are summarised below.

  1. A requirement for schools to secure access to independent careers guidance for pupils in Years 8 - 13. Careers guidance must be presented in an impartial manner and promote the best interests of pupils. Careers guidance must also include information on all options available for 16 - 18 education or training including apprenticeships and other work based education and training options. Schools should secure access to independent face to face careers guidance where it is the most suitable support for young people to make successful transitions, particularly children from disadvantaged backgrounds or those who have special education needs, learning difficulties or disabilities
     
  2. Section 72 of the Education and Skills Act 2008 requires all schools to provide relevant information about pupils to local authoritysupport services. Schools should also work in partnership with local authorities to ensure they know what services are available and how young people can be referred for support.
     
  3. From 2013 schools will be under a duty to notify local authorities whenever a 16 or 17 year old leaves school.
     
  4. To enable local authorities to fulfil their duties, below, schools should work with local authorities to support them in recording young people's post-16 plans and the offers they receive along with their current circumstances and activities.

Academies are specifically required to comply with this duty as part of their Funding Agreement with the Secretary of State.

Local Authorities will continue to track all young people's participation through the local Client Caseload Information System
(CCIS) in order to identify those who are at risk of not participating post-16, or are in need of targeted support. Schools should work with
local authorities to support them in recording young people's post-16 plans and the offers they receive along with their current circumstances and activities.

For further information please contact Indra Gill indra.gill@oxfordshire.gov.uk

The Early Years Statutory Framework sets out in great detail staffing ratios and qualifications for the different sectors, but academies are not specifically mentioned. Are academies considered the same as independent schools, for the purposes of the Statutory Framework for the Early Years Foundation Stage, staff/child ratios?

As academies are independent schools, albeit publicly-funded ones, the ratio and qualification requirements for independent schools in the EYFS will apply to nursery and reception classes that are part of the school.

How do we obtain a valuation for the purposes of insuring the school once we are an academy? Does OCC hold an up to date valuation we can use?

Between April and June every year, the Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA) procures valuations of the land and buildings of all new academies that opened between 1 April of the previous year and 31 March of the current year. These valuations allow the ESFA to consolidate academies (as part of academy trusts) into the ESFA's and the Department for Education's annual accounts. If the academy needs a valuation outside of this period, then one can be requested from the Local Authority.

Please be aware that the asset valuations recorded on the Council’s asset register are undertaken to satisfy the Council's financial accounting requirements and are different to an insurance valuation or an open market valuation. Insurance valuations are a valuation used to insure the buildings and are based on a reinstatement value which is the cost to rebuild the property. For insurance purposes the County has a block policy and doesn't have the information relating to each specific site to be able to share. This is because the council is a big organisation and can effectively 'pool' risk across its estate.

You will need to approach your own property adviser to obtain the valuation for insurance purposes but we would expect the insurance company would be able to advise on what you should ask for and a local surveyors practice could do the valuation itself.

If you require a Local Authority asset valuation in lieu of the ESFA valuation, please contact the Estates Team at estates.team@oxfordshire.gov.uk