Rapidly achieving an all-multi-academy trust (MAT) system – such as the Government’s previously stated ambition for all schools to be in a ‘strong’ MAT with at least 10 schools in England by 2030 – is not possible. It would require unprecedented system change, as just under half (47%) of all mainstream schools in England are currently academised.
If this remains a priority, the Government should focus on a slower transition which addresses existing system issues ahead of rapid system change. This includes ensuring that appropriate resources and policy solutions (including those covered by the regulatory review) are in place, alongside building sufficient MAT capacity.
Findings from a new report by the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) say the Government’s suggested rapid transition to an all-MAT system could cause issues for trust quality, potentially impacting other educational policy priorities such as Covid-19 recovery.
The study offers new insights into the current MAT landscape by investigating how the mainstream school system has evolved so far. It says additional consideration is needed to address the issues facing particular groups of schools (such as faith schools) and how to ensure that no schools are left behind.
The study also found that some schools, such as small rural primary schools, may not be attractive to an existing MAT or may particularly struggle to find a suitable MAT to join.
This is reflected in a short survey that was conducted with directors of children’s services in England to explore Local Authorities (LAs) views on the Government’s White Paper academisation ambitions and the proposals to allow LAs to establish new MATs. It found that four-fifths of the surveyed LAs were concerned that some schools in their area risked being left behind because MATs would be reluctant to take them on.
The survey, carried out with LAs, also revealed that while only six per cent of responding LAs were actively in favour of the Government’s aim for all schools to be in a ‘strong’ MAT of at least 10 schools or 7,500 pupils by 2030, two-thirds were in favour of establishing their own MATs. However, only 39 per cent of LA respondents felt they were likely to begin the process of establishing their own MAT within the next three years.
Jenna Julius, NFER Research Director and co-author of the report, commented:
“Our research shows that a rapid transition to an all-MAT system would require schools to join MATs and trusts to merge at an unprecedented scale.
“The Government needs to prioritise a slower transition that allows more time to build MAT capacity. The suggested pace and timing of system change risks creating issues for trust quality, potentially affecting the educational outcomes for young people.
“It is crucial that efforts and funding to develop and grow capacity in MATs are focused on those schools that may currently struggle to join a MAT and that funding is targeted appropriately to ensure their long-term sustainability.”
The report makes two further recommendations:
- The Government needs to ensure LAs have the right powers and resources to match their responsibilities.
- More evidence is needed on what makes for a ‘strong’ trust.