FAQ

What is a multi academy Trust (MAT)?

A legal entity, registered as a charitable company, which comprises more than one academy. In a multi academy Trust each school retains its unique identity, for example its own DfE number and its own local governing body, and has its own Ofsted inspections; at the same time the Trust board is ultimately responsible for overall strategy of the Trust as a whole, financial good health and standards.

Who owns and runs the Tenax Schools Trust?

As a Church of England Trust, the ‘members’ (which are like shareholders in a company) ultimately ‘own’ the Trust. The membership of Tenax sits 80% with the Diocese of Rochester and 20% with the Diocese of Chichester. The members are responsible for appointing the Trust board, which are similar to the board of directors of a company, who are held to account by the members. The board are legally responsible for ensuring that each school is successful, that the Trust’s finances as a whole are balanced at the end of each year, and that each school’s distinctive denominational ethos, or non-religious ethos, is appropriately preserved.

Can only Church of England Schools join Tenax?

No. Tenax is set up to be a ‘mixed MAT’ where the distinctive ethos of non-religious schools, VC schools and VA schools is preserved. From early 2017 the Trust will be a mixed MAT in reality as well as in theory as our first non-faith school is scheduled to join the trust then.

What is the attitude of the Diocese of Rochester to becoming an academy and joining the Tenax Schools Trust?

Since September 2015, overwhelmingly positive. The Diocesan Board of Education in August 2015 published the following statement about the academy programme:

“The Diocesan Board of Education approved a new policy which states that it will:

  • Prioritise its resources towards supporting and facilitating the growth of Church of England multi-academy trusts (MATs) across the diocese
  • Adopt a more pro-active, positive stance towards the academy programme, encouraging the development of the existing Church of England MATs”.

The strategy of the Rochester DBE is to support the growth of a number of locally based Church of England MATs and encourage Church of England schools to join them. Tenax is the Church of England MAT serving the Tonbridge, Tunbridge Wells and surrounding area.

What about schools from the Diocese of Chichester?

Tenax Schools Trust aims to serve the purpose of improving education through partnership across our area. We welcome approaches from schools in towns and villages in the Diocese of Chichester in East Sussex which are within easy reach of Tunbridge Wells (in practice the Wealden district of East Sussex), and have a very positive working relationship with both East Sussex LA and the Diocese of Chichester which enables conversions and sponsorships from this part of our area into the Tenax Schools Trust.

What are the implications of the White Paper Educational Excellence Everywhere for Tenax?

The White Paper sets out the Government’s ambition for all schools to become academies and in the vast majority of cases, as part of a multi-academy trust (MATs) like Tenax Schools Trust. While they have subsequently announced that there will be no forced conversion for good or outstanding schools in high performing local authorities this does not mean that schools in those areas will not want to consider academy status to secure their future. We believe in the power of the academy programme to transform children’s and young people’s life chances. We will continue to promote and put forward a positive case for the growth of Tenax Schools Trust as a means to achieve this for our children and young people.

What is the optimum size of a Multi-Academy Trust? (MAT)

The optimum size of MATs depends on a wide range of contextual factors, but many MATs are finding that once they are able to reach 3000 pupils upwards it becomes possible to function much more effectively in cross-trust school improvement work because there is sufficient income and scale to facilitate such work. This is therefore a strategic aim of Tenax.

What is the relationship between the Trust board and the governing body of each school?

Local governors serve on the local governing body for each school, and their main responsibilities are to do with being a local voice in scrutinising and promoting the quality of education and wider opportunities offered to pupils. Local Governing Bodies in Tenax will continue to incorporate parent governors to support this work and ensure that the local community is engaged in the work of the school. Specific responsibilities and accountabilities are allocated to each LGB according to a document known as the scheme of delegation which is part of the Trust’s Governance Plan. This document is reviewed annually and agreed between the Trust board and the LGB for each school. The principle used to do so is ‘earned autonomy’. This means that schools which are able to achieve strong outcomes for students and have Good or Outstanding inspection outcomes the headteacher and local governing body have a high level of discretion in educational and day to day matters, and a high level of freedom in the use of the delegated budget. Local Governing Bodies will have significantly less bureaucracy and administrative work to do, enabling their energies to be channelled where they are most needed.

What is the relationship between the Trust CEO and the headteacher of each school?

The role of the Trust CEO is to be answerable to the board of Trustees for the overall educational performance of the Trust and its financial health, and to implement the Trustees’ strategic plan for the future growth and shape of the Trust as a whole. In doing so the CEO will work with all key leaders in the Trust, including local governing bodies and headteachers of each of the schools. The headteachers of each school are responsible for cooperating with the CEO, but they carry responsibility for the achievement of high standards, in and beyond the taught curriculum, in the school or schools for which they are responsible, and for developing the reputation of that school. In doing so they will report at regular intervals to the Trust CEO and will be challenged and supported by their local governing body. At key accountability points, such as Ofsted inspection, it is expected that the headteacher of the school concerned leads, supported by the local governing body. In schools still considered ‘at risk’ the Trust CEO may play a more active role during the inspection process.

What do the terms ‘sponsored academy’ and ‘converter academy’ mean?

Normally a school which is Good or Outstanding in Ofsted terms, so not considered to be ‘at risk’, will convert to an academy and join the Trust as a ‘converter’. Such schools are eligible to receive a ‘conversion grant’ only (currently £25,000) to cover their legal and administrative conversion costs. By contrast, a school which is ‘at risk’, for example one which is in an Ofsted category, or which has an Interim Executive Board (IEB), will join a Trust as a ‘sponsored academy’. In these cases a much higher grant is made available for the Trust to spend on improving leadership and standards much more rapidly. This is currently set at up to £110,000.

Under existing legislation, schools which go into Special Measures must become sponsored academies. Since April 2016, in addition to schools which are in Special Measures, schools which meet the ‘coasting’ criteria (outcomes which are consistently below specified level, regardless of Ofsted category – an Ofsted Good school can still fall into the coasting definition) will also be eligible for compulsory academy conversion. Tenax may be asked by the Regional Schools Commissioner or the Diocesan Board of Education to be the sponsor for any such school.

Does the Trust welcome small schools?

When a governing body of a school, be it small or large, considers joining the Tenax Schools Trust, we expect a process of ‘due diligence’ to be undertaken both by the school and by the Trust. This process will enable both parties to decide if the decision for a particular school to join the Trust is the right one for both parties. Small schools will be particularly interested in the commitment of the Trust to their future, and the Trust in turn will want to assure itself that the school can be run in a way that is sustainably financially viable. For their part, the Trustees recognise the importance of small communities having schools at their heart, especially for families with young children, where it can be done sustainably.

How much money does each school pay to the Trust, and what does it get in return?

We will agree with each new school an annual payment in return for services the Trust will provide. In due course, the Trustees’ strategy is to stabilise and harmonise the annual ‘top slice’ which each academy pays. This will be necessary because as the Trust grows so will the services which are provided to schools, and these will require the development of a staff team shared between the academies in the partnership. These will need a steady income stream. Most academy Trusts find ultimately that 3-5% of per pupil income is what is needed to run the services schools in the Trust need, and moving in this direction will help to provide an economical and sustainable approach to a trust’s finances.

We anticipate that the ‘early joiners’ will play a very significant role in shaping the working practices of the Trust and in creating its central services, both financial and business-related, and educational.

How will belonging to the Trust affect employees’ rights?

The Tenax Schools Trust will use the School Teachers’ Pay and Conditions (STPC) under which almost all teachers are already employed. Where teachers are in the employ of an individual school at the time the school becomes an academy and joins the Trust, then a legal process known as TUPE is applied which ensures that even though the employer changes, nonetheless conditions of service and contractual arrangements are protected indefinitely. This means a teacher employed originally to teach at one particular school cannot be required to work elsewhere, unless of course they consent to do so. Teaching staff employed after a school has joined the Trust will be employed by the Trust rather than the school and could, if necessary, be asked to work at a different school within the Trust. This will be made clear at the time of employment of those new staff.

How will belonging to the Trust affect the quality of education for children in our school?

We believe a group of schools working closely together in partnership and agreeing to pool resources as well as support each other professionally can achieve much more for its children and young people than schools working either alone, or in looser partnerships which do not involve as much sharing of resources or expertise. The prime aim of the Trust at all times is to improve the experience of children and young people in classrooms.

Do we have to cease working with other partners and partner schools if we join the Tenax MAT?

Absolutely not. While we aim strategically to develop strong partnerships between schools within the Trust for professional development and improving student outcomes, there is no wish whatsoever to prevent schools working with others locally. Our view would be that if a partnership is helpful for improving what a school achieves then it should continue, regardless of the other school’s status or location. For example, the Altius Teaching School Alliance, while led by the two designated Teaching Schools, will continue to work with a wide range of schools, and it is most unlikely that in the near future all of these will be within the trust. Nonetheless we would expect all schools in the Trust to continue to collaborate to improve education for children more widely than just with Trust schools.

How fast will the Trust grow and how large will it become?

Broadly speaking the vision up to April 2016 was to reach a size of 3 schools by September 2016, and rise to about 8 schools by September 2018. Trustees believe that reaching a total student population of some 3000 will be the point at which it is possible to offer a full range of services to schools. This is likely to be reached by 2018.

However the growth strategy of Tenax, as of many trusts, is now under review, and more will be published on this in due course.

May 2016 - Three schools: Bennett, Brenchley and Matfield, Sir Henry Fermor
January 2017 - Three further schools (GBs have resolved, due diligence underway)
April 2017 - Three further schools (GBs about to resolve and due diligence will start shortly)
September 2017 - Bishop Chavasse Free Schools opens (Tonbridge – site now allocated)

This is a total of 10 schools with an approximate total population of just under 3000, rising over 3000 as Bishop Chavasse grows.  We are currently working with the Regional Schools Commissioner to review our growth strategy.  We are in early discussion with several other schools locally in relation to this and are happy to initiate a conversation with any school which wishes to consider their options and join a growing, primary-majority Trust where the central infrastructure is already in place or being created.  Conversion dates can be negotiated.  However, governing bodies and schools should note that growth will be incremental and subject to the RSC’s approval at each stage.


How would you sum up any risks to a school from joining the Trust?

Governing bodies sometimes are concerned that the distinctiveness of their school will be lost, or indeed that their independence will be eroded. However, Tenax Schools Trust is committed to maintaining the distinctiveness of each school, and, providing that a high standard of student outcomes is achieved, along with positive inspection grades, is relaxed about individual schools approaching areas such as the curriculum in differing ways. As far as the autonomy of governing bodies is concerned, the formal scheme of delegation, reviewed annually, spells out clearly the areas which are delegated to local governing bodies.

How would you sum up the benefits to a school from joining the Trust?

There are typically a range of ‘push’ and ‘pull’ factors which bring schools to the point of wanting to join a MAT such as Tenax Schools Trust. They may include:

  • The opportunity to benefit from close collaboration educationally with pooled resources which can lead to real benefits in terms of teaching, learning and student progress;
  • Joining a MAT like Tenax will enable schools to benefit from increased scale for initial teacher training and wider staff development at a time when money will be tight and teacher recruitment ever more challenging. The larger scale a MAT offers will enable the group of schools to train its own teachers and deploy them within the MAT. We anticipate that there will be a full operational cross-phase SCITT in Tenax by 2018 so that MAT schools will be able to benefit from a growing pipelines of initial teacher trainees and participate in shaping teacher training to meet their needs.
  • As finances get more and more challenging, there are opportunities to be had in sharing some resources and making savings which will enable more money to be spent directly on students and teachers, rather than on back office or administrative needs;
  • Joining a MAT with a Christian ethos and a respect for each school’s identity is preferable for many schools to having at a later stage to join a MAT with a different approach and less emphasis on these areas;
  • As local authorities wane in importance and ability to support schools actively, a Trust of likeminded schools serving the local community can help fill many of the gaps left by LAs;
  • Local governing bodies are not alone when they face difficult situations. An example of this would the recruitment of a new headteacher, which is now very difficult for many schools, especially small schools to achieve. Within Tenax, local governors have the reassurance of knowing that the Trust board will be under an obligation to ensure that the school is not left without leadership on the departure of the headteacher.

Will a primary school joining Tenax automatically get its students passported into Bennett?

No. Schools within the Trust will retain their existing admissions policies. This applies both to Bennett and to primary schools, who will generally continue to operate open admissions to serve their local communities. Bennett will continue to operate its approach, as a Church of England secondary school, to admissions.

Does joining the Tenax Schools Trust really mean being taken over by Bennett?

No. Tenax will be a primary-majority MAT so the primaries will be at least as influential in the Trust as Bennett. Moreover it is important to remember that schools joining Tenax are not ‘joining Bennett’ – they are joining a Trust of which Bennett also happens to be part.

If a Governing Body would like to take further its interest in joining the Tenax Trust, what happens next?

The stages are in broad terms as follows:

  • After reading this document and hearing a presentation, one or more governors of the school may wish to meet informally to explore issues further either with the Trust CEO or with its Chair of Trustees.
  • Once they believe they have reached a settled opinion, the Governing Body of the interested school must vote with a simple majority to ask to join the Tenax Schools Trust. That vote must be formally recorded by the GB’s clerk.
  • The Chair of the Governing Body must write to Tenax informing the Board of Trustees of that vote, and asking for a process of due diligence to begin.
  • If the Board agree in principle, then it will appoint a project manager who will handle the administrative work required and who will undertake a ‘due diligence’ exercise. The exercise will examine areas such as the finances, financial projections, pupil number and sustainability projections, educational standards, staffing and curriculum models, and consider the likely risks and benefits to Tenax and the school of the school joining. The project manager will handle the liaison with the DfE and the Regional Schools Commissioner.
  • A legal firm will be appointed to handle the legal aspects of the transfer.
  • At the same time the school (or the project manager) will inform the local authority so that the transfer of any assets from the LA to the Trust can begin. This is normally the part of the process which takes longest, and is managed on a day to day basis by the project manager and the legal firm.
  • The school should, if it is a Church of England school, inform the Diocesan Board of Education of its intention. The written consent of the DBE is needed for the conversion, and this will be pursued and secured by the project manager.
  • The Tenax board will consider the due diligence report, and if it decides that it will proceed with the request, then the formal application to the Regional Schools Commissioner will be finalised. This must be approved by the three-weekly Headteacher Board, which advises the RSC, before the application goes to the Secretary of State for signing. This stage can happen before the transfer of assets work is completed by the LA, but the actual conversion date cannot be set until the transfer of assets is completed.
  • The process is not irreversible until the Funding Agreement is signed by the Secretary of State. Prior to that point, either the Governing Body of the School or the Tenax Board can suspend or terminate the process.
  • The entire process normally takes between six and nine months. Conversion dates are the first day of any calendar month.

For further information email [email protected].