12 July, 2022
One of the key takeaways from the Government's White Paper on Education was that schools are going to be expected to be part of a strong academy trust by 2030.
However, whilst the Department of Education has set out the destination it wants schools to reach, the journey on how to get is still largely up to individual schools and academy trusts.
The most important factor that any school going down this process is going to likely want to consider is what options do they have for joining a trust or setting up their own.
One key recommendation that any school in this situation should consider early is how much flexibility do they have to be wholly independent in their choice? This is most likely to be the case for religious schools where for instance their local diocese is likely going to have significant controls on how Church of England schools academese. Therefore, for any religious schools are going to want to speak to their relevant religious body to understand their options.
To use the example of Church of England schools, they may wish to understand from their local diocese their options in terms of whether the diocese has their own multi-academy trust or has some approved list of multi-academy trusts, or whether it is open to new multi-academy trusts being set up. Having these conversations early can clearly set expectations at the outset.
When it comes to choosing the correct trust to join, there are lots of resources out there which set out how this should be done. However, one key change from the White Paper is that local authorities in some areas may be able to set up their own multi-academy trusts, this might be an attractive option for maintained schools how are happy with the "status-quo" and so it may be worth speaking to your local authority to see if this is something they may explore.
To get yourself ready for growth one key thing you can do now is to carry out an audit of your school and to consider if there are any commercial issues which may cause issues for you in the future. Normally these are likely to be issues relating to the building of the school, if for instance the school is likely to require significant building works in the future can this happen before you look at academisation and if not, what liabilities will the academy be taken on by delaying action. If you are PFI school you will likely want to know how much longer is left in the PFI contract and whether any other schools within your PFI agreement that have previously converted, being the first school can often have significantly extra cost and delays as a result. At the same time, it can also worth considering the contracts you enter into, if you are looking at joining a multi-academy trust soon do you want to be signing up for long term 5 year contracts with no means of exit?
Next think about your proposed structure, what does it look like. What do you already have in place and what do you need to add to your structure and when do you plan on adding it? One of the key issues that academies often find is there are certain job roles that are required for growth, particularly on the finance side. However, without the schools in place from being part of a Trust, paying for those roles can cause some difficulties and if the growth doesn't come it puts the academy in a difficult position.
This can be mitigated though through looking at formal collaboration agreements between schools. These are already recommended for schools who are looking at sharing expertise in curriculum specialities and leadership but can be used for the more formal roles that are required as part of a multi-academy trust. For instance, one school could employ a human resources specialist who is earmarked for a role as part of a wider trust and in the meantime their services can be offered out to other schools who require that support to help the school pay for their cost
If schools are considering these options, then they need to ensure they have a proper and robust agreement in place and they consider all the potential liabilities and issues that it may cause if things go wrong, but it is a potentially effective option.
The use of collaboration agreements in a less formal sense whilst not necessarily an alternative to entering an academy trust, can be a way to allow schools to work together to allow school to work together and get to know one another before entering into a formal academisation process.
Overall, the White Paper makes it clear that Multi-Academy Trusts are going to be the norm going forward and whilst, schools and Trusts don't want to delay their plans due to the risk they might miss out on opportunities, at the same time it is better to get yourself ready for growth now but take the time to pick the right partners going forward. This is a long-term decision and so by taking steps now you can mitigate delays in the future whilst still taking your time to come to the correct decision.
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