With trust mergers increasingly common, leaders considering one should think about rationale, benefits and potential hurdles to ensure a smooth process which realises the opportunities of scale from the start.
We became The Learning Partnership (TLP) in September, with the merger of what was The Learning Alliance (four secondaries, two with sixth forms; two 14-19 provisions; three primaries) and The Learning for Life Partnership (five primaries). This was actually the sixth merger experienced across our two trusts, so we knew the importance of laying the groundwork well in advance to hit the ground running in September.
A merger made good sense: with one CEO retiring, the operational structure of the two trusts meant we could fill each other’s gaps and move forward from a position of strength, achieving a no-detriment merger as no one’s role would be affected. We also needed greater scale to achieve the things we really wanted for our schools and communities. A merger meant we could have greater immediate impact than through more incremental growth.
Once we decided this was the prudent way forward, a team of executive and non-executive leaders from both trusts spent nine months undergoing rigorous quality assurance and interrogation of strategic plans, operational structures and the school improvement model to be adopted as a much larger, mixed-phase and mixed-context trust.
We decided to approach it as though we were starting a new organisation, designing a new, larger trust, rather than just pinching bits from the two trusts to just make a bigger version of what existed. This meant we could build systems that worked from day one and are already scalable for future growth. Additionally, during these planning months, we put central team recruitment on hold to avoid making appointments which could make the merger less successful; we wanted to make sure roles were considered strategically within the new trust.
By working closely together and giving everyone the chance to get to know the schools ahead of merger, we could establish a clear strategic vision, a robust accountability framework and a strong team of specialists to support all the schools. Thanks to the merger we could invest in really strong support across areas such as school improvement, IT, governance, safeguarding and SEND.
Trust development plans are now developed from the bottom up, working with headteachers to determine what they need and then planning how we can make that happen. A common theme for all of the schools was SEND support, so now we have TLP SEND leads for both primary and secondary levels. Our scale means we can really push forward with developing areas we simply couldn’t before.
We’ve been able to use the first term to really test the structure is doing what we designed it to do.
Staff in the schools of one of the preceding trusts really understood they worked for that trust, whereas staff in the other trust weren’t as clear on that. So we are needing to work really hard to embed that sense of one trust in all schools.
We are also focusing on generating a universal understanding that any decision should be made through the lens of whether it improves schools. Part of that is making sure everyone knows regardless of role their job is about school improvement. This is a big shift in mentality which has landed well with our schools, but we’ve had to be very clear in all communications this is the expectation for it to be consistent.
With carefully planned structures and better communication around what to expect, we are now in the position of being confident our systems work and people are clear on the benefits.
Excitingly, our scale, structure and capacity now enable us to be really ambitious, thinking bigger about how we can be part of the solution to many of the regional challenges facing our communities, with a number of initiatives currently in the planning phase. Watch this space.