Academies and the school site

An ever increasing number of schools are questioning whether or not to convert to academy status, if they have not converted already.  Academy status is obtained by creating a charitable company, known as the Academy Trust (AT).  This appoints the governing body for the school.  The AT needs a right to occupy the school site and an adequate budget to maintain it.

Initially the site may belong to the school’s governing body, the local authority or a third party.  Some of the land could be public land (land which is now, or previously has been owned by the local authority or improved at public expense even though it has been owned privately).  Schedule 14 of the Education Bill enables the Secretary of State to insist that public land is made available for academies.

Restrictions are imposed on the AT’s use of the land to make sure that what starts off as public land is used for the academy or returned to public ownership.  If the school sits on private land, the school has the opportunity to negotiate the terms of the lease, but restrictions will still apply.  It will depend on what type of school it is and whether the land is publicly or privately owned as to whether the land needs to be transferred or assigned (if it is leasehold) to the local authority before a lease is granted or the land is transferred.

Requirements to convert – the property issues to consider:
- A report on title has to be prepared and submitted to the Secretary of State for consent.  If unregistered, the title deeds would need to be located and the title would need to be investigated to make sure that it is comprehensive; this can be particularly complicated if the school shares part of its site with another school or third party.
- If land is held by the governing body, a transfer must take place before conversion, because the governing body ceases to exist thereafter.
- Any necessary consent from the Secretary of State must be obtained prior to conversion.

Few schools have had the same site since they first opened, with many acquiring or selling the land throughout their existence.  This has left many schools with a jigsaw of ownership, titles and rights over the site and those looking into whether to convert often fear that this will be the hurdle to converting to an academy.  However, with a sensible approach, the property side of the conversion process is rarely fatal to its success.

For further information contact Emma Wraight 01245 453839 or email emma.wraight@birkettlong.co.uk

The contents of this article are intended for general information purposes only and shall not be deemed to be, or constitute legal advice. We cannot accept responsibility for any loss as a result of acts or omissions taken in respect of this article.