MAT set up by government minister planning merger due to financial 'challenge'

5th December 2017 at 16:02
Floreat Education in discussion with Avanti Schools Trust about creating "mixed" multi-academy trust of secular and Hindu faith schools

A multi-academy trust set up by a government minister plans to merge with another trust because of its challenging financial situation.

Floreat Education Academies Trust, which was founded by Conservative peer Lord O’Shaughnessy, is in discussions with Avanti Schools Trust about amalgamating.

With Avanti comprising a group of Hindu faith schools, and Floreat operating three secular primary schools, the merger would create a “mixed” MAT.

Lord O’Shaughnessy used to advise the former prime minister David Cameron when he was in Downing Street, and was appointed as a minister in the Department of Health last December.

Floreat first discussed the possibility of merging with Avanti last year. However, the trust later said it had secured sufficient funds through philanthropic donations to remain independent.

Speaking today to Tes, Lord O’Shaughnessy said that Floreat’s schools were “going really well” and that the merger was happening from a “position of strength”.

However, he said that as a small trust it was still continuing to find it difficult to balance its books due to the small amount of money that it could top-slice from its schools.

“For small MATs, particularly if they’re primary and particularly if they’re [new] free schools as well and they’re filling up from the bottom, it is financially a challenge,” he said.

“You’ve got to maintain in our case a small central team… to oversee the trust, while funding it in theory from a contribution from the schools where those budgets are quite small.”

Lord O’Shaughnessy said that being a small MAT was a “precarious position to be in” and that Floreat carrying on its present state would “just not [be] very fair on the parents and staff”.

While Floreat had been able to raise funds externally, he said the trust had come to the realisation that “in a way you stretch it out but you don’t necessarily solve the problem”.  

He said merging with the larger Avanti trust would give Floreat’s schools “security and stability”.

Avanti currently runs five primary and two secondary Hindu faith schools. Lord O’Shaughnessy said there was a “very close educational alignment” between the two trusts in their “ethos of high standards and character education”.

If the merger goes ahead then it will create a MAT with both Hindu and secular schools under a single board of trustees accountable to the Department for Education for all its schools. Lord O'Shaughnessy said the intention was that he would be one of the Floreat trustees who would sit on the new board. 

“I think it’s probably going to be the first mixed MAT of its kind in terms of having the denominational and the secular schools,” he said.

“That has been a long term ambition of ours… because part of the character education philosophy is about universal human values and bridging between different communities.” He said the Floreat schools would retain their names and existing ethos.

A process of due diligence by both parties will now take place, alongside an informal four week consultation process. A report will then be submitted to the regional schools commissioner, with a final decision on the merger anticipated in the spring.

Lord O’Shaughnessy said that if all went to plan the new trust could be in place by next September.

In a joint statement on behalf of Avanti, chairman Mike Younger and chief executive Nitesh Gor said: “One of our strategic aspirations has always been the inclusion of non-denominational schools within the Avanti trust.

“The Floreat ethos and vision of education is fully aligned with Avanti’s and we couldn’t have hoped for a better match. Most important of all, we believe the inclusion of the Floreat schools has the potential to genuinely benefit both Floreat and Avanti students.”

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