JANUARY 1st marked a milestone for 15 Devon schools when the Dartmoor Multi Academy Trust came into being.

Talks between the schools began some two years ago as they all shared co-operative principles and had started to work together; the plan to join a formal grouping grew and after extensive consultation, each separate governing board voted in November to convert to academy status as part of the new group which is overseen by one board of trustees.

The Multi Academy Trust (or MAT) is one of the largest ever formed in the South West and is responsible for over 5,000 pupils and students and 750 staff in fifteen school sites.

The MAT has been organised in five geographical clusters to ensure that local governance and accountability remain strong — each cluster will retain its own governing board. It is felt likely that additional schools might want to join the MAT in the future and the cluster arrangement will make that possible.

The schools involved are: Okehampton College, Tavistock College, Holsworthy Community College, Okehampton Primary School and Foundation Unit, Boasley Cross Community Primary School, Black Torrington Church of England Primary School, Bradford Primary School, Bridestowe Primary School, Bridgerule Church of England Primary School, Chagford Church of England Primary School and Preschool, Exbourne Church of England Primary School, Lydford Primary School, Northlew and Ashbury Parochial Church of England Primary School, North Tawton Community Primary School and Nursery and South Tawton Primary School and Preschool. Highampton Primary School will join the trust later this year.

The Diocese of Exeter has secured St James Church of England Primary School in Okehampton and the trust is planning to work closely with them in establishing the school.

The trustees’ first task has been to appoint a strong and highly experienced senior leadership team for the MAT: Daryll Chapman, previously executive principal of the Dartmoor Federation has been appointed as chief executive officer and Hazel Fox, head teacher of Okehampton Primary School as vice CEO.

Ian Courtney, chair of the new board of trustees said: “We are absolutely delighted to have been able to appoint such an outstanding leadership team from the outset of the new MAT. A huge amount of thought and care has gone into our plans, which have now been approved by the Department for Education. It is clear that this family of schools shares a common ethos and principles and we all believe that by working closely together in partnership we can provide our young people with a superb education and help them develop into confident, engaging and outgoing members of our society. I want to encourage as many people as possible to engage with us to help make our plans a reality.”

A spokesperson for Holsworthy Community College said: “Holsworthy can be perceived as being in an isolated rural geographical position, but with these strong ties, we are better connected than ever before. The start of the MAT is an exciting time for everyone in Holsworthy; we shall continue to build upon our existing links for sharing best practice with our MAT members. These connections are based on our shared values and aims, which we look forward to developing in order to ensure our students have the best education that we can provide.”