Academy and multi-academy trusts are education charities that run schools to give children a better future - we refer to these together as school trusts. Over half of pupils in state schools now attend academies. School trusts help our local communities thrive by giving children the best opportunities to learn inside and outside the classroom.
A trust is a group of schools working in collaboration as one entity to improve and maintain high educational standards across the group. It has a has a single legal and moral purpose: to advance education for the public benefit.
As a family of schools, trusts improve children’s education by sharing ideas and expertise with each other. Like any other state school, the schools are free to attend, inspected in the same way, and children take the same tests and exams. Trusts help our local communities thrive by giving children the best opportunities to learn inside and outside the classroom.
Schools trusts work closely together and share expertise, which creates great opportunities for children and teachers. They share good practice on the important things - like curriculum, assessment and behaviour. They also offer structured career pathways for teachers, supported by high-quality professional development so teachers and leaders learn together.
School trusts help teachers and leaders spend more of their time focussed on the one thing that counts the most – the education of children. The support they provide to schools - in areas like staffing, finance, IT, and building maintenance – makes this possible.
We believe a school trust is the best way to keep improving schools and the school system overall. Our pamphlet Starting with Why: Why join a trust – and why a trust-based system? explains what we mean by that.
Academy trusts are education charities that are set up purely for the purpose of running and improving schools. Trustees have strict duties under charity law and company law. Trustees are not paid – they are not allowed to run the trust for their own ‘private’ interest but are required to advance education for public benefit. They are required to uphold the Principles of Public Life.
As education charities, academy trusts are not allowed to make profits or distribute profits to trustees or members. They also have to follow strict rules on conflicts of interests. All surpluses are invested into the front-line to improve the quality of education.
Trusts are held to account to a higher standard than local authority schools - known as "maintained schools". The obligation of transparency and accountability is much greater than maintained schools. Trusts are held to account by the Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA), Ofsted and Regional Directors at the Department for Education.
Every trust has a person known as the 'accounting officer' - usually the chief executive - who is personally responsible to Parliament for the spending of public money.
School trusts are required to have an independent audit annually and to publish their accounts. They are also required to disclose senior pay in their accounts. If the ESFA investigates a trust, the investigation report is published on the government’s website. There is no similar requirement on local authorities to publish investigation reports or tell you how much senior staff like head teachers get paid.
Like any other state school, academies are free to attend, inspected in the same way, and children take the same tests and exams. Academy trusts are funded from your taxes, so parents do not pay fees. Each school has a funding agreement with the Secretary of State for Education - if it doesn't keep to the rules, the agreement can be ended and the school transferred to a different trust.
More than half of pupils in England – 3.8 million pupils – are now educated in academy schools. This is about seven in ten secondary pupils and three in ten primary pupils.
Academy trusts can use buildings and land in various ways, but most hold their sites on long leases from the local authority, for a nominal charge. There are legal controls on the disposal of academy and maintained school publicly funded land. The Secretary of State’s permission is required before anyone can sell publicly-funded school land or school land which has been enhanced at public expense. They can impose strict conditions to protect the taxpayer, like paying back any money raised.
Yes, academy trusts are subject to most of the same direct statutory duties as maintained mainstream schools when it comes to children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND).
Mainstream academies must:
Academies can set their own admissions policies, but they still have to meet the strict rules in the Government's School Admissions Code and the law relating to admissions. They usually work together with other local schools and local authorities to coordinate admissions.
Trusts are specialist organisations set up to run and improve schools – this is why it is clearer to talk about School Trusts, rather than academy trusts. There a very clear lines of accountability in the School Trust model.
Many academies now work together in a group of schools as one entity to improve and maintain high educational standards across the group. Where a Trust runs a group of schools, it has the power to create a collaborative framework.
A group of schools working together in a single entity can do lots of things that are harder for stand-alone schools to do: