Eyes Wide Open? Growing your trust with thorough due diligence


 As part of the Schools White Paper published nearly 12 months ago, the Government set out it's plan to have to have all schools "in a strong multi-academy trust or with plans to join or form one" within the next eight years.

Whilst recent news has talked about this target likely to be missed, the move to greater academisation appears one way.

But schools joining trusts is not always straight forward. It is important that your trust understands the nature of the joining school, their strengths, and their challenges, and whether they 'fit' with the values of your organisation.

A great piece of due diligence work informs all of that and makes sure you have all the information before you decide to commit. We talk about it often as being like the survey when buying a house, - the importance of getting the right survey done is key.

Due diligence is often considered to be purely an information gathering exercise, but it is important that it is used to identify issues and consider the implications and the resources / capacity required to implement solutions. Consequently, the due diligence process must provide the trust board with the necessary information about the incoming school to understand the current educational, financial and premises position. The DfE (Department for Education) advise "It is only by identifying risks, mitigation and the associated costs that an incoming trust can make a fully informed decision on whether to proceed."

Therefore, due diligence should identify key risks and issues and assist in enhancing each stakeholder's understanding of:

  • the current financial performance and prospects of the organisations, identifying key risks and sensitivities and how each stakeholder will deal with these
  • the legal and operational frameworks coming together
  • critical issues which may adversely impact the trust post-transfer
  • any post-transfer integration and/or resources required to realise the intended benefits.

What approach should be taken?

The guidance from the DfE sets out some of the things to consider when undertaking due diligence. Much of it is common sense, but some areas may not readily spring to board members' minds. It is also true that, whilst the DfE has issued general guidance, it leaves it up to schools and trusts to make their own decisions about the exact scope and depth of the due diligence undertaken.

And this is where we refer to the house analogy:

"When you do due diligence, its bit like the surveys you do when buying a house. You could fall in love with that thatched cottage we mentioned in an auction catalogue and buy it right away based on the limited information in the brochure. It might fine and you could have bought something wonderful. Or you could buy the cottage the traditional way; doing one or more viewings and commissioning a survey.

Due diligence is just like that. You choose the level of detail you want, and the type of survey required. You could have a basic valuation done, where someone drives by the cottage (school) and forms a basic opinion. This might even be desk-based using limited information.

You could have a full survey done. This will tell you much more about the property (school) you are buying. It includes quite a lot of information about what you might need to fix once you move in. Some of that information may be a little off-putting but you have to remind yourself that it's best to know what you are getting into.

The final option would be to commission a complete range of detailed, specialist tests and surveys. These might involve taking parts of the little thatched cottage (school) apart and will certainly involve significant cost.

Here at Keystone, we compare our DD service to the second of these scenarios - the full survey. We have a good look round and check out the visible problems using our checklists. These are designed to shine a light on the problems which typically cause issues. Where necessary, we will tell you if we have found something that warrants exhaustive specialist, technical evaluation. We can even recommend contractors to do that and manage the process for you.

Whatever our findings – it's better to have a good understanding of what you are getting into and to be able to weigh that up against the metaphorical dream that brought you to consider the thatched cottage in the first place"

To enable us to give you a good understanding of what the school(s) under consideration will be like to run post-transfer, we collect and review information across the following areas:

  1. Appetite and Suitability
  2. Building and Estates
  3. ICT Overview
  4. Safeguarding
  5. Health and Safety
  6. Financial Processes
  7. Financial Viability
  8. Legal
  9. HR and Workforce
  10. GDPR Compliance
  11. Educational Provision
  12. Leadership
  13. Governance

Much of the information is gathered by way of thematic questionnaires. We also ask for supporting documents and speak to people where necessary to understand/validate the information provided. This is where our experience in education comes in. Having held senior positions in education, we often bring a more experienced eye to the information and know how to ask the right questions to validate thoughts and provide assurance where needed.


We draft a narrative report which summarises the key information and highlights risks which we believe the trust would have to commit significant resources to resolving or, which cannot be reasonably quantified, and represent unknown exposure.

Who can see the report?

The report is the property of the body which commissioned it. Subject to the usual stipulations of the Freedom of Information Act (whereby information held by public bodies may be requested by members of the public), the report is confidential to that body.

In summary, growth should always be a risk-based decision. Making sure you have the right information and recommendations to analyse, mitigate, plan and budget for that risk is non-negotiable. Knowing who can provide you with the right, experienced based information is essential. The adage, 'buyer beware' and that image of the thatched cottage should be one to consider as you grow.

Read our case study with OWLS Multi-Academy Trust where we conducted due diligence on a new school looking to join the trust. Due Diligence case study - OWLS Multi-Academy Trust - Blog - Keystone Knowledge - Support for Schools, Academies, Trusts and Local Authorities and hear from Peter Merry, Trust leader at OWLS about working with Keystone Knowledge https://youtu.be/kah4Id3kQzw

Get in touch with our experienced team at Keystone Knowledge if you would like to know more about our due diligence process or growing your trust. Due Diligence - Keystone Knowledge - Support for Schools, Academies, Trusts and Local Authorities

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or call us on 01332 278032

About the Author:

Matthew Clements-Wheeler

Matthew is an experienced Chair with considerable experience of working with trust boards and CEOs (Chief Executive Officer) to improve the governance of non-profit organisations both in education and the wider charitable sector.

He has successfully led, advised, or served on governing boards in a wide range of organisations including a national professional body, one of the largest municipal music services in the UK, an international aid and development organisation operating across 8 different countries, and a range of smaller organisations.

He has 20 years of experience in education leadership, including service as Chair of Trustees at the Institute of School Business Leadership, He is a recognised authority in the field of school resource management and organisation and has spoken at high profile events such as the Academies Show, the Telegraph Festival of Education, the inaugural Optimus MAT (Multi academy trusts) summit.

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