Multi-academy trusts Contents

Conclusions and recommendations

1.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. (Paragraph 12)

Accountability and inspection of multi-academy trusts

2.There is a gap in assessing MATs which neither Ofsted nor RSCs presently fulfil. The current situation of Ofsted conducting ‘batched inspections’ is not sustainable or sufficient as MATs expand over the next five to six years. It is not a formal inspection or accountability process and does not necessarily lead to intervention from Ofsted or the Department. (Paragraph 27)

3.Ofsted needs a new framework for MAT inspections and should develop the resources, skills and powers to conduct full inspections of trusts. (Paragraph 28)

4.Two previous Committee reports have recommended that the Government clarify the division of responsibilities between RSCs and Ofsted in a way that is comprehensible to schools and parents. There remains too much overlap between the roles of Ofsted and RSCs. (Paragraph 37)

5.The Government should follow our previous recommendation and align Ofsted and RSC regions. There is also more work to be done to clarify the distinction between Ofsted inspections and RSC visits. (Paragraph 38)

6.While we welcome the Government’s recent document which set out examples of best practice in governance, there is still significant confusion about the move to boards of trustees being the accountable bodies for MATs. This move has not been communicated well enough by the Department and has led schools to join or start trusts without full knowledge of how their governance structures will change. The Department must improve and extend the advice and guidance they offer. (Paragraph 42)

7.We were told by parents that MATs are not sufficiently accountable to their local community and they feel disconnected from decision making at trustee board level. There is too much emphasis on ‘upward’ accountability and not enough on local engagement. (Paragraph 46)

8.Trusts must publish their scheme of delegation on their website and trustee boards have a duty to be clear with local governing boards that the decision-making responsibilities are held by the Board of Trustees in a MAT, and not at a local level. MATs should demonstrate a sincere commitment to outreach and engagement with the local community. (Paragraph 47)

The expansion and development of the multi-academy trust model

9.In its early enthusiasm for MATs, the Government encouraged trusts to expand too quickly over too large geographical regions. Schools which operate within close proximity to one another are best able to share resources and expertise and subsequently can most successfully take advantage of being part of a MAT. (Paragraph 54)

10.There remains a high degree of uncertainty around the effectiveness of MATs and there is not yet the evidence to prove that large scale expansion would significantly improve the school landscape. Only time will tell whether multi-academy trusts are more successful than local authorities at creating and supporting high-performing schools and tackling underperformance. (Paragraph 68)

11.The Government must clearly define the future role of local authorities, particularly in areas with high numbers of academies. The current uncertainty about their place in the school system is not sustainable and making their role clear should be a priority for the Secretary of State. Their relationship with RSCs must also form a part of this and formal protocols between local authorities and the RSC structure should be established. (Paragraph 69)

12.If the Government is to pursue the goal of further academisation, it will need to partner with and use the expertise of local authorities. Local authorities with a track record of strong educational performance should be allowed to use the expertise within their education departments to create MATs. (Paragraph 70)

13.A significant expansion of MATs will place further pressures on the financial oversight capabilities of the Department and the Education Funding Agency. It is far from clear that the Department or EFA can cope with this degree of growth over the next five or six years. (Paragraph 74)

14.The Department and EFA should outline the expected increase in MATs over the next five or six year planning period, and the likely resource implications that will result. Doing so would help allay our concerns that there is insufficient planning and resources to cope with impending developments. (Paragraph 75)

15.Despite a range of proactive and reactive measures taken by EFA to promote strong financial management in academy trusts, the Department has a long way to go in order to demonstrate that public money disbursed to academies is being used effectively. (Paragraph 78)

16.Small, rural primary schools are vulnerable as trusts take on more schools and the MAT model is currently not attractive to them. There is a risk that the primary sector will be left behind as secondary schools academise and join or form MATs. (Paragraph 84)

17.RSCs are struggling to find or expand existing sponsors in rural areas of the country. There is a risk that this scarcity leads to the appointment of sponsors without a quality track record. The Department must prioritise support and funding to trusts which take on struggling schools in such areas. They must also focus on quality when finding and vetting new sponsors across the country. The Government should investigate any claims of trusts flouting bans on expansion. (Paragraph 91)

The performance of multi-academy trusts

18.Since the launch of our inquiry, several organisations and the Government have published analysis of the performance of trusts. All of these reports show a mixed picture in terms of the performance of MATs. They show that some MATs are delivering excellent results and using the MAT model to effectively drive improvement. However, a significant number of MATs are failing to improve year on year and consistently appear at the bottom of league tables. (Paragraph 96)

19.We are concerned by the growth of ‘untouchable’ schools and the length of time it is taking for some schools to be re-brokered. The Government should give greater support for schools which are deemed unattractive to sponsors and play a more active role in re-brokering through RSCs. (Paragraph 103)

20.We welcome the introduction of a MAT ‘growth check’ and look forward to the Department publishing further details on what measures will be part of the check and the process by which the check will be used. The Government must place tight restrictions on the growth of MATs and use their ‘growth check’ to ensure that MATs are only permitted to take on more schools when they have the capacity to grow successfully. (Paragraph 107)

21.We believe the Department’s recent ‘good practice guidance and expectations for growth’ document does not provide a solid enough evidence base on the characteristics of successful trusts. The Government should commission and publish independent, robust research on what the highest performing MATs are doing. (Paragraph 112)

22.Recent performance tables show a significant difference in the attainment of trusts, with a small group of trusts consistently producing excellent results for their students. These trusts should be encouraged to share best practice and use their expertise to support the MATs which are consistently under-performing. We are encouraged to hear that the Government is developing “mentoring MATs” and look forward to seeing more details of this programme. (Paragraph 116)

27 February 2017