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Creating an academy group

27 November 2011

The Secretary of State has now opened up the academy programme to groups of schools regardless of their individual Ofsted ratings, as long as at least one of the member schools is outstanding or good with outstanding features. It is therefore worth considering the potential governance arrangements under such an approach.

There are clearly opportunities for clusters of primary schools to come together to form an academy group.

Interested schools will have many questions: Does each converting school have its own Governing Body? Does one school act as sponsor? What happens if one school wants to leave the group?

Whilst there is some flexibility as to how you can establish a group – we understand that the Department for Education (DfE) is interested to hear from schools with innovative ideas and approaches – it is worth considering the two most obvious approaches.

Schools could establish a charitable company whose members and governors could be proportionately representative of the member schools. This charitable company could then establish a separate academy trust for each member school, with each academy trust having its own board of governors.

Alternatively, schools could establish a charitable company, again whose members and governors could be proportionately representative of the member schools. However, instead of this charitable company setting up separate academy trusts with separate boards there would be one board of governors. Whilst there would be a separate local governing body for each school, ultimate responsibility for running each school would rest with the main board. Unlike the previous option there would only be one employer using this approach.

There are a number of common concerns that arise when considering how schools can join together to form a group, including the protection of school autonomy, the risks of being taken over by a stronger school and the challenges of primary schools not understanding secondary issues and vice versa.

Whilst the challenges and barriers to creating an academy group may appear difficult, there are a number of variations that can be built into the group structure to address these concerns to a large extent. However, it is clear that in order to create an effective group, the collaborating schools will need to start from a strong base of mutual trust and respect and they will need to have at their core a real commitment to creating a self-improving school system.

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