Sixth form colleges with a religious character can finally apply to become an academy.
Nearly all sixth form colleges (SFCs) have been able to convert to academy status, and in doing so enjoy the luxury of not paying VAT, since former chancellor George Osborne changed the rules in November 2015.
But a group of 13 SFCs which are Catholic-run have been prevented from doing so due to their religious character, which would not be maintained under government rules. If they converted, they would lose protections in areas of curriculum, acts of worship and governance.
The DfE finally found a solution to safeguard religious character through the Skills and Post-16 Education Act 2022, which became law in April.
Regulations that enable SFCs with a religious character to convert to academy status came into force on December 28, 2022.
The DfE updated guidance today that outlines the process they have to follow.
It states that SFC’s with a religious character will need to liaise with their DfE academy delivery officer to “apply for an order to designate the new 16 to 19 academy with a religious character”.
The SFCs will also need to “arrange for a separate order to be made, to enable them to lawfully give preference in admissions to those of a particular religion or belief”.
When submitting an application the colleges will need to provide the religious denomination of the 16 to 19 academy as well as details of any representations made by any religious body regarding the designation application.
The DfE said SFCs should be aware that the education secretary can “consult the relevant religious body if necessary, so it is important that sixth form colleges that are considering conversion ensure they engage with the relevant religious body at the earliest opportunity”.
James Kewin, deputy chief executive of the Sixth Form Colleges Association, said: “We are very pleased to see the publication of this guidance as it means our 13 Catholic sixth form colleges are now able to academise. We believe that all sixth form colleges should have the option to academise, even if they ultimately choose not to do so.”
He added that there are at least three Catholic SFCs already weighing up whether to follow the 29 sixth form colleges that have converted since 2017 and “are now flourishing as 16 to 19 academies”.