In July, Damian Hinds, then education secretary announced the creation of the Trust Capacity Fund aimed at helping academy trusts grow. This £17m fund is the new sponsor capacity funding round – the previous one being the MAT development and improvement fund which opened in late 2017 and made £53m available.
At the end of last week the DfE released guidelines and the application form. The fund is focused on four strands:
- A1: supporting strong multi-academy trusts (MATs) to grow and innovate in areas of long-standing need (£50k-£310k)
- A2: encouraging strong trusts to grow by converting and improving weaker maintained schools, or adding vulnerable academies to their trust and improving them (£50k – £200k)
- B: accelerating the development of mid-sized trusts with the potential to be strong (£20k-£150k)
- C: creating new strong trusts, either by single-academy trusts (SATs) joining larger trusts, or by supporting the growth of existing trusts via mergers, or priority projects identified by RSCs (£20k – £100k)
An eligibility tracker judges trusts on the basis of the following criteria and then clarifies the strand which trusts can apply for – trust should apply for the highest level of strand:
- financial health
- trust size
- school improvement
- phonics attainment
- English Baccalaureate (EBacc)
It looks like all trust/SATs who don’t have a Financial Notice to Improve can apply for strand C but the clear emphasis is on consolidation and reducing the numbers of SATs and smaller MATs. The last three criteria don’t apply in the context of AP and special school settings and these are priority areas along with rural schools and faith settings. There’s also a stated priority for applications relating to areas of ‘geographical and contextual need’.
Whilst the application form itself is not that onerous, the key requirement behind the fund is that an application for growth should be submitted (or already have been submitted) alongside the application – any decisions are dependent on the Headteacher Board approving an application for growth. So, if a trust doesn’t already have a growth plan that they are in discussion with the RSC about, there is a significant time pressure given the timelines for the application process AND spending the funding are as follows:
Application window opens: 9 Sept
Application window closes: 12.00 8th December 2019 (on the application form) but the guidelines say 12.00 31st Dec
Assessment of applications: Sept 19 – Feb 20
Notification of outcomes: Oct 19 – Feb 20 (alongside decisions at HTB regarding the growth plan)
Funding distributed: March 20
Funding spent by trusts: By 31 March 20
The notification period indicates decisions will be made on an ongoing basis before the end of December and so submitting an application earlier rather than later would be advisable which further adds to the timeline pressure. Not least because the guidelines state that funded activities must be completed by 31/03/20 and funding is distributed in arrears in March 2020 – one of the assessment criteria is that there should be strong evidence that the funded activity will be completed and paid for by 31 March 2020. ‘Stronger applications:
- provide a realistic delivery plan for the size of project supported by appropriate evidence, including good consideration and mitigation of risk
- provide assurance that all funded activities will be completed by 31 March 2020.’
All questions about potential bids should be submitted to the relevant Regional Delivery Directorate office.