Academy Conversions: 6 Years, 6 Tips
1st September 2016 marks six years of my involvement with schools converting to academy status under the 2010 Act. For no reason other than that I thought it would be a good time to give six tips (one per year!) on how to make the process a success and/or avoid the pitfalls.
1. Know why you are doing it
This is fundamental and may sound obvious but so often there is no clear and communicated reason. If at all possible the reason should be positive; improved collaboration, an identifiable opportunity, taking control of your destiny etc. As an easy and clear example, two of the strongest Trusts we act for were formed by schools who were under threat of closure but they and their communities disagreed strongly with the reasons given for closure. Both have gone on to be oversubscribed and to form their own MATs.
2. Be decisive, delay is distracting
Once you have made the decision to become an academy, aim to complete the process as quickly as safely possible. There is a temptation to examine the minutiae of becoming an academy. This is unnecessary and unhelpful. You need to know the basics and have a clear education, operational and organisational strategy. Implementation of this strategy can only really tested once the Trust is established. If you spend six months looking onto all the details there is significant risk you will lose sight of what is important, educating the children.
3. Do your due diligence
Whilst you need to avoid delay, you also need to have carried out the right checks. If you are joining an existing MAT or you are a Trust taking a new school, make sure you look (metaphorically and possibly literally) in the cupboards and under the carpet. Due diligence should focus of standards, finance and organisation (governance). If these are all as you expect, there should be no nasty surprises post academisation.
4. Make sure someone signs off on the finances
This links to due diligence but is one step further. When the school I was Chair of went through the process of becoming an academy, I made clear from the outset that I wanted someone knowledgeable to look me in the eye and tell me that we would be financially no worse off. In our case it was our talented Business Manager and it worked. Putting someone on the spot really incentivises them to do all the checks.
5. Bring the staff with you
It's a hearts and minds process and whilst the parents are important, it is your staff that are the key ingredient in creating a successful Trust. If you can communicate clearly to them why the school is becoming an academy and what the benefits are, you have a far higher chance of being successful.
6. Ignore vocal minorities
This is so important. In the age of social media, it is very easy for a few people to make a lot of noise. An example is 5 parents who ran a campaign against the academisation of a school with a parent body of 1,000. They had absolutely no support from the other parents and were entirely motivated by political dogma rather than what was best for the school and children. Even when other parents pointed this out they did not desist from posting comments on Facebook, leafleting, writing continual letters and regularly accosting the Headteacher. If you encounter a vocal minority, the best way to deal with them is to be polite, give them an audience (but only one) and get through the process as quickly (although still safely) as possible. They invariably disappear onto their next campaign once the school becomes an academy.