Staff portal: Potential merger

Letter to staff 19 May 2023 >

Staff meeting with Lyssy on 22 May 2023

Thank you to everyone who joined us at the meeting. The purpose of the letter, and the meeting, was to let staff know at the earliest stage that we are having conversations with Equa; we didn’t want other people to be aware without Mead staff knowing. It is still very early days in talking to each other, but we are feeling excited about what has been discussed so far.  

Paul Skipp is CEO of Equa. He started as Headteacher at John of Gaunt (JOG) at the beginning of the pandemic, his third headship. From September 2022 he moved to Equa as CEO. Equa is another small Trust in Wiltshire, centred around Devizes and Lavington. A group of small village church schools around Lavington joined the Trust when it formed; Equa schools are small, they don’t have any sites as big as TM or CM and are currently more of an ‘umbrella’ Trust.  

Equa want to grow, and TMT want to grow, and both organisations have been thinking about the benefits of bringing together the strengths of TMT (curriculum, working together in teams, our deep seated nature of school improvement) with the strengths of Equa (secondaries, working with the diocese, equality articles). There are also potentially some other schools from our Teaching School  Alliance (CSL) that might want to join a single organisation rather than splinter into different directions. Lots of children from TM and CM, and some children from WF depending on the year, go to JOG. JOG joined Equa at Easter 2023. We have long held a principle of wanting to see curriculum progressions through from primary to secondary, and trying to begin with the end in mind.

Merging offers a more capable, well-resourced team to support professional development. Organisational ‘stuff’ can be taken off Headteachers, and there is the potential of school improvement and joining that together rather than trying to grow incrementally. The DfE view of a strong Trust is 10 schools, and there is a risk in taking that many schools into the existing Trust. It will also provide another hub to learn from and develop processes such as TQRs. Nothing would be at expense of things we do well and can continue to do well. There is an absolute determination that there is a need for capacity, and the potential knitting together of some roles, with no loss of roles. 

Both Boards of Trustees have met and considered the potential benefit of the merger.  

Will we keep our name?
The new Trust would be a new organisation that is a merged organisation rather than a takeover. Equa Mead Trust might be the name, or there might be a new name altogether. Merging provides the opportunity to review what we are doing brilliantly, consider what else could we do, and how can we do that better together.

Do the Equa schools have RBs [Resource Bases]?
JOG will in September, but none of the other schools do currently.

If a colleague wanted to change their contract, would they then have a new contract with the new Trust and could they then be moved anywhere within the new Trust?
The principle is that that would be too far – you wouldn’t move someone to Tilshead who is based in Trowbridge without agreement. However, it does provide the opportunity to have experiences in different schools, but the principle of mobility would be negotiated with the individual as needed. 

If someone comes back from maternity leave and changes their hours, they would then be on a new contract, and would they have to start their term of service from the beginning again?
All existing service and rights would be transferred, and changing hours is a variation to an existing contract, not a new contract. All current protections will be assumed and nothing will be done to jeopardise these.

Can you explain the timeframes for a merger?
The government is encouraging and supporting schools to move into Trusts. The LA is reduced in its school improvement capacity and is focusing more on its core function. The DfE’s and LA’s time to progress any mergers is limited by their capacity, and managing a potential merger is not a quick process. We don‘t yet have a timeframe from the Regional Director, and we wanted to share the information before we have that level of planning. Nothing will happen in time for September.

There is real strength in our Trust for supporting children with SEND. Knowing some of the schools in Equa, that doesn’t feel as strong. I don’t want to lose what we do really well, when I know some of their schools aren’t as good as that.
I haven’t yet visited the primary schools and we are in the early stages of the conversations. We need to look at what is strong – we know we are inclusive, passionate and principled and that won’t change. It may be that some of the other schools need support for that, and we would be able to provide that. 

In terms of a TD Day, would that look like all of everybody?
It would be clusters meeting together, some of the detailed work would be done together but there is also the possibility of crossing over. Several TD Days may run in tandem, but it would emerge based on what people need.

I joined the Trust just under a year ago, and you weren’t looking to expand the Trust at that time, so what’s changed?
Two things are different now. The first is that the Government has a view about what makes a strong sustainable Trust and we don’t want to get swallowed up not by choice in future. Second, the potential for linking with JOG is powerful and the baton is dropped in transition at the moment. It’s more about the opportunity of working with Paul, as there is such a synergy in terms of values.

Will our model for working collaboratively stay the same? Will leadership roles stay the same?
Something like Phonics would present the need for more than one person within the Trust as we can’t stretch the resources we’ve got to spread across the whole Trust.