HEREFORD Sixth Form College will be the first in the country to convert to academy status, which will result in £250,000 of additional funds per year.

The college will become an academy from March 1, which will be the first to do so since the government announced in November 2015 that to be eligible to reclaim VAT sixth form colleges could apply to become academies.

This was the culmination of a long campaign by the Sixth Form Colleges Association (SFCA), Drop the Learning Tax, which was well supported by colleges, MPs and celebrity alumni such as Colin Firth.

Jonathan Godfrey, principal of Hereford Sixth Form College, said: "The additional resources which reclaiming VAT will provide are of the order of £250,000 per year.

"In addition, our new status will allow us to formalise some of collaborative work with our excellent local 11 to 16 partner schools.

"The process of conversion has been arduous owing to our being the first.

"Department For Education officials have had to adapt the application forms and necessary legal documents to reflect the different starting point of colleges compared with schools but this should enable future conversions to proceed more smoothly."

Graded "outstanding’" by Ofsted and with its financial health rated as "outstanding" by the Education Funding Agency, the college was able to apply to become a single academy trust.

James Kewin, deputy chief executive of SFCA, said: "As incorporated, fully autonomous institutions the conversion to a Single Academy Trust has very little impact on the governance and administrative arrangements of a college and I am delighted that Hereford has become the first to benefit from this process.

"However, while the improved finances are welcome, they only partially address the huge gap in funding between post-16 education and the 11 to 16 sector and SFCA is continuing to campaign on this issue.

"The academisation of many sixth form colleges, the most effective and efficient of post-16 providers, can only strengthen the academies sector through the collaborative work which will follow."

The SFCA said about two-thirds of colleges have expressed an interest in converting.

There is some loss of autonomy on academy conversion, with the college being accountable to the regional schools commissioner, and restrictions on borrowing. But Dr Godfrey said he did not believe these restrictions are sufficient to deter colleges from entering the academy sector.