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Sixth form colleges converting to academies - new DfE guidance

  • United Kingdom
  • Education - Briefings



The Department for Education (DfE) published Becoming a 16-19 academy: advice for sixth form colleges on 19 February 2016.  The advice is accessible here.

The advice indicates that the aim of allowing conversion to academy status is to encourage sixth form colleges (SFCs), with their focus on academic programmes, to partner more effectively with schools.  The advice also confirms that conversion must be part of and consistent with the findings of an area review of post-16 provision outside schools.

Colleges eligible for conversion

SFCs must have at least 80% of students aged 16-18.

Exceptionally a further education college might be eligible for academy conversion if at least 80% of its students are aged 16-18, with the majority studying academic programmes.  There are relatively few such colleges.


The application must be made once the recommendations of the area review are known but an interested college can start to consider an application earlier.  Colleges are advised to allow 4-6 months from approval for implementation of conversion.

Colleges should register their interest with the government Joint Area Review Delivery Unit (JARDU), consider if they are eligible for conversion under the criteria in the advice, explore possible school partnerships, consider getting early independent legal advice, explore the implications of conversion and undertake appropriate financial and legal due diligence on their prospective partner(s).

Applications need to give assurance that the academy will be solvent and viable.  They must identify any issues around the institution’s assets, liabilities (including, in particular, bank loans), contracts, and any LGPS deficit.

Applicants are advised to establish the costs of conversion and to consider whether to apply for support from the government’s recently announced college restructuring facility.  More information on this facility is to appear soon in revised area review guidance.

Applicants are advised to consult with staff, students and local stakeholders about a proposal to convert.  It should be noted that such consultation is in addition to the statutory consultation required before a college corporation can resolve to dissolve and transfer its assets to another body.  in any event, consultation is an effective way of minimising the risk of legal challenge to conversion.

Applicants must secure agreement to conversion from the college corporation, the trustees of any supporting foundation, the diocese if the college is a Roman Catholic SFC, from lenders etc.

Applicants must discuss with staff the process of transfer under the TUPE regulations.

Applicants should liaise with their lead EFA contact throughout.

The proposal must be endorsed by the area review steering group, approved by the SFC Commissioner and relevant Regional Schools Commissioner.

Applications need to be made on the DfE form.  If the application is approved, implementation will be supported by EFA and academies case workers.


To establish a new multi-academy trust (MAT) an SFC must be educationally and financially strong (good or outstanding).  Otherwise the SFC will be required to join an existing MAT.

To convert as a stand-alone academy, an SFC must be educationally and financially strong and the application must set out detailed proposals for partnership arrangements with local schools.


SFCs wanting to apply should do so within the relevant area review.  DfE will then consider whether there will be any further chance to apply once area reviews are completed.  No guarantees are given that this will be possible.

Two or more SFCs can apply to form an MAT provided the proposal satisfies the DfE criteria.

An SFC can join a geographically remote MAT provided it can show how this will establish better partnerships with schools.  Geographical distance is likely to render that more difficult to achieve.

SFCs must retain their distinct post-16 character within an MAT.

SFCs may be allowed to retain SFA funding of any post-19 training they currently provide but must include details of this in an application.

Provision of higher education courses may continue if they are franchised from a higher education institution (HEI) and the HEI agrees.  If the course is validated (rather than franchised) by the HEI,  any funding received directly from HEFCE will cease, as will automatic designation of the institution for student loan purposes.  However, an application to the Secretary of State for course-specific designation will be possible.

Any Tier 4 sponsored international students will be able to complete their courses post-conversion but will not be able to start any new courses, as academies are not permitted to hold such licences.

How Eversheds can help

As the advice notes, there are many factors which college corporations and senior management will need to consider before any decision to apply for academy conversion is made.  Eversheds have extensive experience in advising colleges at key points in their development, and in relation to academy conversion and operation.