DfE unveils guidance for sixth form college academy applications

DfE unveils guidance for sixth form college academy applications

The government has spelled out what sixth form colleges (SFCs) need to do to convert to academies, in a document published this morning.

The guidance, which comes after Chancellor George Osborne announced in the government’s autumn statement that SFCs could become academies “so they no longer have to pay VAT”, was welcomed by the Sixth Form Colleges’ Association (SFCA).

Conversion to academy status will be available as part of the area review process, the guidance says, and applications will be judged “alongside other recommendations arising from the review” so that all recommendations “are considered as a coherent package”.

“The opportunity does not exist at the moment” to convert outside of the area review process.

The key assessment criteria for conversion is the development of “stronger partnership and collaboration between the college and schools with which they will work”.

Colleges that propose to “establish or join a multi-academy trust (MATs) should be well-placed to meet the partnership criteria”, the guidance states.

Only SFCs that are “financially and educationally strong [assessed by the department and Ofsted as good or outstanding for both]” will have the option of converting to become a standalone academy.

Funding will be available to support SFCs converting to academies from the £560m restructuring facility, details of which were revealed by FE Week today.

James Kewin, deputy chief executive of the SFCA, said they had “pressed for, and we are pleased to see, the inclusion of an option for SFCs to establish a single, standalone academy trust”.

“We continue to make the case for SFCs in waves one and two [of area reviews] to have a greater degree of flexibility in developing proposals for academy status. Some SFCs in wave one have been given a matter of weeks to provide information (identifying potential partner schools for example) that colleges in wave five will have almost a year to prepare,” he said.

“More detail is still required on the financial implications of conversion,” he added.

All applications for conversion will need to be approved by the relevant area review steering group, then by the Sixth Form College Commissioner and the relevant Regional Schools Commissioner, on behalf of the Education Secretary. In some cases, a decision may need to be made by a minister.

Leaked government guidance for the area review advisory group, seen by FE Week, makes it clear that MATs are the government’s preferred choice for SFCs converting.

“Decisions will be taken in the context of wider post-16 provision in the area. Proposals involving formal partnership within a multi-academy trust will be particularly well-placed in this respect,” it says.