Release date: 28/04/2021

In a speech this morning (28 April), the Secretary of State for Education set out the government’s vision “for every school to be part of a family of schools in a strong multi academy trust” (MAT).

Gavin Williamson MP said that the Department for Education (DfE) will be looking to make the process of joining a multi academy trust as easy as possible”. Commenting on how MATs “enable improvements in pupil performance”, the minister said “strong and effective governance” is a characteristic those trusts share, as well as a “focus on what they know will improve outcomes for pupils and think beyond their own schools”.

Setting out a goal to change from the “current pick-and-mix structure… towards a single model”, new measures were announced including:

  • A ‘try before you buy’ system for maintained schools and single academy trusts to explore the benefits of joining a trust.
  • A Trust Capacity Fund with up to £24m of funding over the 2021-22 financial year to help trusts to grow.
  • A partnership with the Church of England and the Catholic Church, to set up new Church academy trusts.

The secretary of state said that details would be confirmed “in due course” and that the DfE would “consult fully with the sector before making these changes”. He also confirmed that this is a vision and schools will not be compelled to join a MAT.

Guidance on ‘building strong academy trusts’ was published alongside the speech.  

Responding to the speech, Emma Knights, chief executive of the National Governance Association said: “NGA has been setting out the benefits that a formal group of schools governed by a single governing board brings for many years, and we agree with the Secretary of State’s approach of setting out the evidence of what makes a difference for pupils rather than compelling schools to join a MAT.  We will of course continue to encourage boards considering joining or forming a MAT to explore their options and the potential benefits for pupils. We have extensive experience of conversations on this topic which governing boards take very seriously: both hearts and minds need to be won. One concern about joining a trust expressed to us has been that it is a ‘marriage with no prospect of divorce’ and so the option to trial a time limited arrangement is something that schools and MATs – including smaller MATs looking to expand – may well find useful.”

Sam Henson, director of policy and information at NGA said: “We hope this is an opportunity for small, strong trusts that want to, to have a chance to grow. I reiterate our call for RSC’s to make a commitment to working with more smaller trusts and considering them first as a destination MAT, rather than taking the easier option of the better-known, bigger MATs.”

Resources for MAT trustees and governance professionals:

Resources for maintained schools and single academy trusts considering joining a MAT:

Federations are groups of maintained schools governed by and accountable to a single governing board: find out more or email katie.mullen@nga.org.uk

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