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Academies and trust schools: where do universities fit in?

Academies and trust schools: where do universities fit in? report coverAcademies and trust schools are two of the main tools of the government’s policies for improving the performance of publicly maintained schools in England.

This report outlines the opportunities and challenges that universities may meet if they engage with two relatively new types of state-maintained school – academies and trust schools. Although we appreciate that there are different schools of thought on the educational effectiveness of academies and on the desirability or otherwise in policy terms of both academies and trust schools, this report does not seek to comment on these debates. Its focus is on the benefits and challenges of engagement drawing on the experiences of universities and colleges that have linked up with these types of schools.

The Department for Children, Schools and Families (DCSF) defines academies as ‘state-funded all-ability schools established by sponsors from the education, business, faith or voluntary sectors, working with partners from the local community’. Trust schools it defines as ‘foundation schools with a charitable trust that forges a long-term sustainable relationship with external partners to create a new source of dynamism and to help raise standards’. (Department for Children, Schools and Families, 2007b).

Universities may choose to engage with academies and trust schools as lead sponsors, co-sponsors or partners, and in other less formal ways. Both types of sponsorship give the university a chance to shape teaching, learning, curriculum and organisation. It may help with student recruitment, give access to new funding sources and offer teaching opportunities within the university. Institutions not wishing to make this commitment or incur the liabilities of sponsorship of academies can choose to be education partners.

Universities may also decide to make links with trust schools. Because such schools are constituted differently from academies, the role of universities will be slightly different. They may partner a single school, or play a partner role in a consortium of schools forming a trust. The link may be less formal, perhaps involving a member of the university acting as a school governor, with the university and school(s) having a memorandum of understanding about the respective institutions’ relationship and shared aspirations.

The process of establishing academies or trusts is complex; the report briefly describes the stages that need to be worked through and the implications that these may have for management time and so on. Academy and trust school proposals can be locally controversial and require meticulous consultation and skilful relationship management in order to win support from staff and the local community.

The overall goal is to change the culture of under-performing schools and raise children’s aspirations and educational standards. Universities that wish to explore this opportunity can get in touch with colleagues who have already had some experience of engaging with academies and trust schools.

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