Lord Nash: Fifth of sixth form colleges have begun official negotiations for acadamy status

A fifth of sixth form colleges have started formal negotiations to convert to academy status, the academies minister has revealed.

Lord Nash made the announcement in front of more than 100 delegates at the sixth form college association’s conference in London today.

FE Week previously reported that around 70 per cent of SFCs had registered an interest in becoming an academy, following recommendations in their area review of post-16 education.

But Lord Nash’s comments today mean that around 18 of the country’s 93 sixth form colleges are now in official negotiations with the Department for Education to academise.

A Sixth Form Colleges Association spokesperson explained that a register of interest can be just a phone call or an email saying they are interested. But a formal proposal is when a provider takes the next step of filling out an official document provided by the DfE.

The peer told the conference: “As academies minister I am really pleased with the way in which sixth form college’s have responded to the opportunity of converting to an academy.

“Over half of you have expressed an interest in converting and a fifth have already started formal process to make the change.

“This will, I’m sure, bring great benefits to you, the schools you work with and the education system as a whole.” 

SFCs were first told about the opportunity to convert during the spending review in November 2015.

Former chancellor George Osborne said at the time that becoming an academy would allow a college to avoid paying VAT – which is on average £317,000 for each college. 

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

Sir Dan Moynihan, chief executive of the Harris Federation which runs 41 schools, also spoke at today’s conference and urged all SFCs to convert. 

He said that while staying as a college would give leaders the “autonomy used by independent schools”, academy conversion would give them the opportunity to make a “system impact” and reduce costs during a time of declining budgets.

“Clearly there is the advantage of avoiding VAT, but there is much more than that,” Moynihan said. 

“You lead powerful and high quality organisations and in some ways you are a model for what the government ultimately wants the whole education system to look like.

“My contention is academisation will allow you to continue what you do now, but in a way that could further strengthen your colleges by broadening your reach, strengthening your finances and capacity and allowing you to have a system impact. 

“Whichever model you choose logically you would wish to provide central services from within your group and you will be able to charge a budget top slice to do this, and if done well it is an opportunity by which you can drive economies of scale and reduce your own costs.” 

He added that the latest funding agreements with the DfE allows the budgets of members in a trust to be “pulled and reallocated” based on different criteria, which creates the “flexibility to allocate funds based on needs”. 

Speaking to FE Week after his speech Moynihan said that while he could understand some leaders of SFCs may prefer to keep their autonomy and not convert, it is “probably a good move for the country for the majority to do it”.

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