Frequently Asked Questions
Concerning Academy Conversion
On 16th May 2018 the DfE announced that the Diocese had successfully gained the approval of the State to form two Catholic Academy Trusts. These are the Harrow Family of Schools and Brent Family of Schools within the All Saints Trust. This means that 12 schools have been granted their Academy Order and will be fully established by October / November 2018. This is a major milestone to be reached. The DfE and the Regional School Commissioner’s office (RSC) had emphasised that the argument made for Catholic Acadmey Trusts is now acceptable and they recognise that our schools have a major role to play in raising standards and attainment across the wider community. The DfE now see academies as the vehicle to drive school improvement.
Following close behind these two CATs are schools applying to join the ASCAT Trust in Rickmansworth from Watford to expand an existing Trust to four by the end of the summer term. Family of Schools meetings in April and May have identified the following Families of schools actively seeking to move the process forward in order of priority.
- Hackney & Tower Hamlets
- Hillingdon & Ealing
- Lea Valley in Hertfordshire
- Decorum in Hertfordshire
- Hounslow, Richmond and Surrey
- Local leadership is key. Having a local champion to actively encourage the support, development and protection of Catholic education is vital if the programme is to work. This can be a local priest, a foundation governor or a Headteacher.
- Governors being engaged and informed. Where they actively meet and discuss the programme and speak to those who have crossed over to the other side they tend to be far more positive.
- The lack of support from a Local Authority and the destruction of services they provided has forced schools to think of collaboration and the subsidiarity principle far more.
- The past is a place of reference and not a place of residence has galvanised schools to think of a new future. Where they do they can see benefits.
- Finding local solutions to local problems, whilst recognizing those key factors affecting ALL schools – depleting budgets and financial challenges; falling applications to schools; recruitment and retention of staff. By exploring what Academies can offer some of these key issues are more successfully addressed in our proposed model than being a stand-alone VA school.
- A key component in ensuring success is trust in one another to find the right solution to protect, secure and develop Catholic education.
Construct and Constitution of the Hub
What is the legal standing of the Hub and what if any additional obligations, controls or regulations would apply?
The MAT, or in our context a CAT, is a legally independent charitable company limited by guarantee. It has overriding charitable duties which are imposed on its board of directors by charity law and company law. It also chooses to enter into a funding contract with the Secretary of State for Education (known as a “Funding Agreement”) in order to receive monies to run one or more schools, known as academies. The Funding Agreement, as well as containing contractual obligations on the CAT, also imposes certain tranches of education law relating to children with special educational needs, admissions and exclusions on the CAT. The CAT also enters into a lease with one or more local authorities so that it may use playing fields for the benefit of children at the academies. The MAT also enters into one or more contracts (known as “Church Supplemental Agreements”) with the Diocese (and Religious Orders if necessary) relating to the use of Diocesan (or Religious Order) land by the academies and the conditions of their recognition as Catholic academies within the Diocese. Finally, the board of directors of the CAT delegates power (but not responsibility) down to subcommittees known as “Local Advisory Councils” so that each academy can operate with a degree of autonomy within the CAT. The Hub is the local grouping of schools, usually through LA boundaries, within a CAT.
How the relationship between the Diocese and academy hub will work?
Like with a VA school, the Diocese would expect to exercise a degree of influence over the governance of the CAT. The Diocese will appoint all 5 of the Members of the CAT and will appoint the majority of both the directors of the CAT and governors on each Local Advisory Council. In addition the CAT will be expected to adhere to any directives from the Bishop or his officers and have regard to recommendations made by the Diocesan Department of Education.
What is a Hub’s level of autonomy within the Diocese
As with VA schools within the Diocese, the CAT and Diocese will be legally independent of each other but with the degree of influence as stated above.
What is a School’s level of autonomy within the Hub?
The degree of autonomy will be set down in the Scheme of Delegation, which the schools will agree together when setting up the CAT. The extent to which schools will be autonomous will depend on the agreement of the schools.
Would each school retain autonomy of its finances and what would be the expectation in terms of costs that would need to be made available to support the administration and operation of the hub?
Finances will be determined by the CAT Board. Delegation of finances to schools will be set out in advance by the Board to emerging Academies within the Trust. The funding of the Company Secretary will be determined by what the schools can afford through their Service slice provision. Again this is determined by the CAT Board in consultation with the schools. What was published was a 2.5% to 3% service slice from all schools within a CAT to fund these type of officers. However, this could vary depending on what can be afforded and what is required.
What is the backstop if the hub isn’t successful after it has been implemented?
Conversion to academy status is a one-way street; there is no mechanism for a school to revert to being VA. Academies can move between CATs if necessary and with the approval of the Diocese if the academy is not content/not performing to the Bishop’s high standards. The strategic direction and performance of a CAT can be changed at any time by its directors which may involve the replacement of the directors themselves. MATs occasionally merge and separate if necessary and if the CAT is underperforming. Any such change would need the approval of the Diocese and Regional Schools Commissioner.
Outside of the schools and the Diocese who else needs to be consulted and provide approval e.g. Parishes?
Recommended consultees include partner schools (Catholic and non-Catholic), the Local Authority, parish priest and area dean, community groups who use the school facilities/site, parents/guardians, students, staff
Is there a limit of the minimum number of schools that need to participate for the viability of a Hub no longer exists?
The Head teachers’ forum and RSC look carefully at the number of students that would be supported by a MAT rather than the number of schools. The minimum number of students that would be acceptable for a MAT and would allow the MAT to make the most of academy status is often stated to be around 2,500. This could mean one large secondary and a few small primaries or it could mean three medium Secondaries. There is no set “minimum number of schools”.
What is the Impact on curriculum, and school’s ability to set its own curriculum, timetables etc?
This will be unchanged and determined at School level.
How will the curriculum be managed?
As it is now by Headteachers and SLTs.
If once the process to become an academy has started, we realise that the quality of education will suffer as a result, can we revert the decision?
The Diocese Trustees have approved a framework for a CAT wide Strategy embracing all Schools across 11 Families to protect, secure and develop Catholic education.
Schools that pass a resolution to convert, complete the Diocese due diligence process, received the Diocese letter of consent and submitted an application to convert to the DfE should do so in the expectation of forming a Hub with their neighbouring Schools.
School can withdraw during the conversion process, but they would need to identify an insurmountable barrier to operating as a CAT, in order to so.
Should the School decide not to convert it will not be asked to repay the grant to the DfE.
However, if the Schools decides to convert in the future it will not receive a further grant from the DfE and will need to meet any conversion subsequent costs from its own resources.
School Identity and Ethos
Governors in one school asked - One of the features of the success of our schools is the placing of the emotional and spiritual well-being of pupils at the very centre of our thinking. We provide a nurturing, stable, containing environment akin to a family setting. This is built around our head teachers and staff. Head teachers are visible and available leaders with authority. Staff have established strong and mutually supportive working teams. Staff know each other, children know staff and staff know children. Everyone knows and puts trust in the head and their authority. What thought has been given into how these “softer” aspects of school life will be preserved?
The Diocese understands the contribution and importance of these relationships and the impact they have on a developing and maintaining a stable nurturing environment. A great deal of thought has been given to these important aspects of school life as they are central as to what we wish to protect.
The aim of the Diocese Strategy is to protect, secure and develop the Churches’ Mission in education for generations to come by establishing Family wide CATs of Schools with robust, professional structures for accountability and Governance, able to withstand and adapt to the changing educational agenda. The ethos of each school is unique, shaped by the relationships between staff, pupils and their communities and shall remain so under these proposals.
In the current climate of educational and financial change, which is putting schools under extreme pressure, how will the changes themselves and the inevitable ripples of effect arising from them be supported? Where are the resources to implement this to come from?
Academies receive the same per pupil income as Maintained and Voluntary Aided Schools. There are no additional resources to help alleviate the growing pressure on School budgets.
A CAT Board will be better placed to mitigate the impact of these changes on school budgets through procurement efficiencies, flexible deployment of staff and centralisation of some back office functions.
When we are expecting cuts to the school budgets in times on increasing inflation, how this structure can be maintained?
The CAT Board would determine the percentage contribution each school would make to central funds the CAT staffing structure based on need and affordability. Clearly any decision taken has to take into account what a school and groups of schools can realistically afford.
It is acknowledged that the central costs of the CAT and its staffing structure would need to grow organically over time and share some staff such as a HR or Standards Officer with neighbouring CATs.
The CEO role will bring additional benefits in term of accountability, challenge, school improvement, procurement and oversight of all Schools in the Trust.
What are the anticipated costs to set up our hub?
The Diocese has produced indicative costings for the necessary conversion activities which can be shared with Schools. Most of the direct costs to establish the CAT can be contained within the £25,000 DfE grant.
What are the anticipated annual running costs of this centralised administration?
This will be determined by the CAT Board
Where will these funds come from? How much will each school lose to fund the hub, in terms of annual income? How does that impact on staff numbers / salary increments?
From the schools income. It’s not losing money, its allocating money to support services that in some cases currently isn’t there. It should not be affecting current staffing levels or salary increments.
How will admissions be managed?
The CAT will become the Admissions Authority with each School in the CAT having its own Admissions Policy. Currently our Academies have had no problem with this arrangement as checks and advice still come through the Education Service.
Admissions will continue to be made through the local Authority’s Co-ordinated Admissions Scheme.
Admissions, school numbers, overall financial impact if there are falling rolls
Admissions and pupil numbers will be the responsibility of the CAT Board. With strategic oversight of all schools in the CAT the Trust Board will be better placed to identify trends in pupils numbers and respond to falling rolls through the flexible deployment of staff across the CAT.
Leadership Teams & Staff
How would the introduction impact the heads and their senior leadership teams
Headteachers would retain autonomy for the day to day running of their school under the Scheme of Delegation.
Would TUPE apply in the Hub model as it would for full CAT introduction for staff?
Yes in both instances, the employer of staff would transfer from each School’s Voluntary Aided Schools Governing Body to the CAT and TUPE would apply.
What would the introduction of the hub mean for the existing governance structures in place across the schools?
Schools would retain a Local Advisory Council described on pages 24 – 37 of the Diocese’s Catholic Academy Trust Strategy.
Framework Decisions and Timelines
Where are the break points - key milestones for when go/no-go decisions can be made?
In order to receive an Academy Order from the RSC’s Headteacher Board and commence the conversion process, Schools will need to first complete the following steps;
- Meet with neighbouring schools keen to form a Hub to build trust and understanding
- Pass a Governing Body resolution to convert
- Complete the Diocese’s Due Diligence process and receive a Conditional letter of consent to convert
- Complete and submit the DfE’s conversion application form
Tasks above take approximately 1 term
The Diocese conversion process then takes approximately 4 months on receipt of the Academy Order. Governor approval is required during the process to i) approve the consultation and TUPE reports and ii) sign key legal documents including the Mem and Arts, MFA, SFA, CTA and CSA.
Below is what each school receives in its Starter Pack for Conversion
|1. Case for Catholic Academy Trusts||Overview of the Diocese CAT Strategy|
|2. Pipeline process and timescales||Flowchart setting out the activities to be completed during the conversion process and the indicative timescales|
|3. CAT Strategy Presentation||Background information on the CAT Strategy|
|4. Due Diligence form||Sets out the information requirements Schools should provide to the Diocese Project Board in order to|
|5. Due Diligence data collection spreadsheet||Excel spreadsheet to collect standards and financial due diligence information|
|6. Financial Recovery Plan||Used to identify areas of savings in future years to re-assure the Diocese and DfE that School and CAT are financially sound and viable.|
|7. Governing Body resolution meeting template||Sample meeting template containing a resolution that Governors should pass in order to submit an application to convert to the DfE|
|8. Primary School conversion application||DfE conversion application form for Primary Schools|
|9. Secondary School conversion application||DfE conversion application form for Secondary Schools|
|10. Foundation Directors application form||Application form for existing Foundation Governors who wish to apply to the Project Board to be considered for the role of Foundation Director on a CAT Board.|