The Academy Trust operating four Shaftesbury area schools has been given permission to merge with its larger Sherborne-based counterpart.
On Wednesday, the Regional Schools Commissioners agreed with the proposal for the Sherborne Area Schools Trust (SAST) to take on responsibilities of the Shaftesbury-based Southern Academy Trust (SAT). Southern operates Shaftesbury CofE, Motcombe and Fontmell Magna Primaries and also Shaftesbury School.
SAST say the plans have been ‘carefully considered and developed by the Trustees of SAT along with the headteachers and local governors’. They say the proposal is ‘fully supported by the trustees of SAST, the Department for Education and the Diocese of Salisbury’.
Southern Academy Trust had been facing financial pressures and restructuring of operations began in 2018. In a public meeting in Motcombe last Friday, SAT Chairman Chris Brickell, said that funding for pupils in Dorset was an issue. “If you were in a London Borough, you’d be getting something close to £10,000 per pupil,” he said.
Mr Brickell added that Dorset was one of the lowest funded counties in the country because of how the government allocates funding to education. “We get around £4,000 per pupil. It doesn’t matter whether it is an LEA or an academy school,” he said, before challenging MP Simon Hoare to push for more education funding.
In a letter to parents last year, Chris Brickell explained that there was ‘a growing recognition that trusts bring the most benefits to their schools when they reach a certain size’. He said that having 2,000 pupils across our four schools meant that Southern Academy was considered a small trust. “It was not big enough to offer the opportunities and support to our children and staff that would come from being part of a larger organisation,” he said.
He expanded on this point at Friday’s meeting. “It’s basically because of funding issues. We are just not seriously viable enough to provide a broad education to the kids in our schools.” Sherborne’s SAST is a medium-sized trust with ten primary schools between Blandford and Sturminster Newton and three secondary schools.
The Department for Education will likely consider applications for extra funding for trusts taking on new schools over the next few months.
In a statement issued today, SAST says: “Every school in the Trust is an equal partner and we celebrate each school’s unique and individual character. Each school has its headteacher, leaders and Local Governing Body. There will be no change to the name of the school, the uniform or admissions arrangements. SAST is keen to retain the full team of teachers and staff we have in Southern Academy Trust.”
The Chief Executive of SAST, Steve Hillier, has been working one day a week as the Southern Academy Trust’s CEO after their former CEO joined Dorset Council. SAST say they aim to, ‘sustain and develop all the schools in the Trust including the state boarding school, which provides valuable provision and enhances diversity. It gives the scale and quality of back office services with combined staff teams for HR, finance, estates, compliance, IT and governance support, providing capacity and efficiencies’. They add that both trusts are on a sound financial footing.
Mr Brickell told Friday’s meeting in Motcombe that the merger, ‘will probably complete around June or July’.