PUPILS and staff at an Abingdon school have celebrated joining one of the county's most successful multi academy trusts.

But the expansion of Vale Academy Trust (VAT) has also attracted concerns, which have been rejected by its chief executive.

Thameside Primary School in Abingdon this week joined VAT, bringing its total number of schools to six primaries and two secondaries with 4,200 pupils and 650 staff across Abingdon and Wantage.

Thameside headteacher Anna Grice said she was 'delighted', but some people have expressed worries that the trust, which was created in 2013 and is based at King Alfred's Academy in Wantage, is growing too quickly.

Simon Spiers, VAT chief executive, said the trust would give 'full attention' to its schools

In April, when VAT was given permission to open a new 1,000 school in Grove, the chairman of Grove Parish Council said she was worried.

June Stock said: "I think it is getting too big too fast, just think of how many students are now under the trust's control.

"I thought it was limited to Wantage but now you have Larkmead School [in Abingdon] and an Abingdon primary school joining."

Multi academy trusts such as VAT are responsible for running academies – state schools free from the control of local authorities.

Mr Spiers, who is the former head of St Nicholas C of E School in Wantage, maintained there were many virtues to the trust system.

He said: “Local authorities can’t provide the resources they used to, but an academy trust can.

"We are able to give our full attention to the schools in the trust and work together to share best practice.

"With just eight schools I don't think it could in any way be described as a monopoly."

He added there was a natural limit to the trust's expansion, explaining: “We have been approached by schools who we’ve politely said no to because they were too far away and we’ve no interest in covering all of Oxfordshire.

“We say South Oxfordshire is our focus but that roughly means within half an hour of Wantage.”

Layla Moran, MP for Oxford West and Abingdon and the Liberal Democrat education spokesperson, said she applauded anything that schools do to work together but added people were right to be concerned about multi-academy trusts.

She said: "What was the point of getting rid of local authority control if it was just going to be replaced with a system that is similar but without the joined up thinking behind local authorities?"

Schools in academy trusts have their own headteacher, governors, standards and curriculum, though share costs on catering, school supplies and teacher training.

Anna Grice, Thameside Primary School’s headteacher, said the school was 'delighted' with the decision to join the trust.

She said: "Being part of the trust will enable our staff to work closely with the other schools to share and further develop good practice, which will benefit our pupils and the whole school community."

Ruth Leach, headteacher at St Blaise C of E Primary School in Abingdon, said her school was in ‘no rush’ to become an academy or join an academy trust.

She said: “For us it is about making sure we retain the ethos and character that makes our school special.

“But you do have to take into consideration that academies are the way things are going in Oxfordshire and it seems eventually we will have no choice.

“With the diminished amount of resources, we need to make sure we remain financially viable and joining together with other schools in one way to do that.”