In May the Government did a u-turn on its plans to pass legislation to force all state schools to become academies by 2022. However, the academies programme remains a hot topic on the agenda of the Secretary of State for Education, Justine Greening, with the Government still determined to see all schools become academies.
The White Paper setting out the Government's original plans for the new legislation makes it clear that the Government intends that Multi-Academy Trusts (MATs) should dominate the new school landscape, and the Department for Education’s (DfE) policy is that most schools should either group together to form new MATs or join an existing MAT. Although this is not compulsory, there will be considerable pressure on schools to adopt this approach rather than go it alone when they convert.
The Government’s rationale for the primacy of MATs is set out in the White Paper as follows: “MATs are the only structures which formally bring together leadership, autonomy, funding and accountability across a group of academies in an enduring way, and are the best long term formal arrangement for stronger schools to support the improvement of weaker schools.” and “the benefits of joining a MAT are strong both for high-performing schools and for those which need greater support”.
In light of this political landscape, high performing MATs will be increasingly encouraged to take on more converter schools. The Government has, therefore, committed to expanding the support available for MATs (both the creation of new MATs and the expansion of existing MATs), in particular by targeting funding in areas where there are fewer sponsors.
As part of this agenda, the Government has created a useful website page compiling resources for MATs that are expanding. The guidance begins by stating that Regional Schools Commissioners (RSCs) are the best initial point of contact for advice, and then goes on to provide useful links to resources on the following topics:
- people and leadership: CEO, trustees, job descriptions
- school improvement: measuring performance, support from other schools, map of teaching schools
- governance: skills and structures, effective governance
- growth and development
- finance: funding, capital funding.
There are a lot of issues for MATs to consider when embarking on expansion plans, and the Board of Directors will be concerned to ensure that the success of the MAT is not threatened by expanding too rapidly or taking on schools it cannot appropriately support. Taking on new academies is akin to a merger in the business world and, as with any sort of merger, there are a number of important considerations for both the board of the MAT and the Governing Body of the school. These will include important educational matters such as cultural fit, ethos, and educational approach in addition to more practical issues like IT system compatibility, staff, branding and uniforms. This is all before any of the legal work to commence the conversion begins.
The Government's page of resources will therefore provide a useful starting point for MATs when thinking about any sort of expansion project, but will not cover everything that must be considered by the Board before agreeing to sponsor new academy converters to join the MAT. It will therefore be important for MATs to ensure that their professional advisors are well placed to support and advise them as their needs change.