The number of schools forming and joining multi-academy trusts (MATs) has grown significantly over the last five years and the Government predicts that over the next five it will grow even further. The Government now expects that most schools which convert to academy status will join a MAT. However, evidence of their ability to raise pupil performance is limited and varied. The picture across England is very mixed with academies in trusts at both the top and bottom of recent league tables.
We have outlined six characteristics which we believe trusts must possess in order to be successful. These include strong regional structures, robust financial controls, enhanced opportunities for career development and tangible accountability at all levels.
Some of the earliest trusts expanded too quickly over wide geographic regions and the performance of their schools suffered as a result. We are encouraged by the development of a MAT ‘growth check’ and urge the Government to use this to ensure that trusts are only allowed to take on more schools when they have the capacity to grow successfully.
The role of Ofsted and Regional Schools Commissioners (RSCs) in holding MATs to account is crucial to the development of the MAT model. The relationship between Ofsted and RSCs, both nationally and regionally, remains unsatisfactory and we believe there is still more work to be done to clarify the distinction between Ofsted inspections and RSC visits. As MATs expand Ofsted must be given a new framework to conduct full inspections of trusts.
There is also more work to be done to ensure that MATs are accountable to the communities in which their schools are located. There must be more engagement with parents and clarity around the role of local governing boards.
The role and responsibilities of local authorities as MATs expand in size and number must be clarified by the Government. Further to this the Government should recognise the experience and expertise of the highest performing local authorities and allow their education departments to create MATs.
In order for the MAT model to succeed there needs to be a greater number of sponsors in the system. Certain areas of the country are struggling to attract new sponsors and small rural schools, largely in the primary sector, are at risk of becoming isolated. There is also growing concern for ‘untouchable’ schools which trusts refuse to take on. The Government should ensure that schools which are under-performing are not left behind by a programme which was originally designed to support such schools.
High performing trusts have a role in sharing their best practice and we recommend the Government creates structures to enable this. Finally, in order to support future expansion the Government should commission and publish independent, robust research on the structures and practices of the highest performing MATs.
27 February 2017