Our initial understanding

When we started on this project, our goal was to launch a minimum viable product that met the needs of Regional Casework Services (then known as the Operational Delivery Team).

We tested with that user group frequently throughout the design process and got a good understand of their needs and the way they spoke about their work.

Those users worked only on voluntary conversions. They only pick up those projects after they have been given approval by the advisory board.

Voluntary and involuntary conversions

With users consistently referring to voluntary conversions, we felt that the logical, plain-English opposite to that was involuntary.

For that reason we chose to use two terms to refer to the types of conversion.

They were:

  • Voluntary conversion - a school is performing well and decides they would like to become an academy
  • Involuntary conversion - a school is not performing well and is told it must become an academy

Expanding to new users in Public Beta taught us new things

Just before entering Private Beta, we were asked to include another user group: Regional Delivery Officers.

They do a very similar job. Delivery officers carry conversion projects through from application, to preparation for advisory board, and complete the conversion. They work on voluntary and involuntary conversions.

With both caseworkers and delivery officers using the system in Public Beta, we learnt that the conversions we considered involuntary were a bit more complicated that we initially understood.

Conversions are more complicated than we thought

There are still just 2 terms used to describe the types of conversions.

  • voluntary
  • sponsored

We chose to use sponsored rather than involuntary as it more accurately reflected the reality of the conversion. The school is supported to convert by a sponsor trust. It will join that trust when it becomes an academy. Often there is nothing involuntary about the change. Schools know that it is an effective way to improve performance and ultimately benefit the learning outcomes for its pupils.

Sponsor status is something given to experienced trusts who have the knowledge and resources to take on schools that are converting in an attempt to improve performance.

Routes to conversion

While there are 2 terms used to describe conversion types, there are many ways a school can become an academy.

  • a school that is performing well applies to become an academy
  • a school receives an "Inadequate" rating in an Ofsted inspection. The school is then legally obligated become an academy and must join a sponsor trust
  • a school that receives 2 "Requires improvement" ratings in Ofsted inspections. DfE, the local authority and the school discuss plans to improve performance. It is decided that the school should convert immediately
  • a school that receives 2 "Requires improvement" ratings in Ofsted inspections. DfE, the local authority and the school discuss plans to improve performance. It remains a local authority maintained school and the changes are made. If it gets another "Requires improvement" rating from Ofsted then the school is legally obligated to become an academy and must join a sponsor trust

Impact on design and code

This means we will need to change the way our application works.

Currently, the application is built on a data model that uses a binary concept of voluntary or involuntary conversions, with a separate list of tasks for each type.

Instead, we are going to merge the task lists. There will only be conversions.

When the conversion project is created, the application will ask for information about which types of academy order has been issued and if the academy will be part of a sponsor trust.

We will make it possible for users to mark any tasks that vary between sponsored and voluntary conversions as not applicable.

It is not really whether a conversion is voluntary or sponsored that is useful to our users. What is useful is understanding how the school got to this point. Did it decide independently, or have DfE and Ofsted been involved? Is the academy required to join a sponsor trust?

These are the pieces of information that give users what they need to know to understand the history of the school and who they need to engage with during the conversion process.

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