Features: July 13th, 2007

Trust Schools Bring Education and the Community Together

 A high profile conference on Trust schools saw over 150 delegates and speakers engage in lively debate and discussion on the benefits and ramifications of gaining Trust status. Expert speakers included Sir Bruce Liddington, Schools Commissioner, Department for Education and Skills (DfES); David Reynolds, Professor of Education at the University of Plymouth; and Linda Doyle, Head of Joint Initiatives for the Specialist Schools and Academies Trust. Tribal Group’s Chief Operating Officer, Jim Chambers, chaired the event. The pioneering conference included presentations from the pathfinder schools currently exploring the possibilities offered by Trust status.

Education sector and the local community

Government policy is driving the education sector as a whole to work alongside the local community and its key stakeholders to help raise standards of education and improve the provision of schools and colleges nationwide. Trust schools are a key part of this agenda and thought to be better able to support children and improve the overall development of young people whilst tackling issues such as deprivation and social exclusion. They aim to encourage ambition and their legal structure allows Trust boards to tailor the school to better meet the specific local and community challenges it faces.

Trust schools will form part of the local authority system but be backed by charitable trusts and independent governors, further strengthening the links between schools, local authorities, local businesses and higher education. During the day-long conference, debate focused on the benefits of becoming a Trust school with the key drivers seen to be greater freedom leading to increased innovation, the ability to specialise and the opportunity to engage in long-lasting, productive partnerships, particularly with commercial organisations which can offer fresh ideas, mentoring and specialist expertise.

Trust schools fit the government agenda of moving towards all schools being self-governing in the next five to ten years. The Prime Minister has described Trust schools as ‘the true trailblazers’ and the first 37 are set to open in September 2007. 300 are predicted to be in the pipeline by the end of 2007. Commercial organisations working with Trusts can gain from increased staff motivation & development and business benefits through corporate social responsibility initiatives while schools benefit from mentoring, fresh ideas and expertise in specialist areas. Education and technology specialist Tribal is in a Trust partnership with Monkseaton Language College, North Tyneside Council and Microsoft which aims to create, test and share new ways to improve the achievements, well-being, and aspirations of all young people. Schools are free to find their own partners as Monkseaton did, or can request help from the Office of the Schools Commissioner.

Barry Brooks, Tribal’s Director for Lifelong Learning explained what the partnership meant for Tribal, “We believe Trust partnerships are good for learners and good for business. Tribal’s CSR projects must fit our vision of putting the learner at the heart of everything we do and the Monkseaton Trust sits firmly within this vision. Through partnership we’re stronger together, for example, our involvement with Monkseaton Language College helps to ensure that it will benefit from technology developments much more quickly than it would otherwise.”

Sustainable partnerships

Sir Bruce Liddington, Schools Commissioner at the DfES said that enduring partnerships were a key feature of the trusts. Unlike Specialist schools partnerships where many participants fall away after five or ten years, partners in a Trust sign up for a minimum of seven years. This helps Trust boards to take a strategic, long-term view and offer advice on where the school should be in five to ten years time and how to achieve this goal, embedding the ethos of the school so that it is more resistant to change when heads or partners move on.

It is essential that the Trust’s vision – whether innovation, 14-19 agenda or community regeneration – is reflected in the partners chosen. Partners can range from small local companies to public bodies such as local authorities or higher education establishments, with the latter being involved in almost every Trust project to date. Sir Bruce commented, “A challenging child requires help from many areas, not just education. A Trust can help by involving councillors, police officers and health professionals as trustees.”

Flexible trust models

The flexible nature of Trusts was emphasised during the day. There is no set model but it is envisaged that Trusts, like Foundation schools, will encourage collaboration between schools and communities. Trusts can be groups of local schools and local partners or may be national, bringing together schools from around the country to benefit from shared common services such as human resources and legal as well as central leadership and synergy. Replication of good practice is seen by many in education as the best way to achieve exponential step change improvement and to sustain it.

Trust schools will share many of the freedoms of Foundation schools but the Trust additionally brings external partnership, wider strategic input and a more formalised link between partners and the school. A Trust school is legally a Foundation school in that it controls its land and assets and employs its staff but a Trust enhances the relationships with partners and strengthens governance through external partners. The school’s governing body agrees the exact nature of the Trust’s involvement and retains day-to-day control of the school with the headteacher remaining responsible for its running.

Delegates questioned whether schools could be involved in more than one Trust to fit different agendas but the DfES advice was that schools can only be members of one Trust. However, members of the Trust’s governing body can be members of more than one Trust board so they can continue informal collaboration and share the strategic view. Alternatively a large overarching Trust could be established, with separate working parties within it to focus on different areas.

The day clarified queries from delegates on schools’ relationships with local authorities. Speakers confirmed that the school itself makes the decision to change to Trust status and that subsequently school governors had a direct relationship with the local authority.

Trailblazer schools also outlined why they were seeking Trust status. Reasons ranged from working with partners to ensure that services for young people are of paramount quality to gaining access to more funds such as grants on social exclusion. Research into specialist schools and academies shows that schools perform to a higher standard when working in partnership with other organisations , the more formal and stable partnerships offered by Trusts should further increase these benefits