Sixth form colleges with a religious character will be able to apply to become academies by the end of the year, the Department for Education has said.
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.
However, the regulations to enable SFCs with a religious character to convert to academy status are yet to come into force.
After updating its guidance for SFCs considering becoming a 16 to 19 academy to include those with religious character this week, the Department for Education told FE Week that they expect those regulations to come into force by the end of 2022, at which point applications can be submitted.
James Kewin, deputy chief executive, said: “We are delighted that Catholic sixth form colleges will soon be able to academise.”
He told FE Week that 29 SFCs have converted since 2017 and are “flourishing as 16 to 19 academies”, so it is only “right that Catholic colleges now have the opportunity to join them”.
Kewin added that “many” of the 13 SFCs with religious character have been exploring conversion ahead of the formal announcement and his association expects that at least three or four will begin the application process in 2023.