The chair of the education select committee, Neil Carmichael MP, has said there are “significant concerns” about the performance, accountability and expansion of multi-academy trusts (MATs).
The concerns are contained in the education select committee’s new report on MATs, that is, groups of schools that are working together under one governing board with one executive leader.
The number of MATs in England has risen from 391 in 2011 to 1,121 in 2016.
The report found that there is a there is a high degree of uncertainty about the effectiveness of MATs and concluded that there was no evidence to support “large scale expansion” - where MATs take on more and more schools into their Trust. MPs urged the government to encourage such expansion only where performance is prioritised.
The National Governors’ Association took part in the enquiry and is referenced in the report as being critical of the government’s efforts to communicate the various implications of having one board of trustees governing a group of schools.
Evidence given by Emma Knights, Chief executive of the NGA, is also referenced, stressing the importance of a Scheme of Delegation, which “establishes who makes which decisions and ensures all those within the MAT and governing bodies of schools potentially looking to join a MAT are clear”.
The select committee concluded that there is still significant confusion about where accountabilities lie in MATs and blames the Department for Education for not communicating this matter well enough. The committee says such confusion has “led schools to join or start trusts without full knowledge of how their governance structures will change”. The committee calls on the Department to improve the advice and guidance they offer and says that MATs “must publish their scheme of delegation on their website and trustee boards have a duty to be clear with local governing boards that the decision-making responsibilities are held by the Board of Trustees in a MAT, and not at a local level.”
The scheme of delegation is the key document defining the lines of responsibility and accountability in a MAT.
Take a look at our model schemes of delegation
The report also looked into accountability, and said there was still “gaps” in the oversight of MATs that are filled neither by Ofsted, the schools inspectorate, nor Regional Schools Commissioners, civil servants with oversight of academies. The committee concluded that Ofsted needs a new framework for MAT inspections and should develop the resources, skills and powers to conduct full inspections of trusts. At the moment, Ofsted has limited powers of inspection at trust board level.
The committee was critical of the government’s “early enthusiasm for MATs”, saying that the government encouraged trusts to expand “too quickly over too large geographical regions”. The committee concluded that schools that operate within “close proximity to one another are best able to share resources and expertise and subsequently can most successfully take advantage of being part of a MAT.” The government must also “place tight restrictions on the growth of MATs” and ensure that MATs are only permitted to take on more schools when they have the capacity to grow successfully.
Emma Knights, Chief Executive of the National Governors’ Association, said: “There has been nothing short of a revolution in the governance of state schools since 2010 but this movement to trusteeship has been underplayed by the Department for Education.
“We hope this report gives the Department reason to pause for reflection, allowing it to catch up and bring reason to bear on its vision for the Education sector. This vision should prioritise sustainability, improving the educational offer and how to get better outcomes for children and young people, rather than on the economics of growing a Trust.
“We are pleased the Committee has stressed the importance of geography in their report; the advantages to pupils generally flow from schools within a group being within easy reach of each other. This is a cause we have been championing for some years and we are now running a Community MATs network. We also welcome the committee’s emphasis on parent and community engagement and we look forward to hearing how the Department intends to develop this.”
Schools minister Lord Nash praised NGA’s work during his evidence to the committee: “I think you know, Neil, that the NGA has done a lot of work on that…..In fact, it has published its own material on [MAT] governance, which has been really helpful and really thorough.”
During the year of this inquiry NGA has published guidance on MATs, including our induction guide for MAT trustees in November 2016.
Neil Carmichael, chair of the House of Commons education committee, said: “Since launching this inquiry there have been several changes to academy policy which have caused uncertainty and instability in the sector. We have significant concerns about the performance, accountability and expansion of multi-academy trusts. While some MATs are producing excellent results and making a valuable contribution to our education system, a considerable number are failing to improve and are consistently at the bottom of league tables.”
The select committee has taken a view on the characteristics of a successful MAT. The characteristics are:
Recognition of the crucial role played by teaching staff–enhanced opportunities for professional and career development should be available at trust level and pipelines to leadership established;
Regional structures which allow schools to share expertise and resources–the most successful trusts are those which pursue cautious expansion in a relatively limited geographical area;
Mechanisms for tangible accountability at all levels–trusts should focus on both upward accountability and local engagement and publish clear schemes of delegation;
Robust financial controls–trusts should foster cultures and systems which promote effective use of public money in the delivery of education;
A shared vision for school improvement across all schools within the trust– strong leadership at both school and trust level with expertise and resources shared across the MAT;
A commitment to improving performance and attainment–the best trusts make performance across all student groups a priority, and are therefore succeeding in raising attainment and progress for pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds, as well as for other pupil groups.
Find out more
Buy Welcome to a Multi Academy Trust – an induction guide for new trustees
Read up on our Model schemes of delegation
Book training on developing your scheme of delegation
Join the Community MATs Network