Release date: 23/03/2021

The National Governance Association has today (23 March) published a new report MATs moving forward: the power of governance 2021 updating its comprehensive and well-received 2019 report Moving MATs forward: the power of governance.  It once again assesses the current context, oversight and practice of governing multi academy trust (MATs) and provides recommendations for improvement to MATs and policymakers.

Emma Knights, Chief Executive of the National Governance Association says “today’s update of 'MATs moving forward: the power of governance’ shows progress being made with some aspects of MAT governance. For example, in 2019 NGA was particularly worried about the lack of understanding of a MAT being one organisation, one legal entity with responsibilities for all the schools and pupils with the trust as opposed to simply a partnership or collaborative; this has transformed over the past two years. Governing boards adapted during COVID, with virtual governance providing opportunities, such as ensuring that the chair of the board of trustees could meet regularly with chairs and vice chairs of academy committees. There is further to go, especially with those trusts still reticent to look outwards and really examine their governance: the Department for Education must loudly champion the importance of governance and the need for External Reviews of Governance.”

Sam Henson, director of policy and information at the National Governance Association says: “This report considers how local governance in MATs paid dividends during the pandemic, providing community intelligence and helping schools to respond to local contexts. This should be harnessed in the post COVID-19 era to help assess and monitor the longer-term implications of the pandemic at school level. A local tier with a meaningful role can bridge the gap between trust board decision making and the communities they serve, preventing the trust being perceived as distant and failing to listen. We were heartened by the real groundswell of MATs that are currently thinking hard about how best to harness the skills, knowledge and commitment of those volunteering to serve their local schools.”

Looking at the overall school system, the report says that there has been no public policy debate and little academic scrutiny as to the pros and cons of a sector dominated by larger MATs. It calls for the Department for Education (DfE) and the sector to consider what the vision is for the MAT system in another decade’s time, following the secretary of state’s announcement at the recent FED Summit that he and his department will be encouraging more schools to join multi academy trusts. A recommendation from the report calls for the DfE to engage in an evidence-based discussion as to whether their aim is to end up with every MAT a large MAT.

To move MAT governance on, and to shape the vision for the sector, NGA is calling for five debates that it raises in the report to be taken forward:

• too much power in the hands of too few people?

• is the local tier being used effectively and meaningfully?

• when is big just too big?

• supporting leadership development

• how can we promote the value of skilled governance professionals?

The report is being launched at NGA’s MAT Governance Network meeting where delegates will hear responses from Sir David Carter, Michael Pain, and Dame Kate Dethridge, the Regional Schools Commissioner who leads on governance in the RSC team of the DfE.

Sir David Carter, Executive Director of System Leadership at the Ambition Institute and the founder of Carter Leadership Consultancy, said: “This publication is an important addition to the literature on what strong practice looks like in the trust sector. The arguments are compelling and the evidence is rooted in practice.”

Michael Pain, founder of Forum Strategy, said: “The NGA has produced yet another wide-ranging, insightful and timely report on trust governance. This work is hugely important, because without effective, robust and ambitious governance, trusts will struggle to seize the opportunities to contribute towards stronger communities and better life chances for all pupils. I am particularly pleased to see the role of trusts as community-focused organisations highlighted so clearly in the report. If trusts are to fulfil their potential, they must establish themselves as community driven organisations - informed by, working with, and accountable to the communities they serve. Trusts can only succeed if they do so in genuine and strategic partnership with the communities they serve. Boards will play a fundamental role in making this a reality.”

Lynn Howard, NGA's chair of trustees said: "'The publication of this report shows the good progress made by our colleagues working throughout MAT governance in addressing the issues raised by the 2019 report. In particular it highlights important and innovative steps forward in ensuring that governance at the local level remains valued and most importantly visible, both within the community that it serves but also within the wider MAT structure."

Read the report

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