1.The sponsored academies programme, launched in 2002, focused on struggling schools largely in deprived areas. In 2010 the Academies Act introduced ‘converter’ academies which gave all local authority maintained schools in England the right to convert to academy status. As the academies programme has developed since 2010, the Government have promoted multi-academy trusts (MATs) as a structure to support academies to collaborate and expand.
2.The Department for Education (DfE) defines MATs as:
Multi-academy trusts usually run more than one academy. The MAT has a single set of articles and therefore is a single legal entity accountable for a number of academies. The trust enters into a Master Funding Agreement (MFA) with the Secretary of State, and into Supplemental Funding Agreements (SFA) for each academy it operates.
3.In November 2016 there were 1,121 active MATs in England. In comparison in March 2011 there were 391 MATs. In March 2016 65% of all academies and free schools were in a MAT, including 75% of primary academies and 51% of secondary academies. In November 2016 there were 21,525 state-funded schools in England of which 1,618 were stand-alone academies and 4,140 schools were in MATs.
4.Our predecessor committee considered MATs as part of a wider inquiry into academies and free schools. The inquiry concluded that MATs are highly variable across the country and that whilst some are “very effective” at raising attainment, others “achieve worse outcomes than comparable mainstream schools”.
5.This inquiry follows our report on the role of Regional Schools Commissioners (RSCs), which was published in January 2016. Eight RSCs were appointed as civil servants in September 2014 and are directly accountable to the Secretary of State. RSCs have responsibility for deciding on applications from local authority maintained schools, including making decisions on schools joining or setting up MATs. RSCs also have the power to intervene in under-performing MATs and re-broker schools where necessary. The eight RSCs are managed by the National Schools Commissioner (NSC), an increasingly powerful figure in the creation and expansion of MATs. Our inquiry into MATs is a continuation of our work into scrutinising the development and performance of the structures which support the academisation of the English school system.
6.We launched our inquiry on 18 March 2016, and invited submissions of written evidence in respect of the following terms of reference:
7.We received 60 written submissions during our inquiry and took oral evidence on five occasions. Our witnesses included the National Schools Commissioner, Sir David Carter, the former Chief Inspector of Education, Children’s Services and Skills, Sir Michael Wilshaw, three RSCs and a panel of MAT Chief Executives. In our final session we heard from Lord Nash, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the School System and Peter Lauener, Chief Executive of the Education Funding Agency (EFA).
8.In addition to our formal oral evidence sessions, we held an engagement event with parents in Westminster on 24 October. This was an opportunity to hear the views of parents on MATs and listen to their experiences of trusts in their local community. Details of this event are included in Annex 1. We visited Eastbrook Primary Academy, part of Reach2 MAT, on 1 November and spoke to teachers, senior leaders and Reach2’s Chief Executive, Sir Steve Lancashire. During this inquiry we also benefited from the advice of Professor Becky Francis, now Director of the UCL Institute of Education. We place on record our thanks to Professor Francis, Eastbrook Academy, and all those parents who gave their time to attend our event in October.
9.The Government’s policy on academies has shifted considerably since we launched our inquiry. We launched the inquiry shortly after the Government released its white paper Educational Excellence Everywhere in March 2016. The white paper announced the Government’s intention to require all schools to become academies by 2022. It also stated that “most schools will form or join MATs”. Following cross-party criticism of the element of compulsion in the Government’s plans, on 6 May the Government dropped its plans to force all schools to become academies, stating that legislation on forced academisation would not be brought forward. Later in May the Queen’s speech included reference to a Bill entitled the Education for All Bill. Instead of forcing schools to convert to academy status, this Bill would set the “foundation for a system in which all schools are academies”.
10.In a Written Statement on 27 October the new Secretary of State, Rt Hon Justine Greening MP, announced that the Education for All Bill would not be brought forward in this Parliamentary session. This signalled a move away from the white paper of March and commitments made by the previous Secretary of State.
11.The majority of the written evidence was received during the time that the Government was pursuing full academisation by 2022.
12.There have been several changes to academy policy over the last year which have caused instability and uncertainty in the sector. Evidence we heard from Lord Nash indicated that the Government expects that in five to six a years a “tipping point” will be reached where most schools have converted and joined a MAT. As trusts grow in size and number we urge the Government only to promote expansion that prioritises performance.
1 Department for Education () para 6
2 Department for Education, Experimental Statistics: Multi-academy trust performance measures: England, 2015 to 2016, , January 2017; of these MATs over 250 have one academy in them. The majority of MATs have between three and five schools.
3 Department for Education () para 31
4 Department for Education, Experimental Statistics: Multi-academy trust performance measures: England, 2015 to 2016, , January 2017
7 Education Committee, First Report of Session 2015–16, , HC 401
8 Professor Francis, Director of the UCL Institute of Education declared interests as a Trustee of Impetus-PEF, an advisory board member of the Education Endowment Foundation, a member of the Pan-London RSC Board, a governor of Hinchley Wood School and a member of the Labour Party. Professor Francis also advised the Committee during their inquiry on Academies and free schools (2014–2015) and the Role of Regional Schools Commissioners (2015–16).
9 Department for Education, Educational Excellence Everywhere, , March 2016
10 Educational Excellence Everywhere, , March 2016, p 16
12 HC Deb, 27 October 2016
27 February 2017