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FAQs

Which trusts are proposing to merge?

South Orpington Learning Alliance Multi-Academy Trust (SOLA) and Inicio Educational Trust (Inicio) are proposing to merge, with SOLA joining Inicio to form a single trust. This will result in a local trust formed of the following schools:

  • Biggin Hill Primary School
  • Chelsfield Primary School
  • Darrick Wood Junior School
  • Green Street Green Primary School
  • Orchard Way Primary School
  • Pratts Bottom Primary School
  • The Highway Primary School
  • Tubbenden Primary School
  • Bullers Wood School for Boys
  • Bullers Wood School for Girls
  • Charles Darwin School
  • Chislehurst School for Girls

How will the schools benefit from the merger?

The aim of the merger is to protect, secure and develop both organisations’ visions for outstanding, local education. By working in partnership our schools will benefit from the support the other schools will bring. It will also make sharing good practice much easier. The partnership will also make the Trust stronger financially and will ensure we are sustainable in unpredictable times.

How will primary and secondary schools benefit from being in the same trust?

This merger will facilitate even better collaboration, and increased capacity for school to school support and school improvement, through the introduction into the group of additional expertise and experience. In particular this will be through the expansion of existing networks, including those linked to curriculum subjects, as well as areas such as SEND and safeguarding. It will further increase the sharing of expertise across key stages and phases. Staff in all phases stand to benefit from their new colleagues. Areas of expertise will include, for example, the specialist subject knowledge of secondary school staff, and the understanding of the foundations of learning of primary school staff.

How else could this merger benefit our schools, staff and pupils?

There are a number of additional benefits. These include:

  • Working in closer proximity provides excellent opportunities for partnership working, sharing of best practice, training, career development and career progression.
  • Bringing together SOLA schools with Biggin Hill Primary School will broaden the support network of all our primary schools.
  • An enlarged staff base will increase the pool of talent and support succession planning.
  • The national context and direction of travel is toward larger Trusts, and issues such as increases in numbers of pupils with SEND, falling rolls, funding cuts, unfunded pay awards, staff retention and recruitment, energy crisis, etc. are pressures that are less likely to impact larger Trusts.
  • A consolidated Trust can create a stronger shared services (central) team, providing even better specialist support to individual schools. Shared services include finance, HR, estates and IT.

How will the Trust be led?

Each school will continue to be led by their respective headteachers and leadership teams. The CEO of SOLA, James Turvey, is retiring this summer. It is proposed that the CEO of Inicio, Terry Millar, will lead the Trust, supported by the combined Executive Team.

Have the Trusts been asked to partner by the Local Authority or the Department for Education?

No, the two Trusts know each other well through existing links. The two sets of Trustees see the advantages of joint working and see each other as ideal partners.

How will the schools change after the merger?

Changes from the merger will largely be at the central trust level. When considering merging, both SOLA and Inicio Trust Boards have agreed a commitment to:

  • Maintaining the distinct identity of each school in the Trust
  • Outstanding support for all students, including those with SEND, and strong pastoral care
  • Community focus and engagement
  • Professional development for all staff
  • A broad and challenging curriculum with wide range of enrichment opportunities
  • Excellent academic outcomes in a supportive environment
  • Keeping decision-making at school level unless there is a clear benefit to making decisions at Trust level
  • High standards of professionalism in all areas
  • Best possible use of resources

Each school will retain a Local Governing Body (LGB), with the Headteacher responsible for the day-to-day running of the school. The LGB will have powers delegated from the Trust Board under an agreed Scheme of Delegation.

Will each School retain its individual ethos?

Yes, the SOLA and Inicio Trust Boards are very clear that the individual ethos, character and good practices of each school will be retained and that all the schools operate as equals supporting each other. Each school is seen as central to its own community with the skills of each school being used in a supportive way for all the others.

Will this change the status of any school?

All schools involved in the merger are already academies, and so will not change in status. Academies are publicly funded independent schools that are not managed by a local authority, but their funding and accountability lies directly with the Department for Education (DfE). We are committed to maintaining a strong partnership with the Local Authority.

Will the merger change the admissions arrangements for any school?

There will be no changes to the admissions arrangements of any school as a result of this merger.

Will parents/carers be required to purchase new uniform as a result of the merger?

The merger will not change the logos, names or uniforms of any school. As such, no new uniform will need to be purchased as a result of the merger.

Why are we asking for feedback?

There is no statutory duty for SOLA and Inicio to consult the wider community on this change. However, the Trust Board of each trust chose to ask for feedback, in order to ensure that merger plans work for the community.

If the Trust Boards decide to proceed, there will be a separate TUPE consultation for staff.

What is the process for SOLA to join Inicio?

The conversion process includes the following key legal processes:

  • Putting in place a Deed of Variation for the Master Funding Agreement (MFA) between Inicio and the Secretary of State for Education, which varied the Inicio MFA to include SOLA
  • Transferring the employment of the staff from SOLA to Inicio following a statutory process (TUPE)
  • Agreeing a Commercial Transfer Agreement for the transfer of assets and contracts from SOLA to Inicio

While, as a matter of process, SOLA is joining Inicio, this is a function of the DfE’s preferred legal processes and is designed to reduce disruption to the staff teams across both trusts. Both Trust Boards are committed to respecting the skills and expertise that each school will bring to the combined trust, and that values the strengths across all twelve schools.

 

The Q&A below were added in May 2024 after inviting views from our communities

This feels very much like empire building. Schools don’t need to be massive conglomerates in order to be successful. You don’t have shareholders to satisfy, you have children to educate and nurture. The larger a school becomes the more likely children are to become a number/statistic.

The SOLA and IET Trust Boards are very clear that the individual ethos, character and good practices of each school will be retained. Each school is seen as central to its own community, and it is the trust that is growing rather than the individual schools. The government have indicated that trusts reach a position of real strength at 10 schools and/or 7500 pupils, and if this merger were to proceed the combined trust would reach these numbers.

If the merger happens and then subsequently the trust has financial difficulties, would this result in one or more of the schools closing?

Both trusts are currently in a relatively secure financial position despite the challenges that exist within education funding. While we are unable to predict the future, the only current reasons for a school to close are either significant falls to the pupil roll or significant concerns over the quality of education. Currently all our schools have stable or increasing pupil rolls, and all are graded at least ‘Good’ by Ofsted.

Merging of secondary and primary schools in a Trust provides no synergies.  The addition of more secondary schools to the trust would be of more benefit. What are the benefits for secondary schools merging with primary/junior schools?

There are many benefits in creating a whole school educational trust that ensures young people have a clear, cultural and sequenced learning journey. It will help teachers to see the whole learning journey of their pupils and aid the development of young people's personal learning character. Staff will be able to collaborate more easily across phases, sharing best practices and comparing curriculums to ensure alignment and continuity. As a very practical example, secondary colleagues will be able to collaborate with their primary counterparts to look at best practice in KS2 across subject areas, including English and Maths, to refine and enhance what is being taught at KS3.

What will the process be for intake into Charles Darwin for pupils that are not currently attending a primary school that will be included in the proposed merger – will priority be given to children currently attending primary schools within the trust or local children?

and

Darrick Wood Juniors is currently a feeder school for Darrick Wood Seniors, as such will the links and transition projects between these two schools be maintained or will the Juniors become a feeder school for Bullers?

No changes are being proposed to the admissions arrangements for any of our schools. Any future changes to a school’s admissions would go out to consultation in the usual way.

Will the finances of each school be affected by the merger?  Will each school be in control of their funds and budget, especially money donated/raised by parents of the school?

The proposed merger will not change the finances of our schools, who retain oversight including any money that is raised and/or donated.

How much time will existing staff need to commit to the Trust, taking them away from school.

We have looked to minimise any time that staff would have away from their school. One example of this is where we will align all our staff training days, meaning that collaborative work across our schools can take place on these days when pupils are not in school.

How can parents actively influence decisions?  The right decision for the Trust might not be right for individual schools.

All of our schools have Local Governing Boards, which include positions for parents and carers

More details on how we keep our school a successful local school would be helpful.

All our schools are in a good place at the moment, and we are starting to see the fruits of the collaboration that is already taking place. across our family of schools. We know that headteachers and their senior teams, together with their local governing boards, are best placed to make the right decisions for their school communities, with support from the wider family of schools.