The Academies Act 2010 has been in force for over a year meaning we can reflect on the changes that it has brought to the education sector and it seems that being an academy brings with it both benefits and burdens. In our experience the burdens may include sourcing your own suppliers, managing your own admission appeals process, adopting different accounting regimes, extra governor responsibilities and the instruction of professional advisers. It is likely that schools with a larger number of students may be better placed to absorb these changes more easily than those with only a few hundred pupils. This may be the reason why some schools who intend to convert to an academy explore the possibility of converting as a ‘cluster’ with one or a number of schools. Any group of schools can apply in partnership to join to become an academy as long as at least one of the schools is performing well.
The following three options are available for ‘clusters’:
Multi - Academy (MA) Trust
There will be one incorporated Academy Trust (a company limited by guarantee) with one name. Although it is not an obligation, in an MA Trust it may be agreed that all of the schools within the cluster should adopt the same name so that they are recognised as one 'brand' of school. If you choose the MA model, only one set of incorporation documents are submitted to Companies House to incorporate the Academy Trust. There will only be one group of members and governors appointed to manage all of the schools within the cluster. It is likely that these members and governors will be made up of a cross section of governors from the existing schools to include the chair of governors of each. It is worth considering how the members and governors of the Academy Trust will be appointed at the time when the Academy Trust is formed and whether this central body could create tensions between those schools in the cluster.
After the incorporation of the Academy Trust, the articles of association (the constitution of the Academy Trust) details that the governors of the central Academy Trust can set up 'Committees' called 'Local Governing Bodies' (LGB) within the individual schools to delegate power. However, the governors of the central Academy Trust do not have to give any powers to these LGB or each LGB may be given different levels of powers and responsibilities depending on their status. For example, the school with an 'outstanding' Ofsted rating may be delegated more powers from the central Academy Trust than a school within the cluster that has an Ofsted rating of 'good'. Therefore the decision making powers of the majority of the existing governors could be taken away from them on conversion.
A single funding agreement is used with additional supplementary annexes to cover the schools within the MA model. Therefore it may be difficult to reverse this structure in the future. You may also wish to consider whether this MA model will give you sufficient 'autonomy' as each school will lose the power to control their own actions and may be reliant on the decisions of the central Academy Trust. The central Academy Trust will be accountable to the Secretary of State for the performance of each school within the trust; therefore you would need to consider whether the central Academy governors (who may not have had any prior dealings with the schools in the cluster) can manage the performance of those schools effectively from the central body.
Umbrella Trust Model
This model provides greater flexibility for the schools within the cluster. Unlike an MA trust the individual schools will be accountable to the Secretary of State for their performance. The legal work required will be very similar to the work required if only one school was converting to an academy as each school will be incorporated as a company limited by guarantee with Companies House. Therefore each school will be an academy and as such a separate legal entity which can contract with third parties, hold the land and employ staff. The individual schools in the cluster will also enter into separate funding agreements with the Secretary of State.
The central control of the Umbrella Trust is the only aspect which provides a degree of closeness between the schools. The schools in the cluster would need to decide between them who would sit on the board of the Umbrella Trust and how much control and influence they will have over the schools within the trust. The Umbrella Trust could be seen as the management board of the schools and it may be likely that if a school is rated with Ofsted ‘outstanding’ within the cluster this school may be able to appoint the most people to the management board and have the majority of the central control. The responsibilities of the Umbrella Trust may include the facilitation of collaboration between the academies to raise standards and on a practical level the Umbrella Trust may be delegated responsibility for the finances, managing payroll and facilities management. This model due to the centralised control is common with CoE schools.
Collaborative Partnership (CP) Model
Similar to the Umbrella Trust Model, the schools within the cluster under the CP model will each become an academy and be registered as a company limited by guarantee with Companies House. They will each have a separate funding agreement with the Secretary of State. The group of schools within this model will be considered as a ‘cluster’ because agreements will be made between the individual schools, for such things as raising standards, sharing resources, achieving economies of scale, consultancy or/and working together to manage risks and so on. Consideration needs to be given to the potential tensions that could arise between the schools if they were to have different needs and interests to other schools within the cluster.
Similar to the other models, it is likely that any Ofsted rated ‘outstanding’ school within the cluster would have the most pressure placed on it to assist the other schools who may have a lower Ofsted grade. The Secretary of State only requires information which satisfies them that the written agreements in place between the schools are sufficient enough to raise standards across the cluster. Currently, we do not know to what extent a school within the CP model can be held to be accountable for the others performance and this may need to be addressed in the agreements between the schools. This model is more easily reversed than the two listed above and may be suitable for community schools who are considering academy status.
The information on academies is continually being updated and if you would like any further advice please contact Tracy Evans on 0208 290 3982 or by email at email@example.com