The Department for Education (“DfE”) has updated its guidance on making significant changes to an open academy (“New Guidance”). This article looks at the key amendments in the New Guidance.

Fast-track route

It has become more difficult to qualify for the ‘fast-track’ route. The New Guidance lists additional conditions which now apply: submitting evidence of a Progress 8 score of at least the national average, good financial health, capacity to make the intended change, and consent of the local authority (and where relevant, the religious authority).

The ‘fast-track’ route is also no longer available for removal of sixth form provision. A full business case is required, whether the intended removal is temporary or permanent.

Equality Impact Assessment (“EIA”)

For all significant change proposals academies are now required to complete an EIA, whether ‘fast-track’ or as part of a full business case. The EIA evaluates potential impact on persons with characteristics protected under the Equality Act 2010.

Significant Changes: non-mainstream provision

The removal or change to Early Years provision, and any changes to the type of provision delivered, (eg from mainstream to special or alternative provision or providing pre-school childcare), are now subject to the significant change procedure. The advice is to first contact the DfE with an enquiry form.

In the case of changes to the age range of UTCs and Studio Schools a detailed Education Plan must be submitted with a full business case. An initial discussion with the DfE is advised.

Amalgamations and de-amalgamations

We have worked with academy trusts to combine (“amalgamate”) separate provision under one school, and to split (“de-amalgamate”) existing provision into two or more distinct schools.

There are now two methods of amalgamation and a full business case is required for both. Academy trusts can either retain an existing school (with significant changes) or establish a new school with a new school number. Academy trusts are reminded to consider TUPE implications for staff and whether the amalgamation or de-amalgamation involves any variations to admissions policy.

De-amalgamation is rather exceptional, and specifically is not a method for selective schools to expand or a method to create a separate 16-19 academy.

De-amalgamation proposals must address requirements in the New Guidance, the original school (pre-split) site must remain open and the newly separated provision must be registered as a new academy. Where expansion (number of places or age range) is intended, the correct ‘significant change’ application is to propose a new school.

Closure by mutual agreement

This new section applies where an academy has low numbers on roll with no predicted increase, or has been underperforming for some time in an area with a need for additional school places. Closure by mutual agreement is intended as a further solution, to address standards and/or viability issues, in addition to re-brokerage of the academy to another academy trust.

Further Clarifications

The New Guidance contains further clarifications – the significant change process does not apply to PAN increases without site expansion, when applying to the Selective Schools Expansion Fund, or to change admission policies.