The Department for Education (DfE) has updated its non-statutory guidance ‘Trust Partnerships: guidance for academy trusts and prospective joiners’ (the “guidance”). The guidance aims to explain what trust partnerships are and how they work, and to provide examples of trusts and schools who have successfully entered into a partnership.
What is a trust partnership?
If schools are unsure as to how joining an academy trust will impact on the running of their school, a helpful way for schools to get an indication of what to expect if the school were to join an academy trust is to enter into a trust partnership. It is an arrangement for a limited period of time which allows the trust and the school to come together in a mutually beneficial partnership.
It is important to note that, whilst the DfE does not need to approve the majority of trust partnerships, the Regional Director should be made aware of the plans, and it does not expect trust partnerships to be used in lieu of the school joining an academy trust, or as a required step prior to doing so – although entering into a trust partnership may be a helpful support in the interim period prior to a school joining an academy trust.
In order for a trust partnership to be recognised as such, it should demonstrate the following attributes:
- The trust partnership needs to be time limited, ordinarily for a period of 12 – 18 months
- The trust partnership must be used as an opportunity for the school to give due consideration to academisation/merging with the academy trust via formal consultation
- The activity which is undertaken as part of the trust partnership should focus on teaching and leadership. This could include, for instance, academy trust-wide training opportunities and headteacher mentoring and support
- Formal documentation must record the arrangements between the school and the academy trust.
Is a trust partnership right for our school?
When considering whether a trust partnership would be an appropriate option for your school, there are some steps which the DfE advises are taken. You should of course ensure that you are clear on the objectives of the relationship, keeping in mind that the arrangement is time limited, and consider any costs which may apply to the arrangement, including time and resources which will be needed to make the partnership successful. As well as making these considerations, you should ensure that a meaningful due diligence exercise is conducted.
In addition, schools with a religious designation should consult with their religious authority in respect of the proposed arrangement and seek consent.
Trust partnerships can be mistakenly considered to be an alternative to academisation and MAT expansion. Whilst this is not the case, they are a helpful tool to ‘test the waters’ and consider how a long-term partnership could work.
Schools considering entering into a trust partnership should take steps to ensure that the partnership will be appropriate for their individual school’s needs and requirements, and that the benefits will be shared by the schools involved.