Converting a school to an academy, setting up a new free school, forming a group under a multi-academy trust and running the new organisation once it is set up, all bring a series of opportunities and challenges. Operating under these new arrangements can be quite a daunting experience at first. Following several recent scandals and press coverage, there is an increased focus on good governance, accounting and propriety controls, in particular the need to avoid conflicts of interest and ensure proper stewardship of public money. It is important that academy promoters, managers, trustee directors and governors understand and comply with their responsibilities and duties.
An academy trust is a company limited by guarantee with charitable status. As a company, it has an independent legal identity, can enter into contracts, employ staff and be sued in its own name. It enjoys a fair degree of autonomy and opportunities to innovate (within the constraints set by the Department for Education’s Funding Agreement and Financial Handbook), but the trade-off for this is more responsibility on the managers and trustees to run the school’s affairs prudently and professionally. As a company with ‘exempt charity’ status, the trust and its managers must also comply with duties laid down by company law and charity law.