Federation, academisation and partnership working

The starting position for any boards journey to find a suitable partner is clarity about the reasons why a school wants to move into partnership working.

Governing boards need to consider what they will gain by working within a partnership and any outcomes that cannot be achieved working on their own. In some cases, schools will have much to bring to a formal partnership arrangement but will receive very different, perhaps less obvious, benefits in return.

Once maintained schools decide that they wish to work in a formal partnership they need to register their interest with the Local Authority. Schools may also wish to discuss partnership or a potential partnership with their linked school improvement adviser and where appropriate with the Diocese. 

A federation is a formal arrangement where schools (of any size or type) come together to share a single governing board. The schools retain their separate legal status and have their own budget allocations, individual admissions, performance tables and Ofsted inspections.

A Management Partnership is when two (or more) schools share one headteacher who has the responsibility for the strategic leadership of both schools. Both schools remain completely separate and retain their own individual governing boards.

A Trust School is a foundation school.  Some schools will need to acquire foundation status in order to become a trust school, meaning they will take on specific responsibilities which have traditionally been carried out by the Local Authority, including:

  • Responsibility for overseeing admissions and appeals processes
  • Specific requirement for the make-up of the governing board
  • Becoming the legal employers of all staff
  • Managing the school premises.

Where Trust Schools are different from other maintained schools is that they are supported by a charitable trust. The Trust is made up of partners, community organisations and sometimes businesses, which share and support the strategic direction of the school or schools.

An academy is an independent state-funded school. This means it’s funded directly by the government (through the Education and Skills Funding Agency, ESFA) rather than by the local authority as maintained schools are.

Devon has a long history of partnership working, the Governance Consultancy team are experienced in assisting and supporting boards if you are thinking of collaborating with another school.

Academies and multi-academy trusts

If you are considering converting to academy status you need to inform the LA and the Diocese (if applicable) early on in the process. 

Single academy

Not all schools are able to convert as single academies. To be able to convert as a single academy:

  • your latest Ofsted rating must be at least good
  • your pupils’ attainment and progress must be high
  • you will need to prove that your schools’ finances are healthy

If you convert as a single academy, the Department for Education will expect you to support at least one other local school.

Multi-academy trust

All academies in a multi-academy trust are governed by a single trust and a single board of trustees.

The academy trust can establish a separate governing body for each of its academies. These are called local governing bodies. The board of trustees can then delegate some of its functions to the local governing bodies.

To convert as a multi-academy trust you can either join an existing trust or you can work with other schools to set up a new trust.

To convert as a multi-academy trust, each school in your proposed trust needs to submit a separate application and each of the existing governing boards must pass a resolution to convert to become an academy.

As part of your application you will also need to provide evidence of how the stronger schools in your proposed chain will help the weaker schools to improve.


Each federation is different. Schools in federations work together to maximise funding, resources and expertise. Federation does not bring cashable savings to the Local Authority but they can ease financial pressure within schools because resources can be shared and deployed across the federation.  Federation brings the opportunity to secure strong strategic leadership and work differently to deliver the best possible outcomes for the pupils in your community of schools.

Federations have one governing board across all the schools within the federation.   

Federations with two or more maintained schools

The board must have a minimum of 7 members, with no upper limit, all federations must include:

Two (and only two) elected parent governors from across the schools.  Additional parents could be co-opted onto the board, or fill foundation positions, if available, based on the skills they bring
The headteacher of each federated school (or the executive headteacher of the federation, if there is one) unless the headteacher resigns as a governor
One elected staff governor
One Local Authority governor
Co-opted governors (optional, as required)
Foundation Governors (VA, VC and Foundation schools only) 

The total number of co-opted governors who are also eligible to be elected or appointed as staff governors (when counted with the staff governor and the headteacher/s) must not exceed one third of the total membership of the board of the federation.

 Further information about the way the board is constituted can be found on the reconstitution pages.

What is a management partnership?

What is a management partnership?

A management partnership is when two or more schools share one headteacher who has the responsibility for the strategic leadership of both schools. The schools remain completely separate and retain their own individual governing bodies. A distinct advantage of a management partnership is that the distance between the schools need not be a barrier if travelling and work life balance matters are managed sensibly.

The partnership is formalised through a contract which lays out the terms and remit of that partnership. A joint committee of governors would oversee the arrangement and regularly assess and report on the workings of the management partnership arrangement. Management partnerships are usually short term or temporary interventions. A number of contractual issues may need to be resolved if shared leadership becomes a long-term arrangement.

Who decides on a management partnership?

There will be a number of different reasons why a management partnership will be considered as an appropriate arrangement for schools. The Local Authority might suggest a management partnership if a school has been unable to recruit or needs experienced leadership to address challenging school improvement issues. Governors can also drive the process themselves and may approach another governing board with a formal proposal. What matters most is that there is an agreement between the governors and the Local Authority that a management partnership is the most suitable option for the school at that time and will bring clear benefits for the pupils in those schools. Finance and recruitment will play their part but the benefits of securing strong and experienced leadership and its impact raising standards must drive the decision-making process. Where applicable the Diocese will be involved, particularly if schools wish to work in Church school pairings.

Setting up a management partnership

  • Set up a joint committee of governors using the governance collaboration regulations with formal terms of reference to work out the detail for the contract and oversee the operational arrangements and strategic impact
  • Work out the total cost of the partnership for the schools (on-costs beyond headteacher time) and agree levels and timings of payment
  • Draw up and formally agree an exit strategy with potential triggers and timeframe for withdrawal
  • Synchronise school calendars and events to avoid clashes of dates
  • Keep travelling time and work life balance issues under review
  • Make sure that roles and responsibilities for all staff are clear for when the headteacher is, or isn’t, on site
  • Agree the headteacher’s salary point so that it reflects levels of responsibility (may need to reconsider the ISR). Performance Management arrangements will reflect both shared and separate targets
  • Align and share key external partners and support services e.g. finance and HR
  • Ensure positive parental communication and seek their perception of the arrangements
  • Invite external support and evaluation to develop the partnership.

A tale of two schools in a partnership agreement


Many schools are looking at different ways of collaborating and working together to benefit the pupils in their own and neighbouring schools. David Santillo, Chair of Governors at Stoke Canon C of E Primary School writes of the board’s experiences in exploring different ways of working.

“In recent years, the pressure has been building for schools, particularly smaller primary schools, to come together under some form of formal partnership. In common with other Devon primary schools, governors at both Stoke Canon and Clyst St Mary had been exploring the possibilities, potential benefits and drawbacks of joining a federation or academy chain for some time. Our discussions were set against a backdrop of tightening budgets, the decline of the Local Learning Community alongside increasing fears of isolation and a potential lack of sustainability. Despite those separate investigations, neither of our schools had found an opportunity that felt right, for the children in our schools.

Stoke Canon is a small school, currently with 109 pupils on roll and has always maintained a unique identity and valued its independence highly. It is also a very happy and successful school, with a long history of ‘good’ judgments from OFSTED. In February this year, after 10 years of strong leadership and school development our headteacher, Richard Somerwill, decided to step down; our unanimous first preference as a governing board was to try to appoint a new permanent headteacher to replace him. Time was short to recruit and have a new headteacher in place for September as we were fast approaching Easter and much of the advice we received was to look instead at partnership arrangements. We also received a number of ‘enthusiastic’ approaches from existing academies, keen to take on another school and offering a ready-made model for engagement. Despite the pressure we felt, we stuck to our plans, met the deadlines and ran the interviews. It was a whirlwind process, but one which we felt had brought the whole school community together.

Unfortunately, despite our best efforts, we did not find the right candidate. With Easter then passed and the clock steadily ticking, it was clear that we needed to explore other options in order to have a sound management structure in place in time for the start of the autumn term. The idea of a management partnership, completely unfamiliar to us at the time, was discussed in depth at a series of governor meetings. We began to draw upon the support and experience of both the Devon Governance Consultancy Team and the Diocese in order to understand clearly what would be involved, how we would go about it and what the safeguards were to ensure that we didn’t lose our identity along with our headteacher.

A great many emails and telephone calls followed, along with meetings with headteachers and governors at a number of local schools in our search for a suitable partnership. Coming hot on the heels of headteacher interviews, it was, in all honesty, an intense and uncertain time, with governors already feeling understandably weary and disheartened. However, as we began to explore what a partnership could mean in practice, and what it could bring to both schools in terms of shared expertise, insights and ideas, something that was initially born out of necessity quickly began to feel like an opportunity, and then as a positive choice.

Even during our first exploratory meeting with governors at Clyst St Mary, the ‘fit’ felt right. Our two schools had worked together in the past through learning community initiatives, but very much as separate entities. There was no existing model of partnership in place, nor a burning ambition on either part to expand or federate, but there was clearly a common understanding, a mutual enthusiasm and a willingness to explore the possibilities to the benefit of pupils at both schools. A partnership not only offered Stoke Canon a solution for leadership, but also offered both schools a chance to work more closely together under one experienced headteacher and to learn from each other in the process. The decision to enter into a partnership with another school was not one that governors at either school took lightly. At Stoke Canon, there were many more hours of discussion, looking in critical detail at all the options and their implications, before we came to a consensus that this was the right way forward.

Drafting the partnership agreement itself was a somewhat daunting prospect and one in which governors initially feared hidden complexities and pitfalls. In the event the process was clear and straightforward, and we felt throughout that we were in control of our own destiny rather than feeling managed towards a certain end-point. Experienced staff from the Governance Team and the Diocese were available to come to key meetings to advise on what we needed to get done and what our options were, but did not drive our decision-making. They were very much on tap, but not on top.

Through discussions both within and between our governing bodies, we dealt first with the essentials that are needed to make any such agreement work, and then moved on to add those more personal elements that make sense of our particular partnership and what it is for. From our initial decision in early May to explore management partnerships, to drafting and signing the partnership documents, only took around two months in total and was concluded well before the end of the summer term. It was busy, for sure (especially as it ended up coinciding with both OFSTED and SIAMS inspections), but did not feel rushed.

Stoke Canon and Clyst St Mary are individual schools each with their own distinct identities and characters, and will remain so throughout the partnership, whether that continues for the year currently agreed or longer. We share many similarities including our ways of working, our approaches to teaching and learning, our inclusive ethos and the external challenges we face. Stoke Canon is a church school, Clyst St Mary a community school, with a strong and long-standing relationship with the village’s church community. Stoke Canon has its own governor-run preschool on site, whilst Clyst St Mary works very closely with an adjacent independent preschool provider. Although technically we have an Executive Head across the partnership, Louise Herbert is determined to work as, and be seen as, the headteacher at both schools, supported by two very experienced and able senior members of staff as deputy heads, as well as by two dedicated teams of governors.

We are still in the early days of the partnership, and no doubt there will be issues to discuss and resolve both within individual schools and through the Joint Management Committee. It feels, nonetheless, that we are on a journey together and that both schools are committed to making the partnership work in the interests of all our children. Let’s see where it leads us…”


Checklist for Federating Schools

Embracing Change: Rural and Small Schools

From the Church of England Education Office, March 2018

Devon Schools Partnership Register - October 2019

Developing your federation

First agenda items for the federated board

Forming a multi-academy trust

Guidance document from the NGA, ASCL and Browne Jacobson

Forming or joining a group of schools

Guidance document from the NGA, ASCL and Browne Jacobson

Guide to federation

Guide to trust schools

Guide to management partnerships

Joining a multi-academy trust

Guidance document from the NGA, ASCL and Browne Jacobson

Notification of the appointment of an executive headteacher

The Role of the Executive Headteacher

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