2022. The year the government wants all schools across the UK (that’s over 20,000) to convert to an academy. And whilst still a fair way off, the rise in the number of primary and secondary schools who have made the transition to becoming an academy so far is huge. Back in 2010, there were as few as 203 (yes that’s right – 203) schools that had been granted academy status. Fast forward six years and times that number by roughly 25 and you wouldn’t be far off the total number of schools who have now made the move and become an academy.
So, what’s the big deal about becoming an academy?
To start off with, you’re in control of your own finances and are able to determine what investment is needed and for what, rather than being dictated to. It’s also suggested that one of the main benefits behind the academy system is that, by giving more power to the head teacher and school itself, standards can be improved almost twice as quickly.
Changing from a school to an academy also means that you have the freedom to innovate and can opt out of the national curriculum – allowing you to move forward with an educational structure that will help to improve a student’s learning experience.
Nearly two-thirds of all secondary schools have already converted to an academy. The experiences that these schools have been through will no doubt help the remaining 78% of both primary and secondary schools who haven’t, in their quest to gaining academy status.
How do you switch?
Once you’ve made the decision that you want your school to become an academy, there are a few steps that you need to take to get the ball rolling.
First off, you’ll need to visit the government’s website and register your interest into becoming an academy. Once you’ve filled out all of your details, you’ll then be assigned a project lead by the Department for Education (DfE), who will be your point of call to answer any questions you have and will be with you throughout the entire conversion process.
You can find out more about the processes to switching to an academy in the Convert to an Academy: Guide for Schools.
Considerations to becoming an academy
So, you’ve made the switch – what next?
Gaining academy status is only the start of the challenges facing all academy schools. There needs to be a vision for the future that fully exploits the new freedom to be an innovator of your own destiny. As such, there are several aspects that should be considered when switching over to become an academy, including:
- Data Protection
- Technology and Infrastructure
After the switch, you’ll find that you’re given a lot more independence than before. That’s not to say though that everything will completely change, there will still be stakeholders with a vested interest in the school, and you’ll still be subject to regular Ofsted inspections to check standards. The good news though is that if your academy is classed as ‘Outstanding’ then you’ll still be subject to inspections but just not as frequently as before (now that’s an incentive if ever I saw one!). Head teachers, or principals, are also given greater control, which means you’ll have far more influence on a range of aspects within your school and even more freedom to innovate.
Rather than the current system of receiving funding through the local authority, academies are financed directly by central government. Under the old system, this meant standard state schools were given money as and when they requested it. Academies, however, receive all their funding in September and then have the freedom to choose how they spend it. This means everything from resources for pupils, all the way through to teacher salaries is decided by the leadership team within the school.
With becoming an academy, there comes with it a number of legal requirements that must be complied with. High on the agenda is that of data protection. In converting to an academy you must write to the Information Commissioners Office (ICO) to inform them that the academy is opening. Your Governors will then be responsible for processing staff and student data – failure to do so may result in hefty fines.
One thing to note is the importance of having a clearly defined e-safety policy in place so that all data that is held on the systems within your academy is kept safe against any occurrence – be it malicious attacks on your network, viruses, phishing, or even the way your end of life hardware is being destroyed.
Both the ICO and Ofsted come down hard on any institution who doesn’t have the correct policies and procedures in place. Best practice is to find a suitable partner who can help you manage all of that in a safe, secure and compliant way – or better yet can do it all for you!
Ensuring you have the right infrastructure in place is vital to maintaining and improving standards within a school. You’ll need to consider things such as how students learn, how they can ‘consume education’ and how the school delivers on its commitments.
Whether you’re changing to an academy as part of a Multi Academy Trust or doing it alone, there are solutions out there (for example Stone Unity) to help the transformation and enhance the educational experience for both you and your students.
Becoming an academy, or Multi Academy Trust, gives you a unique opportunity in which to deliver an exceptional IT service. And yet the transformation to converting to academy status can bring with it key challenges when it comes to IT. It can be inconsistent, diverse and ultimately expensive – but not if you find the right partner to help deliver the right solution for you.
As well as a having a solid infrastructure in place to support the learning and teaching requirements within your academy, you’ll also need to have in place a robust device infrastructure too.
Putting a device in the hand of every student is the dream, but what about the reality?
Whilst 1:1 isn’t always achievable, there are ways and means of supporting your IT vision without impacting on capital budget. Finding a partner who can offer end user device schemes that benefit not only your institution financially and resourcefully but also enhance your students learning experience in this situation is key.
You need to build an infrastructure that is future-proofed but also guides the path towards innovation and collaboration.
You have an opportunity to transform and inspire young people’s lives through education. Don’t let your IT infrastructure let you down.
So what next?
Converting to an academy is not a decision that can be made lightly by any school. It requires a clear vision and strong leadership, to ensure that a high level of education is achieved and maintained for students.
While the Government’s initial targets of having every school convert to an academy within the next few years might seem ambitious, with the right help from the right partner offering the right service and support, we certainly believe that this can be achieved.
Regardless of which stage of the conversion process you’re at, considering the steps you need to take to implementing educational excellence is key to your academy’s success. All you need to do is talk to those educational specialists who care and can help.
Government website – https://www.gov.uk/guidance/convert-to-an-academy-information-for-schools
Register to become an academy – https://form.education.gov.uk/fillform.php?self=1&form_id=FitANqky23M&noLoginPrompt=1