The government white paper, published in March 2022, clearly sets out an aim for all schools to be in a strong family of schools by 2030. This means that all schools, and single academy trusts, should be looking to establish, merge with or join an Multi Academy Trust.
The legal requirements on academy trusts have historically been scattered through various instruments, including the model funding agreements, legislation, and the Academy Trust Handbook, previously known as the Academies Financial Handbook.
This reflects a system which was originally designed to encompass hundreds of academies, rather than the thousands which we currently have.
With the move to a fully academy trust led system, the Department for Education proposes to update the requirements on academy trusts to consolidate them into one overarching statutory framework.
What are the Academy Trust Standards?
A new common rule book of statutory trust standards will be introduced, setting out the requirements on academy trusts in a clear, consistent, and transparent manner, called the Academy Trust Standards. They will be underpinned by new intervention powers to enhance the government’s ability to challenge any failures in the management of academy trusts.
The Academy Trust Standards, as well as consolidated existing requirements, will also introduce new requirements for academy trusts. These new requirements include:
- A requirement to publish and implement an attendance policy
- Local governance arrangements
- Managing complaints
- Collaborative standards, requiring academy trusts to work in collaboration with other partners
One of the key new requirements is for the proprietor of every academy in England to ensure that an attendance policy is in place and implemented to promote regular attendance. Along with this, academy trusts will be subject to the regulations in respect of granting leave of absence, meaning that leave can only be granted in exceptional circumstances.
The Academy Trust Standards will clarify the aim for all schools to have a voice in the governance of their academy trust through local governance arrangements. This already happens in many trusts, which can currently choose whether to have local governing bodies. Complaints in academy trusts will also be subject to an assessment of the reasonableness of the decision by the DfE.
Failure to comply with the new Academy Trust Standards is likely to lead to a range of different consequences, depending on the requirement which has not been complied with and whether the failure can be rectified.
One certainty is that the Secretary of State will have the power to direct compliance with the Academy Trust Standards.
The Academy Trust Standards will apply to all academy trusts, regardless of when they entered into their funding agreement. Statutory guidance will be published to support in the understanding of and compliance with the new Academy Trust Standards.
The government is not anticipating that the new regulations will be debated in parliament before September 2023 at the earliest. However, when they do come into force, although the Independent Schools Standards will no longer apply to academy trusts, most of the Academy Trust Standards will mirror existing requirements that already apply to academy trusts. We will provide academies with regular updates as more details are published. We would encourage academies to consider putting in place training for trustees and SLT’s on the implementation of these new Academy Trust Standards.