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HCR Law Events

18 May 2021

Department for Education announces plans and guidance for multi-academy trusts

As part of the Education Secretary’s vision for every school to be part of a MAT, all schools will now be given the opportunity to ‘try the academy experience before they buy’, by way of a Trust Partnership to see the benefits of association with a MAT.

The Department for Education (DfE) has produced trust partnerships guidance and a trust partnership service level agreement (SLA). The guidance, created with the help of sector leaders including academy trust leaders and headteachers of maintained schools, provides an explanation as to what trust partnerships are and how they work, and provides examples of partnerships.

The guidance is aimed at MATs which wish to set up formalised trust partnership arrangements with standalone schools outside their academy trust and is intended to sit alongside a model SLA. It should be read in conjunction with the guidance for academy trusts and prospective converters.

What is a Trust Partnership?

A Trust Partnership is a time-limited arrangement allowing schools to partner with an academy trust at an agreed cost through a service charge to explore how a permanent arrangement might work. They may also help support schools awaiting conversion by allowing them to work collaboratively with the academy trust before the conversion process is completed. However, they are not a replacement for converting to academy status and are not a preliminary step before conversion.

As the ability of both parties to set terms that work for them is key to successful Trust Partnerships, the model SLA is intended to be as flexible as possible and can be adapted for use for an academy trust with only one school.

How is a Trust Partnership set up?

There is no single model of Trust Partnership, but it should have the following key components:

  • be time-limited, typically 12-18 months
  • during the partnership, the governing body of the school should consider academisation/ merging through formal consultation where required
  • activity undertaken should focus on teaching and leadership
  • all arrangements should be recorded through formal documentation and, whilst documents may vary, each party should be clear from the outset about the terms, any costs, expectations, and objectives of the arrangement.

The DfE has no formal role in any Trust Partnership arrangement, but schools are recommended to notify their relevant Regional Schools Commissioner office of their plans to enter into a Trust Partnership.

Top tips

  1. Be clear from the outset on the objectives of the relationship – ensure you know what the offer will be, including the expectations of what each party will bring to/expect from the arrangement.
  2. Take time to consider the hidden costs of any arrangement – particularly the amount of time and resource needed from the leadership team.
  3. For MATs due diligence is essential if the relationship is to provide effective school improvement.
  4. Schools should take time to engage the right academy trust and be aware that these relationships are time limited.

In addition to this ‘try before you buy’ approach, research will be undertaken during the summer term of 2021 to make the process of joining a MAT as easy as possible. Our education team has nearly 20 years of experience advising schools on the academies programme, including conversions mergers and expansions. If you would like any support, do please contact Emma Swann at [email protected]

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About the Author
Emma Swann, Partner, Head of Academies

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