Whilst the legislation for schools to join strong groups of academies by 2030 has been withdrawn, it’s clear that academisation, and the formation of strong multi-academy trusts (MATs), is still very much on the agenda in the education sector. However, forming strong MATs requires financial investment.
The Department for Education has in place specific funding for trusts, schools and dioceses, as well as other organisations looking to establish a new MAT. This is referred to as the ‘Trust Establishment and Growth Fund’ (‘the fund’), and is aimed to support the initial development of growth projects for MATs.
What is the Trust Establishment and Growth Fund?
The fund is a competitive grant of £10,000 – £50,000 per project to provide start-up funding to existing trusts which are looking to expand or create a new MAT, or organisations which are aiming to establish a new trust. It is a competitive grant to support the costs of developing a growth project, and a successful application doesn’t guarantee that a growth project will subsequently be approved.
Similarly, it also doesn’t guarantee that any subsequent application to the Trust Capacity Fund will also be successful. This means that applications for both grants will need to be prepared on their own merits, and are considered on a case-by-case basis.
Are there some projects which would be prioritised?
Schools and existing trusts need to be aware that the fund is organised into two strands – called strand A and strand B.
Projects which fall within strand A are prioritised, and are applications relating to projects in education investment areas addressing trust development statements. Applicants making an application via strand A must demonstrate that the trust development project for which they are seeking funding will contribute to meeting the expectations detailed in the trust development statement for an education investment area.
Strand B on the other hand should be used to make applications for projects which address the regional director’s priorities for your area. Applicants making an application via strand B must demonstrate that the proposed project involves taking on three or more schools in an area outside an education investment area, and that the proposed project meets the needs of the area for additional trust capacity.
In either event the project should be a proposal to take on at least three schools, and you are required to indicate which schools you are either currently engaging with, or plan to engage.
What do we need to do before making an application?
Applications to the fund are sought from either established, high-quality MATs, or from organisations wishing to set up a MAT. You must also be considered by the Education and Skills Funding Agency to be of sound financial health and, as a minimum requirement, academy trusts making an application must not have an open financial notice to improve.
Before you can make an application to the fund, you must have discussed the proposed project with your relevant regional office to ensure it aligns with the Regional Director priorities. The regional office will confirm if your proposed project meets the needs of the area, so you should keep in mind that you will need to allow time ahead of your formal application for this engagement with the relevant regional office.
It is important that the proposed project does not involve any schools which are included in a pre-existing growth project which has either been approved or is due to be taken to an advisory board for a decision by a regional director.
What might the funding cover?
The fund will support start-up activity relating to trust growth, including:
- The legal costs of setting up a MAT
- Area-wide promotion of a trust or prospective trust to schools
- The establishment of professional networks
- Out-of-region travel and subsistence for key trust personnel
- Project management costs
- Initial operating costs such as office rental
- Audit fees for assurance of grant.
Activity which will not be funded includes, for example, due diligence activities in relation to schools being taken on, costs for refurbishment, and activities that are already funded from other sources, such as legal fees that are covered by the sponsorship/conversion grant.
The current application funding window is open from 1 November 2023 to 1 February 2024. Schools can apply to the fund between 3 April 2023 and 25 June 2024, and must first contact their regional director’s office to discuss the proposal, read the information for applicants and read the relevant trust development statement if the project involves schools in an education investment area.
If you require support with your application and/or the legal process of expanding your MAT please do get in touch.