The Road to Federation - reports now available


Today we are publishing the final report from our research into governing bodies that consider joining federations and multi-academy trusts (MATs). These reports are the culmination of a one year research project involving 14 groups of schools that have considered creating a federation or MAT. The study looked at the reasons why governing bodies consider federation, who influences the decision, and what barriers are faced. There is a summary report that is publically available, and a full report that is available to members only. The key findings from the study are:

  • Governing bodies were often motivated to consider becoming a federation/MAT for a combination of reasons, but key drivers were school improvement, saving small schools from closure and sharing a headteacher.
  • In most cases the governing body was responsible for making the final decision whether or not to join a federation/MAT and the decision is not always made unanimously.  Where it was unanimous the school had often previously collaborated with their prospective partner(s).
  • Every governing body in this study that went forward with becoming a federation or MAT did so under an executive headteacher.
  • Governing bodies consulted key stakeholders including parents and staff. Although governors were clear that if a majority of consultees had opposed federation they would not have continued at that point, in practice, consultation allowed governing bodies to identify and address concerns rather than decide whether or not to federate.
  • Despite this, resistance from stakeholders presented a barrier for several governing bodies. Parents were most commonly concerned with sharing a headteacher, whereas staff were often worried about their pay and conditions. Opposition was most successfully dealt with where governors took the time to fully address concerns and by effective communication.
  • Lack of information presented a barrier to some governing bodies. The local authority was a key source of guidance for many, but a minority were not as well supported. Some reported that it was difficult to find objective advice elsewhere. 

NGA decided to undertake this research project as we were aware that there is a lack of research on how and why some governors decide to federate and others don’t. The coalition government has been somewhat reluctant to promote federation in local authority maintained schools – for example, Lord Nash referred to it as a “second best model” compared to academy conversion. However, the NGA has long sung the benefits of federating, for example, in our evidence  to the recent Education Select Committee inquiry into School Partnerships and Cooperation. We were pleased that, the Committee  recommended that the government should widen its funding for partnerships beyond the sponsored academy route; specifically, the Primary Chains Grant should be extended to federations. Our research included several federations of primary schools where governors did not consider academy conversion to be the right path for them.  Of course joining or creating a MAT is the right choice for some schools, but we are keen that governing bodies have a range of options and the knowledge and support to make the right decision for their school at that time.

For the majority of participants of this research, federation has been a great success and afforded all schools involved numerous advantages. We hope that the experiences of these governing bodies will help those considering or in the early stages of federating or joining a MAT. We’d like to thank everyone that contributed to this study and BELMAS for providing funding.

The Road to Federation - Summary report

The Road to Federation - Full report (only members will be able to access)