Spotlight on multi-academy trusts: Teachers and schools

By Karen Wespieser

Monday 22 January 2018

Last week, in the first part of our blog series on multi-academy trusts (MATs), we looked at what pupil performance data could tell us about MATs and found rather inconclusive evidence. In this blog post, we will look at three areas where there is a growing evidence base about MATs; teacher career paths, collaboration and financial efficiencies.

Teacher career paths

Former Education Secretary Nicky Morgan suggested that a model of flexible staff deployment would “give a clear path to career progression that will keep [teachers and leaders] engaged rather than looking for opportunities elsewhere”. Similarly, National Schools Commissioner, Sir David Carter has said ‘a MAT has a larger talent pool, which can be deployed strategically to raise standards. The best chief executive understands how to mobilise their leaders and teachers, and maintain a focus on those challenges needing the most attention’.

NFER has done a lot of work looking at the detail of this and have found the amount of staff movement between schools in the same MAT is more than ten times higher than the amount of movement we would expect between any two schools that are not in the same MAT and are the same geographical distance apart. This suggests that MATs have internal teacher labour markets that are somewhat distinct from the teacher labour market in the local area outside of the MAT.

Furthermore, when classroom teachers and senior leaders move to a different school in the same MAT they are more likely to move to a school with a more disadvantaged intake than a school with a less disadvantaged intake. This is in contrast to teachers more generally, who are more likely to move to a school with a less disadvantaged intake. This suggests that the strategic approach MAT leaders can take towards workforce management might provide an effective mechanism for deploying staff to schools that struggle more with staff recruitment and retention.

This is promising stuff! But, we also know from the same NFER research team that there appears to be little evidence that MATs are better able to retain teachers in the system more broadly. So, more work is still needed.


Sir David Carter often speaks of schools being ‘givers’ and ‘receivers’ of support and how MATs are one of the key institutions that can foster this. A DfE survey of 326 MATs and 542 single-academy trusts (SATs) found that academies understand the benefits of collaboration. There are some methodological caveats that need to be inserted here – in particular, you need to bear in mind that the survey asked MATs to respond on behalf of their academies, so the reason, for example, for conversion is not necessarily a first-hand response. Despite that, the results are interesting. They found virtually all MATs (96 per cent) believe their structure has facilitated collaboration, and most have formal relationships with schools outside their trust. They also found that a vast majority (87 per cent) of single-academy trusts (SATs) support other schools. Of the MATs surveyed, 82 per cent reported that the creation of new opportunities to collaborate contributed to the decision of their schools to become academies and 40 per cent believed this was the main reason for their schools converting.

However, collaboration doesn’t have to just be about MATs. There is a growing narrative of ‘no school left alone’ regardless of the type of group they are working in. Indeed, viewed in this way, there is a greater evidence base for what works in collaboration. For example, the Welsh Government’s Lead and Emerging Practitioner School Pathfinder Project, or the DfE’s Gaining Ground Strategy. Evaluations of these interventions have found that school-to-school partnership working is most effective when: schools have similar characteristics, are within reasonable travelling distance, and have staff time and commitment from both parties and partnerships at different levels of seniority.

Financial efficiencies

When MATs are compared to SATs and Local Authorities (LAs) in terms of financial efficiencies, research has shown that LA schools spend slightly more per pupil on running expenses than both SATs and MATs, but MAT schools spend more on teaching staff, supply staff and support staff. Surveys show that the majority of MATs, especially those that are larger, can provide examples of efficiencies achieved, with trusts able to articulate areas where they have made significant savings including payroll, catering, and grounds maintenance. However, it needs to be noted that the use of procurement frameworks by MATs is not yet widespread and NFER analysis of SFR data suggests that the larger the trust, the more likely it will be in a deficit position.

Look out for part 3 in this MATs series.