A Multi Academy Trust (“MAT”) is the admission authority for its schools and may comprise of several schools covering different phases of education, for example a single secondary school and a host of primary schools. It may seek to forge an identity in order that people instantly recognise that, say, Smithstown Primary School is part of The Balloon Academy Trust “BAT”. Let us say that BAT has a secondary school, and would like to give priority to those children attending Smithstown Primary School under its admission arrangements. Surely as part of the same trust it is automatically lawful to name Smithstown as a feeder school on that very basis?
The answer is yes and no. The situation is in some ways analogous to a school determining to give priority to children in its home Local Authority for that reason only. The Office of the Schools Adjudicator (OSA) has often frowned upon MATs simply naming schools within the MAT as feeder schools simply on the grounds of being part of the same MAT. This is because the naming of a feeder school cannot just be arbitrary or done simply to advantage the receiving school, but must be on reasonable grounds. An automatic selection of a school as a feeder school suggests that not a great amount of thought has gone into the reasons for its selection. Here is an extract from a 2015 determination:
“I would expect to see a greater relationship with a feeder school than with other local primary schools and I do not think that what is being said demonstrates this. The trust is not describing more than would be the case for the effective transition for a primary school pupil to any secondary school. So the grounds that the primary school and the secondary schools are trust schools does not in my view make the reasonable grounds for the primary school to be a feeder school."
The adjudicator added that his “view might have been different if there were some additional grounds, such as linked curriculum planning, shared resources, arrangements for primary school pupils and staff to visit the secondary school to aid in transition or visits to the primary school by secondary school staff to support transition or the curriculum."
In contrast, a more recent adjudication (2017) ruled in favour of a MAT designating its primary schools as feeder schools but the OSA forensically examined the reasons given by the MAT. In her conclusion the OSA held “I am satisfied that the school has demonstrated … the significant curricular and administrative links with the two prioritised schools. These links are well established and pre-date the conversion of the schools to academies within the trust.”
In conclusion it is lawful to have trust schools named as feeder schools (indeed named as priority feeder schools) in a MAT’s admission arrangements, provided that the MAT can demonstrate clear evidence of extraordinary links beyond simply being part of the same MAT as the grounds for selecting such schools as feeder schools.