Exclusive : More than half of all college sixth forms seeking academy status

Almost two thirds of sixth form colleges have registered an interest in converting to an academy, FE Week can exclusively reveal.

Around 60 of the country’s 93 SFCs have taken this first step, according to James Kewin (pictured), deputy chief executive of the Sixth Form Colleges Association.

Registering an interest with the Education and Skills Funding Agencies is the first stage in the process of converting to an academy.

The news comes after two SFCs in Hampshire unveiled plans on June 9 to set up a multi-academy trust (MAT).

Richard Taunton SFC in Southampton, and St Vincent College in Gosport, announced a new “working partnership” between the two, with a view to launching the new MAT by September 2017.

Both SFCs are part of the Solent area review, which has yet to publish its final recommendations.

Richard Taunton principal Alice Wrighton said: “We are really excited about this opportunity.

“As we are the first colleges in the South to set out to develop an SFC MAT framework, we will be defining our own unique working model.”

Matt Atkinson, the St Vincent’s principal, who formerly held the top job at Richard Taunton, said: “I know from my roles at both colleges that they share the same vision, ethos and values, so when I learned about MATs, I immediately thought this would be a perfect fit.”

The chancellor George Osborne announced in November that SFCs would be able to convert to academy status which would allow them to no longer have to pay VAT.

Guidance published by the Department for Education in February said that academisation would only be available to SFCs as part of the area review process.

Applications for academisation would be judged “alongside other recommendations arising from the review”, the guidance said.

SFCs have the option to convert either as a standalone academy (SAT), or as a MAT – either by joining an existing MAT or setting up a new one.

Mr Kewin told FE Week that it was “too early to say” how many SFCs would be setting up a MAT.

He said: “In terms of the detail of whether that’s a MAT or a SAT, or whether it’s with schools, you have to give an indication of that through the area review process, but there’s an additional process you have to go through about actually applying.”

But he said most SFCs that decide to academise would “probably look at” the option of setting up a MAT.

He said the advantages of that option were twofold: “Firstly you’re establishing it on your terms and secondly you’ve got scope then for other institutions to join you over a period of time.”

Mr Kewin, who said the SFCA gathered the information on registrations of interest from discussions with members, was not aware of any SFCs having applied to convert to an academy.

As previously reported by FE Week, East Norfolk SFC, Lowestoft SFC and Paston SFC – all part of last year’s pilot area review in north east Norfolk and north Suffolk – are in talks about forming a MAT in the future.

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