Academy conversion "makes sense", says TRC principal

By Adele Forrest | 09/05/2017

Academy conversion 'makes sense', says TRC principal
Dr Richard Williams

A COLLEGE principal has insisted little will change for his students if plans to turn it into an academy go ahead. 

Dr Richard Williams said the proposed change to the status of Thomas Rotherham College (TRC) from a sixth form college was in response to a difficult financial climate.

Dr Williams said he had been able to balance the books for the last eight years, but change was needed as the future of Government funding looked uncertain.

TRC said that joining Inspire Trust, which also runs nearby Oakwood School and Sitwell Junior School, at the end of August would improve the educational experience it could offer students.

Notice has been given to dissolve TRC and transfer its property, rights, assets and liabilities to Inspire Trust.

A public consultation meeting on the plans will be held at the college on Moorgate Road from 5pm to 6pm on Monday, May 22.

Dr Williams said: “Students’ experience of being at TRC wont change in a major way, it’s the background structure that it’s part of that will change.
“Sixth form colleges are already rather like academies though, as we have been out of local government control since 1992 after new laws were passed. 
“We were like prototype academies — really the only difference is we pay VAT and they don’t.”

The principal said there would be no changes to the college’s name, curriculum, entry criteria or catchment areas, while a £70,000 transition grant from the Department of Education would cover conversion costs.

Dr Williams, who has been in post since 2006, urged people to submit their views via the college’s website or at the upcoming public meeting.

He said talks about academy status had been in the pipeline since November 2015 when the Government announced that sixth form colleges could apply to become academies, something which had only previously been open to primary and secondary schools.

Joining a multi-academy trust was the best option to try and save money, he said, citing extreme pressure on education funding since 2008/09.

In 2009, TRC was given £4,900 per student.

If funding had kept up with inflation, the college would now receive £6,000 per student, but instead it has fallen to £4,000.

“With resources tight, it made sense to pool our resources,” Dr Williams said.

The college could save on licensing, internet and IT fees, Dr Williams said, adding that it could also cut its £130,000 VAT bill and claim the academy entitlement of £30,000-a-year in rate relief.

Cuts to upper and middle management staff, heads of department and voluntary redundancies had helped to balance the books in past years “but there’s only a limit to how far you can go with that”, he added.

Rising national insurance rates and pension costs combined with an uncertain funding future were concerns, Dr William said.

The board of Inspire Trust, which was formed in July 2014, includes governors from both its current schools and is led by David Naisbitt, headteacher of Oakwood School.

If the TRC proposal goes ahead, the college’s governors would join the trust board.

If more schools were to join the trust as hoped, Dr Williams said, a chief executive with a more detached role from a particular institution could be appointed.

Consultation on the plans closes on June 16 and a decision will be made by the governors on July 3.

The Education Funding Agency (EFA) and Regional Schools Commissioner would have final approval.

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