Many schools continue to be apprehensive about taking the plunge and committing to joining a Multi-Academy Trust. Often the final decision can feel too large to gamble on and many are nervous that it may prove to be the wrong decision.
However, schools may now have an alternative option, allowing them to experience life as a ‘member’ of a Multi-Academy Trust before taking the full and final step of becoming an official academy school. Sir David Carter, the National School’s Commissioner, is now offering schools the chance to join academy trusts as “associate members”. This move would allow for a school to keep its own legal independence, whilst also effectively enabling them a “trial run” of what life may be like as part of a MAT.
This chance to become an associate member can be seen as a much more flexible arrangement than the full level of commitment required when officially joining a Trust. For many, this will involve paying into the Trust’s central funds in a “top-slicing” arrangement, usually on a fee per pupil agreement. In return for this, the individual school will be allowed the opportunity to operate as part of the Trust. In some instances these arrangements may even be free, although this will vary from Trust to Trust.
Crucially however, the school will retain the right to leave if for whatever reason they feel that the arrangement is unsatisfactory. This effectively creates a “try before you buy” trial period for the school, helping both parties to gain assurance that operating together under the Trust name is the correct decision moving forward and one that will be to the benefit of both sides. It will be much easier to exit an arrangement it does not require a complex legal process to separate the entities.
The chance to create these sort of arrangements presents an opportunity for schools to gain the full Academy Trust experience, whilst still holding onto the right to walk away. This way of operating may prove to be a positive way forward for much smaller schools, those who might otherwise struggle to be taken into Trusts, as well as those who may have fears or concerns over formally signing over their powers and stepping into what might be seen as the unknown.
It is highly likely that these sort of arrangements will continue to build traction in the sector, growing in popularity due to the amount of freedom and flexibility they are able to provide. For many, the opportunity to become an associate member may prove to be a crucial stepping stone in a school’s progression to becoming an academy. Providing a transparent way of working that allows the impact of what has been done to be measured before a commitment is made. If you are a school that is considering academy conversion but have been nervous about making the change, it may be worth approaching local Academy Trusts and suggesting this type of arrangement. It may prove to be crucial in assisting you in making an informed decision moving forward. It also works well for the Multi Academy Trust, as an enhanced Due Diligence period where any issues can be investigated, and if required further assurances from the LA or ESFA obtained before signing legal agreements.
If you have any queries please contact your usual Bishop Fleming representative.
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