A council has started talks with schools about launching its own academy trust, with detailed plans to be published later this year.
West Sussex County Council has written to schools to “engage…about the value and interest in setting up a number of local authority sponsored multi-academy trusts across the county over the next few years”.
It is one of several exploring the move after the government’s white paper signalled that local authorities could launch MATs in areas “where too few strong trusts exist”.
Ministers want to see all schools in trusts or in the process of moving to them by 2030.
Only 26 per cent of West Sussex’s 298 schools are academies, below the national rate of 39 per cent.
In a letter to heads, Paul Wagstaff, the area’s assistant director of education, said the council also wanted to discuss “the possible consolidation of existing localities and partnerships between schools and our strong multi-academy trusts”.
“We are starting a programme of engagement to test the appetite, to understand what schools and possibly existing academies may want from a local authority network of MATs and local authority-led partnerships.”
The council aims to share proposed models with schools and academies “before the end of the summer term”.
They will also be “exploring” whether each council trust would need a chief executive or whether a “different structure” could be operated.
Wagstaff told Schools Week the council would exercise its “broader strategic role” to plan for full academisation “whether it decides to sponsor its own multi-academy trusts or acts in a brokerage or strategic planning role in broadening the reach of existing multi academy trusts”.
Other councils explore academy option
Five other councils told Schools Week they were exploring the option, but most authorities said they wanted to see more details before progressing.
The government’s draft schools bill, published this week, confirmed a law change to allow councils to request academy orders for some or all of their schools.
But allowing council-run MATs would involve a change in government policy, rather than the law. So details of how that would actually work, and which councils would be eligible, still remain unclear.
One leader, who spoke anonymously, said the West Sussex letter “shows more clarity is required from the department regarding its intentions as we are already seeing multiple interpretations of the same white paper”.
Schools Week understands that further details will be published this month, but that the current 19 per cent cap on the number of local authority-appointed trustees is expected to remain in place. A decision on whether to allow LAs to be controlling “members” of trusts is yet to be made.
West Berkshire, where just 13 per cent of schools are academies, said if it set up a MAT, “schools will be invited to join – both existing maintained schools, and stand-alone academies, nor would we rule out any small MATs wanting to join us”.
“We will, of course, consult local schools, both diocese and existing MATs. We may wish to work in partnership with neighbouring LAs around cross-border LA MATs.”
Council wants to ‘work closely’ with heads
Hampshire also has an academisation rate of 13 per cent. Its lead member for children’s services, Roz Chadd, said it was the council’s ambition “to work closely with school leaders to ascertain whether a local authority multi-academy trust model has merit locally”.
In South Gloucestershire, 27 per cent of schools are academies. The council said it would “explore the opportunities and potential benefits for our communities that a council-run multi-academy trust could offer”, and would “discuss options with our maintained schools”.
“At this very early stage we have not assessed whether a council-run entity or seeking to incorporate currently maintained schools into existing trusts, or a combination of the two, will be the best way forward, but we will formulate our plans in the coming months.”
Herefordshire said it was “in principle keen to explore establishing one or more multi-academy trusts within the county”. Thirty-five per cent of the county’s schools have converted so far.
And Northumberland’s children’s services director Cath McEvoy-Carr welcomed the “opportunity to form a strong local authority multi-academy trust for Northumberland”. The area has a 33 per cent academisation rate.
“We are delighted with the level of initial interest already shown by our schools and we look forward to working with them and the DfE as more information is made available.”
The DfE said further details would be published in the “coming weeks”.