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FAQs - academy conversion for hospital schools

3 December 2012

This bulletin discusses hospital schools and academy conversion. While the academy conversion programme has generally been popular with most categories of schools, hospital schools are notably absent from the ever-increasing number of schools that have converted to academy status. Browne Jacobson has been advising the first hospital school to embark on the process of academy conversion and this bulletin examines why take-up has been slow and provides guidance on conversion for this particular type of school.

What are hospital schools?

The DfE describes a hospital school as a school “providing education to pupils who, for health-related reasons including injuries or illnesses, have been admitted to hospital and are not able to attend their mainstream school for a period of time.” A good example of when a hospital school would be utilised (although there are a large range of circumstances) would be where a child is admitted to hospital for a course of treatment or an operation. During that period, the child will not be able to receive education at their usual school and the hospital school therefore steps in so that the child’s academic progress is not hindered.

The arrangements of individual hospital schools are often extended further. For example, as well as providing teaching on a hospital ward, they may also offer home-schooling or provide education in a setting such as a designated teaching centre.

Why are hospitals not converting to academy status? 

Academy status is available to hospital schools in the same way it is for any other type of maintained school. However, at the time of writing, no hospital school has yet converted to academy status. Why is this? Funding is probably the key factor. As discussed further below, the way in which hospital schools are funded can be particularly complex. The translation of those arrangements into an academy context is yet to be tested and hospital schools do not wish to be left out of pocket. Most hospital schools are categorised as special schools and we know that many non-hospital special schools have been hesitant to convert to academy status due to uncertainty of funding.

However there are other reasons. Browne Jacobson’s academy survey carried out in 2012 (http://www.education-advisors.com/resource/academies-driving-success-through-autonomy-2/) found that freedom from local authority control was an important reason for many schools becoming an academy. However, hospital schools however are required to work particularly closely with their local authority, for example, through the referral process for admissions and to deal with recoupment of funding from other local authorities. They perhaps have a more complex relationship with local authorities than the average maintained school.

Finally, although the DfE is clear that hospital schools can apply to convert, it is fair to say that the conversion of hospital schools has not so far been a priority for central government. For example, while there are suites of model documentation and clauses devoted to other categories of schools, such as church schools, grammar schools and boarding schools, there is still no such documentation available to reflect the idiosyncrasies of hospital education.

How do funding agreements apply to hospital schools?

From our work with hospital schools to date, we know that the DfE now accepts that their model funding agreement (special or mainstream) is not wholly appropriate for hospital schools. We have been working with the DfE and a large hospital school who is in the process of converting to develop a funding agreement which is more suitable. Changes to the usual model agreed so far include wording to reflect the particular characteristics of a hospital, that it is designed to provide education for pupils with medical needs. In addition, the DfE seem prepared to work with hospital schools to allow the pupil numbers referred to in the funding agreement to reflect their more transient admissions arrangements. The Government recognises that by its nature, hospital education is reactive to needs that cannot be planned for and hence further amendments may be appropriate for particular hospital schools.

It is important to note though that in terms of the clauses of the funding agreement which break down the elements of General Annual Grant (“GAG”) that the academy will receive, the DfE has so far refused to make any changes to the usual wording that features in the model special funding agreement. To the extent that the hospital school has funding streams from other sources, for example any privately or separately commissioned funding, the DfE will not agree to reflect these in the funding agreement and the hospital school would need to ensure it enters into agreements with the relevant organisations separately.

Can we recoup fees for out of area pupils? 

It is common for hospital schools to admit “out-of-area” pupils. In relation to pupils who attend a hospital school but are from a different local authority, the school’s own local authority will usually be responsible for ensuring that the relevant funding for the place provided is recouped from the pupil’s home local authority. However, this can be a time-consuming and costly exercise, particularly when large numbers of out-of-area pupils are involved, and there has been a question mark over how this process would work if a hospital school converted to academy status.

The DfE recognised in its further report on school funding reform published in the spring of 2012 that “the current system entails a huge amount of bureaucratic inter-authority recoupment, particularly in relation to hospital education for the relatively high number of pupils who spend a short amount of time in hospital.”

Therefore, under the new funding regime commencing in April 2013, the system of inter-authority recoupment will be replaced. It is understood that in relation to hospital places at an academy, these will be funded at full cost by the Education Funding Agency (“EFA”). It is important for hospital schools to have an understanding of (and agreement with the local authority and the DfE on) which of their places are hospital places and which may be alternative provision or special places as the level of base funding received and who is responsible for any top-up funding will vary accordingly.

How does the land transfer work?

A hospital school will, as the name suggests, commonly operate from a hospital and may also provide education at a number of different sites. The land arrangements and dealing with the transfer of these to the academy trust as part of the conversion process therefore differ from a standard conversion.

To the extent that a hospital school uses premises owned by the local authority to provide education, the expectation will be that the local authority will grant a 125 year lease to the academy trust, as per standard DfE policy.

However, where the school provides education to in-patients in hospital (whether NHS or private) the property arrangements will need to be entered into and agreed separately in each case with the relevant hospital. Matters such as whether the hospital school exclusively occupies any part of the hospital and the particular approach of the relevant hospital will determine whether a lease or a licence is appropriate and the form that this document takes.

Are there any employment issues?

As with any academy conversion, the move to academy status will mean a transfer of staff who are employed at the school to the academy trust, who will be the new employer. Like any other converting maintained school, the hospital school will need to ensure it complies with its obligations under TUPE.

Hospital schools should pay particular attention to identifying the current employer of any staff who provide services to the school and which staff will transfer to the new academy as part of the conversion. Hospital schools may rely on hospital staff as part of the provision of hospital education and there is therefore a risk that the academy trust becomes the employer of such staff following conversion.

What about school admissions?

As hospital schools may admit pupils through a number of different routes, it will be important that the admission annex to the funding agreement caters for the different sources of admissions. The DfE’s desired starting point for the admissions annex is the model special school admissions that are by way of referral from a local authority where the local authority has a duty to educate the child under the circumstances covered by section 19 of the Education Act 1996. Section 19 states that a local authority has a duty to educate the child where a child may not attend school due to illness. This may therefore catch a large number of hospital school admissions. However, any other sources of admissions such as referrals from any other organisations would also need to be reflected so that the funding agreement does not prevent the academy from admitting these students.

Talk to us
For further information regarding hospital school academy conversions, please contact Katie Michelon on 0115 976 6189.

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