‘Try before you buy’ academy offer – what you need to know

Five single-academy trusts have launched the West Kent Single Academy Trust Alliance to ward off the erosion of each school’s “individuality” as the government continues its push towards MATs.

Trusts running schools on service-level agreements has long featured in the sector. What’s new today is that the government has published a “model” service-level agreement, and the education secretary has encouraged local authority schools to make use of it.

Gavin Williamson said “now is the moment to spread out” use of the schemes so schools make the choice “with confidence”. He also said it would be an “important key step” for some schools with a “nervousness” to “get over that”.

They’ve also published guidance around how they work.

Here’s what you need to know:

1. What is a ‘trust partnership’?

The guidance says it is a “sector-led arrangement where an academy trust works with a school, realising the benefits of a formal relationship to access the academy trust’s networks and services at an agreed cost through a service charge”.

This “can be a powerful school improvement tool providing quick and accessible support from a strong trust”.


2. So what’s the point of them?

Trust Partnerships “allow maintained schools to trial membership of a particular academy trust and were initially developed by the sector in response to demand from schools”.

They might also “help support schools awaiting conversion by allowing them to work collaboratively with the academy trust before the conversion process is completed”.


3. Up to £10k for ‘suitable’ partnerships

Separate trust improvement funding guidance states that schools will be offered “credit up to the value of £10,000 towards the costs of a trust partnership where a suitable partner MAT is identified, and subject to the availability of funds”.

4. Model agreements are ‘flexible’

As we mentioned before, these things have been going on for years. What’s new today is the government has published a “model” service-level agreement. The DfE says this has been drafted to be as “flexible as possible and, although written for a partnership with an LA maintained school, it can be adapted for use also for an academy trust with only one school”.


5. Partnerships usually 12-18 months

The partnerships are “time-limited”, and will be “typically 12-18 months”. “It is imperative that none of the parties involved considers Trust Partnerships as a long-term solution, or a replacement for conversion,” the guidance adds, nor it becomes a “routine preliminary step before academy conversion takes place”.


6. The ‘trial’ won’t deliver ‘full benefits’

But the guidance makes clear the partnership “does not deliver the full benefits of joining an academy trust”. Instead it is a “time-limited way for a school to benefit from trialling membership in an academy trust and explore how a permanent arrangement might work”.


7. Partnerships should focus on ‘teaching and leadership’

The guidance says teaching and leadership is the key focusing, with partnerships usually “focused on activities such as academy trust-wide training opportunities, headteacher mentoring and support, and crosstrust data benchmarking of data”.

But arrangements should be recorded through formal documentation. “Academy trusts have expressed the importance of each party being clear from the outset about the terms, any costs, expectations, and objectives of the arrangement,” the guidance adds.

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