But we know the ambition at the core of both papers – for all schools to benefit from working collaboratively in a Trust – remains steadfast, and is likely to continue whichever political party is in power.
Schools and Trusts across the country are thinking about what it means for them; how to take the first steps on a journey to a trust-led system, how to grow strategically. At the same time, our generous volunteers are schooling themselves on what it means to be a governor or trustee as the education system re-aligns itself.
The Confederation of School Trusts (CST) is the national organisation and sector body for Trusts. Our purpose is to provide a voice for Trusts – as single entities operating multiple schools, as employers, as system leaders. We also hope to bust some of the enduring myths about what it means to be ‘an academy in a MAT’, and shift thinking to ‘how will my school community benefit from working in a collaborative group’.
CST unapologetically uses ‘school Trust’ instead of academy trust, multi-academy trust, MAT etc. We do so because the word ‘school’ is universally accepted and understood, and we think it helpful to remove some of the unknown aura around the mysterious concept of a ‘MAT’.
School Trusts are specialist charities with a single legal and moral purpose: to run and improve schools to advance education for public benefit. In other words, a group of schools, working collaboratively in a single entity with a single governance structure. This is the fundamental difference to a maintained school, which is run by a Local Authority.
Before you begin looking externally, take some time to look inwards. Think about your school, your local context, your overarching mission, and the values that make your school special. This will be crucial in helping you to identify the sort of Trust you want to join: big or small, mainstream or specialist, primary or secondary, local or national…
It is a worthy investment to challenge yourselves and be self-critical, so you know exactly who you are before you start looking at what Trusts say about themselves.
If you’re reading this and thinking ‘we need to join a Trust ASAP!’, take a deep breath.
There is time and there are options. Take a step back and think about the medium- and long-term goals for your school, then start to think about whether there are any strong Trusts already in your locale that could be a good fit to help you realise them. If not, start to think creatively and find out where those strong Trusts are. Then you can create a list of options and explore each potential Trust, identifying the strategic benefits relevant to your context. Don’t forget, you can also enter a Trust Partnership to aide the transition before a final commitment.
Carrying out due diligence – a formal undertaking of reviewing relevant information, costs, risks, benefits etc. – is a key part of the process when joining a Trust, but it is worth doing your own version way before you get to that point.
Look at the Trusts you’ve identified and pay attention to what they say about themselves, the benefits of being part of their group, and what they value. Think about how this chimes with your own culture and mission, and whether they are likely to be a good fit. You might also look at publicly available documents, like audited accounts and Ofsted inspections.
Once you’ve started to think about the options and have some more information about the Trusts you are considering, revisit what you identified about yourselves as you reflected on your aims.
Keep your sights firmly set on how your community – children, families, and staff – will benefit from joining the Trust. Think, too, about how your own community will benefit the Trust and how you will be able to improve provision more widely.
It is worth considering speaking to your Regional Director to get a sense of which Trusts are looking to grow, to Governors and Trustees of schools that have recently joined a Trust, and to organisations like CST to really understand the process.
However you proceed, keep focused on the benefits your school community will reap – that is the golden thread throughout all that we do in education, and so it must be the way we make strategic decisions too.
The Confederation of School Trusts (CST) is the national organisation and sector body for school Trusts in England. CST’s membership represents almost two-thirds of the sector, with members responsible for the education of over three million children and young people.
Samuel Skerritt is Director of Public Affairs and Policy at CST. He joined from New Schools Network, a charity that supported groups opening and running free schools, and previously worked at a 16-19 school. Samuel previously served as Governor of a primary school in Manchester.
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