Opting for academisation - a costly choice?

The long awaited government guidance on sixth form colleges becoming academies was finally published on 19 February 2016, and updated Friday 11th March. Given the ongoing area review process, and the interwoven process of applying for academisation, consideration of this choice for many sixth form colleges will be increasingly urgent.

As part of area review, the academisation process, and whether academisation will mean becoming a stand alone academy or joining a Multi Academy Trust, will of course have to be considered alongside possible alternatives such as merger or collaboration with other local sixth form and FE colleges.

 Academisation is only possible for those institutions fitting the statutory definition of an academy as “principally concerned with providing full-time or part-time education suitable to the requirements of persons over compulsory school age but under 19”.  This is interpreted as meaning that 80% of  the college’s students must be 16 to 19 year olds. This creates a difficult choice for some sixth form colleges, in that whilst they might be attracted to the benefits of academisation, this would prohibit otherwise attractive merger with FE colleges who have, or are developing, over-19 adult apprenticeship and/or HE provision.

Those opting for academisation will of course be unable to offer employers an across-the-board provision for all-age apprenticeships available under the new levy system.  Apprenticeship provision is clearly the growth area in FE given the government focus on 3m apprenticeship starts by 2020. The number of over-19 apprenticeships starts has also now radically overtaken the numbers of under- 19’s: in 2013-14 over-19s made up almost three quarters of all starts.

The lack of college representation on the Institute for Apprenticeships, and the design of the apprenticeship levy system, produces a natural concentration on employer needs and demand. The trend is clearly in the direction of the over-19 market.

Opting in to academisation, and out of all age apprenticeship provision, may be a difficult and costly choice for some.

Hester Fairclough 
T: 0121 214 0565
E: hester.faircough@shma.co.uk
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