How does the NASUWT support teachers in academies?

Some answers to your frequently asked questions about academies follow this summary of our commitment to all our members working in academies.

The NASUWT gives full support to all members regardless of the type of school in which they teach.

We believe that all state-funded schools, including academies, are a critical part of our public education service and, therefore, in order to deliver the educational entitlements to all children and young people, teachers in all state-funded schools need to be working within a national framework of pay and conditions of service that supports all teachers in delivering high-quality education.

It is important that senior leaders and governing bodies in all school types understand what enables all their pupils to meet their potential and that there is an inextricable link between the pay and conditions of teachers within a school and the outcomes that the school achieves for pupils.

Consequently, the NASUWT continues to campaign for national pay and conditions frameworks to apply in academy schools and for all children and young people to be taught by qualified teachers who are recognised and rewarded as highly skilled professionals and have working conditions that enable them to focus on teaching and learning.

The NASUWT fully supports members in academies, individually and collectively, in maintaining adherence to policies that protect the pay and conditions of service of teachers and headteachers.

The Union provides a wealth of advice, bulletins, briefings and training and professional development opportunities for all members in academies.

Frequently asked questions about academies

Is it true that all schools must be academies by a certain date?

In its White Paper, Opportunity for All, the Government has stated that all schools in England should be part of a strong multi-academy trust or be planning to join or form one by 2030.

Further details on the White Paper can be found at Schools White Paper (England).

The provisions in the White Paper would, if implemented, give the Secretary of State far greater powers to issue Academy Orders than is the case at present.

Currently, the Secretary of State is limited to a duty to issue an Academy Order in the case of a maintained school that is judged to be inadequate by Ofsted.

However, from September 2022, it is intended that the Secretary of State would have a power, although not a duty, to issue an Academy Order in the case of a school with two consecutive ‘requires improvement’ inspection judgements.

What is the difference between academies and maintained schools, between academies and free schools and between standalone academies and MATs?

In maintained schools, the employer is normally the local authority or sometimes the governing body.

Maintained schools must follow the School Teachers’ Pay and Conditions Document (STPCD) and the Burgundy Book, which sets out the conditions of service for teachers in England and Wales on a range of issues that are not covered by the STPCD, such as maternity leave and sick pay.

Academies are publicly funded independent schools that are able to set their own pay and conditions for staff and have freedom to determine their own curriculum. The employer in an academy is the academy trust.

Academies exist in a number of forms including free schools, studio schools, university technical colleges and sixth form colleges.

An academy can either be a standalone school or part of a multi-academy trust (MAT).

What will happen to my pay and conditions if my school becomes an academy?

In the first instance, your pay and conditions would remain the same because of the protections of the Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations 2006 (TUPE).

However, new employees who join after a school becomes an academy can be employed on different pay and conditions because academy schools are not in any way bound by the national pay and conditions framework nor by any agreements negotiated locally with your local authority.

The NASUWT does, however, seek to work with academy employers to make sure that all staff, those who transfer and those who are new, are employed on the same agreed conditions of service.

Are academy schools bound by the School Teachers’ Pay and Conditions Document?

Academy schools are free to develop their own terms and conditions for new staff.

However, as a result of proactive engagement by the NASUWT, the overwhelming majority of academies continue to honour the national pay and conditions framework for teachers as set out in the School Teachers’ Pay and Conditions Document (STPCD) and as well as the Burgundy Book.

Where a school has converted to academy status, teachers’ pay and conditions of service would remain the same because of the protections of the TUPE Regulations.

Where teachers agree to a change of contract following conversion to academy status, they will be bound by any new terms and conditions operated by the academy.

What will happen to my pension if my school becomes an academy?

Academies have to continue to offer the Teachers’ Pension Scheme (TPS) to teachers.

Where a school becomes an academy, it becomes responsible for ensuring that contributions continue to be made to Teachers’ Pensions (TP) and that the complex administration of teachers’ pensions continues to be carried out effectively.

Which types of school can become an academy?

All schools are eligible to become academies.

In the case of Church of England and Roman Catholic schools, agreements exist with the DfE which ensure that the faith dimension is retained.

Can a sixth-form college become an academy?

A sixth-form college can apply to become an academy if it meets the following criteria:

  • converting contributes to higher standards in the area through more effective partnerships and sharing of good practice and high-quality teaching expertise and resources; and

  • converting secures the financial health and stability of the college - especially those colleges who are currently at financial risk and improving the efficiency and value for money of the provision it offers for young people in the area.

Is there a requirement for staff or parents at a school to be consulted prior to academy conversion?

There is no requirement at all for consultation with either parents or staff.

However, the Union maintains that it is good practice for parents and staff to be consulted before an application is made for academy conversion.

If a school is converting to become an academy, although staff do not have a right to be consulted on the principle of becoming an academy, staff do have a separate right to be consulted on the impact of any change in the status of the school under the TUPE Regulations relating to their conditions of service.

The NASUWT will always seek to ensure that there is full consultation with teachers regarding conversion and its impact.

How can parents make their views known about the school becoming an academy?

Parents who wish to make their views known should contact the chair of governors requesting that a full consultation with all parents takes place.

Parents should ask for full details of why the school is considering conversion and for a public meeting to enable everyone with an interest in the future of the school to discuss the proposals.

Parents could also contact their local MP and/or councillors for support in pressing for a meaningful consultation and full involvement of parents in the decision-making.

Can a headteacher make the decision to convert a school to academy status?

No. A headteacher has no individual power to determine whether a school becomes an academy and so cannot make the final decision.

The decision rests with the governing body and, if the school is a voluntary-aided or controlled school, with the relevant religious authorities.

What happens to the role of the local authority if a school becomes an academy?

If a school becomes an academy, the local authority will have no automatic role in the school.

Some academy schools choose to maintain a relationship with the local authority and, for example, continue to buy certain services.

However, the role of local authorities has changed considerably with the process of academisation across England.

This has impacted the services and support that are available from local authorities, particularly as academisation has also coincided with cuts to local authority funding.

However, local authorities retain a number of key functions in relation to all children and young people regardless of the type of school they happen to attend.

In particular, local authorities are responsible for ensuring that parents are meeting their statutory duty to secure an effective education for their children and have strategic responsibility for attendance and safeguarding arrangements in all schools.

Local authorities also have duties in respect of provision for pupils with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) and are responsible for assessments of pupils who may require education health and care (EHC) plans and for issuing and reviewing these plans.

Under the Education and Adoption Act 2016, local authorities were given a new duty to facilitate the process of schools becoming academies.

The Government’s Schools White Paper does include proposals to allow local authorities to establish a multi-academy trust where too few strong trusts exist. However, there will be limits to local authority involvement on the trust board.

In addition, the Secretary of State will have powers to bring maintained schools into the academy system where a local authority requests this as part of their strategic plans.

How quickly can a school become an academy?

There are certain steps that must be taken when a school converts into an academy.

These include TUPE consultation on the transfer of staff terms and conditions and agreements with the local authority.

Consultation has to take place on the land arrangements and there may be consultation with stakeholders.

All of this takes time and the length of time can vary depending on the complexity of the issues in individual cases. The time required for a conversion to occur therefore varies from school to school.

When an application is made, it generally requires the consent of the Regional Schools Commissioner and Head Teacher Board before the Department for Education grants an academy order.

It is not unknown for an academy conversion to take a year or longer.

Does the local authority have to be consulted on an application by a school for conversion to become an academy?

Governing bodies do not have to consult the local authority on applying for conversion to academy status.

As an academy, will schools have more freedom?

Schools, regardless of their status, already enjoy considerable autonomy over their affairs, whilst remaining accountable for their use of public money.

All schools are subject to:

  • the same inspection regime;

  • the same test and examination performance measures;

  • primary legislation, including employment law, health and safety, and equalities legislation.

It should be noted, however, that the levels of autonomy within multi-academy trusts vary enormously, from schools having similar levels of autonomy to maintained schools to highly centrally controlled trusts where schools have very little or no autonomy.

How are academies funded?

Academies are funded in the same way as maintained schools. There is no additional funding.

However, out of their funding allocation, an academy will have to make provision to replicate the range of services (finance, personnel, legal, insurances, etc.) that had been previously provided by the local authority.

Will schools that convert to academy status get a new building?

There is no additional money to support new buildings or refurbishment to existing buildings for schools that become an academy.

Who owns the land when an academy converts?

This will depend on the type of school and the current ownership of the land:

  • community schools - generally the land is owned by the local authority. The academy trust will occupy the school site by way of a 125-year lease and the local authority will become the landlord of the academy trust;

  • voluntary aided schools - land ownership is often split between the local authority and the diocese. For any land owned by the local authority, the academy will occupy that part of the school site through a 125-year lease. Where the diocese owns the land, it is usual for the diocese to grant the academy trust a licence to use the land under the church supplemental agreement;

  • trust schools - the freehold of the land will be transferred from the current foundation to the academy trust, so that the academy trust will be the outright owner of the land.

Do academies have greater curriculum freedoms?

Academies are not required to adhere to the National Curriculum, but all schools have freedom of how they implement curriculum provision and Ofsted will expect to see a broad and balanced curriculum in all schools, irrespective of status. 

Who has oversight of academies?

In part, this depends upon the nature of the academies themselves. For example, academies that are part of a multi-academy trust (MAT) will have a layer of oversight from the academy trust as the overarching employer.

However, all academies are overseen by the Secretary of State for Education through a National Schools Commissioner (NSC) and a network of Regional Schools Commissioners (RSCs).

Ofsted is responsible for inspection of individual academies, as is the case for all other state-funded schools.

The Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA) is responsible for the financial oversight of academies.

What is the role of Regional Schools Commissioners in academies?

Regional Schools Commissioners (RSCs) play a key role in securing new academies and intervening in underperforming academies in their areas.

Under proposals set out in the Government White Paper, the eight RSCs that cover different regions in England will be replaced with nine Regional Directors from September 2022.

Regional Directors will be appointed to the following regions:

  • Greater London

  • South East

  • South West

  • East of England

  • East Midlands

  • West Midlands

  • North West

  • Yorkshire and the Humber; and

  • North East

These regions mirror those used by the NASUWT.

Regional Directors will each lead a Regions Group bringing together the functions of the DfE and the Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA) by the end of 2022.

In addition, Regional Directors will promote and broker schools into multi-academy trusts and will have regulatory powers, including powers of intervention.

Furthermore, Regions Groups will drive improvement, expand strong trusts and proactively intervene when trusts are not providing an excellent education.

The Education and Adoption Act 2016 provides for the Secretary of State to be given powers in relation to maintained schools.

This includes the power to issue warning notices to maintained schools and the power to require the governing body of a maintained school that is ‘eligible for intervention’ to enter into arrangements with an academy sponsor.

The Act’s provisions also require that every school judged ‘inadequate’ by Ofsted receive an academy order.

These powers of intervention are delegated to RSCs.

How will academy conversion affect the educational provision pupils receive?

Structural change does not of itself raise standards. There are outstanding academies and outstanding community and foundation schools.

Academies have freedom to vary the curriculum and there are concerns that this has led to a narrowing of the curriculum in some schools and a loss of subjects, particularly creative subjects and the arts.

Some academies have made decisions about school uniform and equipment and educational opportunities offered by the school which have become cost-prohibitive for some families.

It is important that prior to conversion parents and staff seek details from the governing body or sponsor of their plans in these areas.

Do pupils achieve better in academies?

There is no evidence that structural change such as academy conversion will result in better educational standards or outcomes for children.

There are high-performing academies and there are academies that have been judged ‘inadequate’ by Ofsted.

It is how a school supports high-quality teaching and learning not what it is called that is critical to success.

Does becoming an academy mean that the school will get new buildings and facilities?

There is no provision for new academies to have new buildings or facilities.

Will there be any changes to admissions in academies?

Academies are their own admissions authority and, therefore, set their own admission policies.

They are required to abide by the fair admissions code.

Once a school becomes an academy, what can parents do if they are not happy with any decisions made?

In the first instance, as now, parents can complain to the school. An academy should have a clear complaints procedure.

Academies are not local authority schools and, therefore, if parents are not satisfied with the school, they cannot generally complain to the local authority or their local councillor, although a local councillor may wish to try to assist.

Processes for making complaints about academies are more complex than those of local authority schools because of the range of agencies involved. It may involve, for example, Ofsted, local MPs or going directly to the Department for Education.

What happens if an academy experiences difficulties?

This will largely depend on the nature of the difficulties.

Matters concerning perceived underperformance fall within the remit of Ofsted or the Regional Schools Commissioner (RSC) who has wide-ranging powers to intervene and may choose to move an academy into a multi-academy trust (MAT) or move the academy into another trust if it is already a member of one.

Financial problems/irregularities may be dealt with by the Education and Skills Funding Agency or the Department for Education depending on the nature and severity of the difficulty faced.

What should I do if my school is considering becoming an academy?

Always, in the first instance, contact your local NASUWT Representative for advice and support.

When contacting your Local Association, it will be helpful to provide the following information:

  • your full name;

  • the details of the school you are employed at, including information about the local authority; and

  • as much information as possible about the proposals and why the school is considering academy conversion.

The NASUWT will arrange to visit and talk to members to discuss their views on the conversion and to provide them with information on academy status.

Where members wish to oppose the conversion, the NASUWT will provide advice and support on the strategy to use.

Whatever members’ views are on conversion and whatever the outcome of the process, the NASUWT will fully support members.