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Forced academisation may have been extinguished, but the burning platform for Multi Academy Trusts is still red-hot

The recent announcement from Education Secretary Nicky Morgan that the policy of forced academisation was to be dropped was a surprise to many, given the direction of travel towards that destination over recent years.

Louise Robinson

Partner - Education 07765 184 880 Ask me a question

There can be little doubt, however, that the flow of activity will continue towards academisation.  It is likely that the government will continue to apply pressure through broader means, including

1. Keeping the pressure on SAT’s tests, which will identify ‘failing’ primary schools
2. Keeping the pressure on school finances which will force schools to work together 
3. Keeping the pressure on Local Authority revenue funding, which will diminish the ser-vices that they provide to schools and hence lead schools to conclude they would be better outside Local Authority control.

With a steady stream of schools likely to continue to convert out of Local Authority control over the coming years, what will be the impact for Multi Academy Trusts (MATs)? 

The make of MATs in England is interesting. We hear so much about the large MATs; the AETs, the Harris Federations and the ARKs of this world, but in actual fact only a tiny fraction of MATs – less than 2% - have more than 20 schools. By contrast, circa 25% MATs have one school, with 65% having between 2 and 5 academies.

Whilst a substantial number of new MATs will be formed over the coming years, there can be little doubt that growth in these MATs will be encouraged.

After a decade of counsel to grow steadily and sustainably, how can MATs double or triple their size whilst protecting their founding vision? Growing pains are aggravated by the inevitable challenges with assets, finances, liabilities and risks; our experience shows that a typical primary school will have backlog maintenance issues in the region of £300k to £600k, with a secondary school likely to have backlog maintenance deficits in excess of £1million. 

We have done a lot of work with growing MATs over the years to help ensure they have mature operational structures and remain focused on achieving their driving vision, in other words, to make sure they are fit for purpose.

So here are our top 5 tips:

1. Re: Vision: It starts and ends here. As National Schools Commissioner Sir David Carter says, a successful MAT know its values and the principles that underpin its strategies for school improvement.  
        • Whichever stage of growth you are in, the value of regrouping, reflecting, reassessing and reestablishing your vision is both restorative and required. You need to look back to move forwards.
        • You should set a clearly defined growth strategy for the size and construct of the MAT over the next 3, 5 and 10 years (including any new Free Schools that might be required) and set out how such growth helps achieve that vision. 

2. Articulate the difference you make: you must be able to quantify the benefits of your MAT in every report and communication. 
        • Be absolutely clear about the ethos and philosophy of the MAT and ensure this is clearly communicated to everyone involved. 

3. Re-vamp your operational structures: many MATs will become significant SMEs in business terms, with all that implies in terms of efficiency and effectiveness in direction and management. 
        • Appoint a Business Director who will be solely focused on the business side of the MAT.
        • Ensure your finance team has the resources to deal with the significant compliance and financial reporting requirements.
        • Scenario plan likely funding to your vision for growth, to ensure sustainability.
        • Look at re-procuring your supply chain to add value, minimise risk and save money.

4. Tool up with the right skills: check whether your Board of Governors or Local Governing Bodies need an injection of skills or experience. 
        • Ensure these are skills-based bodies, with those skills lined up where responsibilities will fall. MAT responsibilities will typically include Admissions, Staffing, Finances, Assets, Curriculum, Wellbeing and Safeguarding and Reporting on results.

5. Be savvy with your assets: we estimate that fewer than 5% of MATs have qualified buildings expertise in their teams. And yet, MATs in growth are transferring substantial liabilities with school buildings in terms of financial liabilities and risk, business continuity risk and health and safety risk. 
        • The first step is to know what you are getting and very often this will mean going in to more detail than the legal due diligence will give you. This is even more crucial for your MAT if it will cater for more than 3,000 pupils, since you will not be able to apply for CIF (Condition Improvement Funding) from the EFA, and instead will receive a blanket allocation.
        • The second step is to make sure as many of the back-log issues identified as possible are addressed prior to transfer. The earlier you engage technical expertise to define and quantify the problem and the solution, the better.
        • The third step is to develop a Premises Development Plan across your MAT to set a strategy aligned to your education vision, aspirations, needs and wider local objectives. 

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Louise Robinson

Partner - Education 07765 184 880 Ask me a question
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