Becoming an Academy

Ian Cooper
Legislation introduced in July 2010 has paved the way for radical reform of the state education system. The government is also undertaking a full review of all Department for Education capital spending projects. We assess the impact on school estates of these 2 major issues.

Government plans to shake up the English education system will result in a new wave of Academies, together with the creation of Free Schools.

Legislation introduced in July 2010 has paved the way for radical reform of the state education system.

Primary, secondary and special schools rated "Outstanding" overall in their most recent Ofsted inspection are eligible to convert to academies through the first phase of this new process by September 2010.

Later in the year, schools without "Outstanding" status will have the opportunity to apply. The schools will be opting out of Local Authority control and will receive direct funding in the form of a grant, known as the General Annual Grant (GAG), paid by the Young People's Learning Agency (YPLA). There is no requirement for these schools to have an external sponsor.

Swedish-style Free Schools will also be free from Local Authority control. These are all-ability state-funded schools set up by parents, charities and other organisations. The government has pledged £50m funding for these new schools, between now and March 2011.

The New Schools Network is an independent organisation set up to improve the quality of education through increasing the number of independent schools within the state sector, and advises groups interested in progressing applications for Free Schools.

The government is currently undertaking a full review of all DfE capital spending projects. Details of capital funding for the new Academies have therefore yet to be published, but it seems likely that refurbishment, as opposed to new build, will form the first thrust of investment. Many schools also have a backlog of maintenance to be addressed.

Most new Academies will lack experience in managing their own estates strategy including construction/refurbishment plans. They are likely to face significant challenges around procuring professional advisors and contractors, building design, procurement, cost control, project management and quality management.

Our experience suggests that our clients in the education sector achieve best results when the following are in place:

  • A clearly defined educational vision

  • A design brief that matches and supports the vision

  • Clearly defined roles and responsibilities

  • Well defined expectations which reflect budgetary constraints

  • Clear programme and procurement method

  • Knowledge of the right supply chain/contractors

  • Good teamwork between the design team and Academy sponsors (where applicable)

  • Comprehensive monitoring processes

Underpinning these, an agreed plan for capital funding, planned maintenance and lifecycle costing will ensure that educational needs are properly interpreted within the school's built environment. This will enable buildings to be maintained to an appropriate standard, avoiding the mistakes of the past when funding for maintenance was reduced

As technical and design advisors to the DfE Academies Group, we have acted as key client contact on cost issues, and currently provide strategic advice on service delivery. We have been involved on over 70 schemes procured through the existing Academies programme, with construction values of between £5m and £50m.

Faithful+Gould's extensive national education sector experience includes higher and further education, BSF and Local Authority commissions.