The figures suggest a success story, but the Trust Schools programme has had its fair share of controversy What are Trust Schools?

Originally introduced by the Education and Inspections Act 2006, Trust Schools are a type of Foundation School. The idea behind this category of school is to create an increased level of autonomy for the school through collaboration with outside partners.

How many schools are making the conversion?

The first opportunity for the creation of Trust Schools was in September 2007. Ed Balls, secretary of state for children, schools and families, recently announced that 300 schools had converted or were in the process of conversion by the end of 2007. The government is clear in its goal that improvement of standards in schools can be brought about by devolving as much decision making as possible to schools and increasing strategic leadership through collaboration. Examples of recent innovations include Foundation and Trust Schools, Specialist Status and Academies.

What are the practical effects of Trust Status?

The Trust itself will be set up by the Trust Partners (see below) as a charitable organisation which supports one or more schools. The governors of the school will continue to be responsible for the running of the school, this function is not devolved to the Trust, and in fact governors have an increased level of autonomy from their local authority. This allows them to employ their own staff, set their own admissions criteria (in line with the Code of Practice) and to hold admissions appeals. The school will not receive extra funding. The budget will be delegated to the governing body, not the Trust, and must be spent for purposes of the school.

What is a ‘Trust Partner’?

Any organisation or group of individuals can be a Trust Partner. Their role is to add expertise and innovation to the school. There is no limit to the number of Trust Partners. This will commonly include local businesses, universities, FE colleges, charities and can include other schools. There are many models that this can adopt, from an individual school working with an existing local collaborator who wishes to formalise and increase the involvement with the school, to a network of schools across the country working with a Trust made up of a number of partners to provide expertise developing a particular area of the curriculum.

How much work is involved for the partners?

There are some core duties which need to be carried out to run the Trust. These are administrative functions which should take no more than a termly meeting. Beyond this, the involvement of Trust Partners will be as extensive as they decide. Often, organisations are involved to provide extra facilities to the school, getting involved with projects that the school is running, or to provide work experience. No financial input is expected; the aim is to bring energy and expertise to the school, not finance.

Is there potential profit or liability for Trust Partners?

The Trust will be established as a charity. It will not be possible for the partners to take a profit from the Trust, any profits generated must to be put towards the charitable goals of the Trust. The general principle is that no liability should be incurred by Trustees where they act responsibility and in line with their governing document. Despite this, there is still a level of risk involved and it is recommended that the Trust seek professional advice where appropriate and take out insurance.

What effect will this have on the board of governors?

At the outset the school can agree to have a maximum or minimum of Trust-appointed governors, depending on their needs and preference. A maximum will allow the Trust to be more directly involved in the running of the school by having more than two members on the board of governors. If this course is taken, there must also be a parent council.

How does this affect the school land and buildings?

The ownership will pass from the local authority to the Trust who will hold it for the benefit of the school. The Trust will not be able to use the land as security for loans and day-to-day control will remain with the governors.

Is it a lengthy process?

No, once the school has decided who it is going to work with to establish the Trust, the practical steps to form the Trust are relatively simple.

Does converting to Trust Status benefit pupils?

Forming a Trust can be an extremely beneficial experience for the school as a whole. The increased level of involvement through this collaboration can allow partners to be involved with the school to an extent that was not previously possible.

This e-bulletin issue was first published in February 2008

About the author: Mark Blois is the editor and author of Legal Expertise. He is a Partner and Head of Education at Browne Jacobson. Before becoming a Partner in 1996 he was awarded third place in The Lawyer Awards in the ‘Assistant Solicitor of the Year’ category. Having various disabilities himself has led Mark to commit his career to providing practical advice, support and training to schools, colleges and Local Authorities on the full range of legal issues. Mark is named as a leader in his field in both Chambers and Legal 500, is an Executive Committee member of the Education Law Association and is a LA governor at a special school in Nottingham. He writes extensively on education law and has had published over 60 articles in national publications. He is also the author of chapters in Optimus’ Education Law Handbook, the IBC Distance Learning Course on Education Law and Croner’s Special Educational Needs Handbook.