Whitley Stimpson takes a lead role in helping Oxfordshire’s schools to become successful academies

Oct 22, 2012

Leading accountancy firm Whitley Stimpson is playing a central role in helping many of Oxfordshire’s schools to become successful academies. The Banbury-based firm has just won a contract to act for the Oxford Diocesan Schools Trust which comprises 281 schools, 120 of which are located in Oxfordshire. The firm is also acting for Southfield Nursery and Primary School in Brackley and Glyne Gap School in Bexhill-On-Sea.

“A wind of change is blowing across the education landscape, with parents and the wider public gradually becoming more aware of the implications,” says Martin Wyatt, partner and academies specialist, Whitley Stimpson. “David Cameron’s academy conversion programme presents a major opportunity to revolutionise UK schools, with academy schools taking direct control over key financial, structural and educational issues.”

With Oxfordshire County Council having voted in favour of plans to encourage all state schools in the county to become academies, the pace of this transformation will now increase. Councillors believe that in becoming academies, schools will support each other and raise standards.

“Achieving academy status presents a significant opportunity to improve education by allowing schools to take control of their own destiny,” explains Martin. ‘‘Oxfordshire has until now been isolated in its stance on academies, with relatively few schools converting. This is an historic decision for the region and paves the way for a brighter future for the county’s children.’’

Whitley Stimpson is now advising more than 30 schools on the academy conversion process. Wyatt and his specialist education team are helping the schools to navigate the complex regulations surrounding the conversion to academy status and are working closely with governors and trustees to both complete the transformation efficiently and deliver maximum value to their pupils.

“Schools opting to become academies receive funding directly from government rather than via their local council,” explains Martin. “This gives them the freedom and independence to function as a business, setting staff pay and conditions, taking key decisions on the curriculum, term dates and procurement of services and importantly, managing budgets. However, this transition requires schools to negotiate a myriad of business and government regulations, which means seeking professional advice from financial experts is vital to making a successful conversion.”

All state-run schools can become academies and smaller schools can opt to become part of a multi-academy trust, sharing experience, skills and leadership teams. In becoming an academy, a school becomes a company limited by guarantee and appoints a board of directors. It is then regulated by the Department of Education, the Companies Act and the Charities Act.

The majority of conversions to date have taken place in secondary schools. In contrast to the secondary sector, primary schools do not often employ school business managers, and therefore may require a greater level of support through the conversion process. Smaller primary schools may group together to form a multi-academy trust, although there is no obligation for every school in the trust to convert to academy status.

Martin and his team’s specialist expertise are already proving invaluable to the schools they support, as the majority of school teachers and governors do not have a business background and are keen to seek professional advice when approaching what can be quite a daunting transition process.

“The academy conversion process is complicated but by no means insurmountable,” says Martin. “By embracing the high quality accountancy systems, making the mental shift to becoming a business and taking care to maximise every commercial opportunity, schools are well placed to optimise the services they provide to the children in their care.”

With strong values and a real belief in the power of education, Martin is Chairman of the Trustees of Banbury School and also has personal experience of the system, with five children in education. Through his many years’ experience of family accountancy and working with small businesses, he has also developed a knack for translating complex business terminology into simple, accessible language.

From advising on the initial transition to conducting the annual auditing of accounts, Martin guides schools through every step of their academy journey. He first advises on applying for academy status, explaining the important accountancy and governance obligations this entails. Once the application is complete, he demystifies further technicalities and helps governors and trustees to feel comfortable in their decision making, while forming a practical understanding of the implications of running an academy.

“It was clear from my meeting with Martin Wyatt that he has a deep, unmatched understanding of the academy sector,” comments Gordon Joyner, Deputy Director of Education, Oxford Diocesan Board of Education. “His assistance with day-to-day matters and longer-term strategic advice is highly valuable to us. This coupled with his knowledge of the complete academy conversion process, his astute business sense and strong empathy with the values of our school made him a natural choice. We are lucky to have such an efficient resource on our doorstep!”

Martin Wyatt believes that schools will steadily opt to convert to academy status as this becomes the optimum means of achieving improved results and ensuring the schools’ stability and future success. Martin and his team are committed to guiding head teachers and school governors through the conversion process, helping them adapt to the ‘Brave New World’ presented by academy school status.

For further information or to book a free initial consultation with Martin Wyatt, please visit www.whitleystimpson.co.uk or call 01295 270200.

Photograph: Gordon Joyner, Deputy Director of Education, Oxford Diocesan Board of Education and Martin Wyatt, Partner and academies specialist, Whitley Stimpson