Trust status: where next?


Lipson Learning Cooperative Trust began with two schools in its charge: a large secondary school and a small to medium sized primary school. But now, after the creation of Lipson Cooperative Academy, only the primary school remains within the original trust. Are the constitutional arrangements of the trust appropriate for the changed circumstances? I think not, mainly because they are now top heavy. The purpose of this posting is to explore the options for dealing with this.

The problem: management overhead

Three entities are involved in the governance of the trust. They are the board of trustees, the governing body of the school and a council elected by the member constituencies of the trust.  The separation of powers amongst these three entities is set out in the Constitution of Lipson Learning Cooperative Trust. The trust exists to advance education and benefit the community. It owns the property and other assets of the school, employs its staff and has an obligation to safeguard the values and principles of the International Cooperative Alliance; these are the concerns of the board of trustees. Within that framework the governing body is responsible for the performance of the school. The council is represented on the board of trustees and provides a voice for the member constituencies of the trust, ie: learners; the parents and carers of learners; staff; and people and organisations within the local community.

The separation of powers described above requires a substantial effort of organisation and management for these three entities to discharge their responsibilities properly. In present circumstances that level of effort is disproportionate to the size of the school and its resources. How can the arrangement be made more proportionate? Two approaches are possible: bring more schools into the existing trust so that the overhead can be shared; or achieve the purpose of the trust through another structure involving a lesser overhead.

Expand the trust?

plymouth primary schoolsThe object of Lipson Learning Cooperative Trust is to advance the education both of the schools within the trust and of other members of the community and otherwise to benefit the community. In doing so the trust must have regard to its obligation to promote community cohesion. The emphasis on community suggests a need for local focus. Primary schools within our local area are shown on the map at right (click on the map to enlarge it). There are 8 community schools, 4 trust schools, 1 academy and 4 voluntary aided schools. Many of the community schools considered becoming trusts when that was in vogue and decided not to; perhaps some might now reconsider? The trust schools presumably wanted to obtain the benefits of trust status; might they now consider merging the trusts so as to enhance those benefits, eg by increasing their purchasing power, whilst reducing their share of the overhead involved?

Convert to academy?

An option for the second approach is to swim with the tide and convert to an academy. The Department for Education provides the documents needed for conversion. These include a cooperative model of the memorandum and articles of association for a single-school academy. The model has a great deal in common with the Constitution of Lipson Learning Cooperative Trust and it could easily be tailored to embody the same motivation and purpose. The benefit of the academy model is that it combines the powers of the board of trustees with those of the school’s governing body. With an academy trust the governors and the trustees or directors are one and the same, thus incurring a lower overhead for its organisation and management.

The academy model provides for engagement with the community through constituencies and membership and has a forum to give them voice. This is essentially the same arrangement as that set out in the Constitution of Lipson Learning Cooperative Trust.

The academy route also opens up the possibility of joining a multi-academy trust. In its Primary Academy Guide the Department for Education sets out the benefits of such an approach. There are obstacles in the way, of course, and the matter needs careful study but the benefits seem worth striving for.

There is a helpful summary from lawyers Browne Jacobson on the issues around converting from a trust school to an academy. They also answer some frequently asked questions about converting to academy status. And of course there are specialists such as Wolferstans who will be able to offer advice from within our local community.

 Next steps

I propose that we should engage with the other primary schools in our local area to explore the possibilities either of expanding or merging our existing trusts or of joining with them to convert into a multi-academy trust. If these options prove impracticable then our best way forward is probably to become a single-school, cooperative academy.