A survey of people governing in multi academy trusts (MATs) conducted by the National Governance Association (NGA) has found that the relationship between trust boards and local academy committee remains positive and purposeful after a turbulent year in education.
The findings show that the local tier remains integral to the governance of MATs in practice. Just 3% of MAT trustee respondents said their trust has no local tier: these respondents were all from small MATs with up to 10 schools. Three-quarters (76%) of trustee respondents said that every school in the trust has a local academy committee while 12% have either a cluster/hub model or a local tier that covers more than one school. This shows the emphasis that MATs – especially larger ones that will have schools in a range of communities, contexts and circumstances – are putting on ensuring that local stakeholders are involved in overseeing local schools as they recover from the effects of the pandemic.
Feelings of those governing locally towards their MAT have remained positive despite the challenges of the past year. 73% of local academy committee respondents felt that their voice is heard by executive leaders and trustees (2020: 73%) and 59% felt that communication between the local and trust board level is effective and well managed (2020: 58%). This is despite almost all forms of communication between the trust board and local academy committees falling since 2020, which is likely due to changes to governance business while schools were partially closed.
Even with the positive picture, other findings show that MATs cannot afford to be complacent about the buy-in of those governing locally. Achieving a trust-wide identity is one area of relations between the MAT board and local academy committees which has not seen the same level of agreement. Just 60% of local academy committee respondents feel that their school is part of ‘one organisation’ with others within the MAT, down from 62% in 2019. While the views from those at local academy committee level about whether the MAT adds value to the work of the school is positive at 69% of respondents agreeing, this is only a four percentage point increase from when NGA last asked this question in the 2018 survey.
Significant progress is evident in the separation between layers of governance in MATs. Just 12% of MAT trustee respondents were also members of their MAT– compared to 32% in 2020. This indicates that the message from NGA, the Education and Skills Funding Agency and the Department for Education to increase the separation between governance layers is being actioned by trusts. This finding is reinforced by examining communication methods used by MAT boards. 19% of MAT trustee respondents said that their board uses having ‘trustees who are also members of the trust’ to communicate between layers of governance, down from 32% in 2020, while those using ‘trustees sitting/governing/observing at a local level’ for communication fell to 41%, down from 50% in 2020.
Sam Henson, director of policy and information at NGA said:
“Our survey findings provide further validation that many MATs are continuing to drive forward their vision by utilising and making the most of the benefits of being in a group of schools. The report makes for edifying reading that draws attention to the hard work and determination of trust boards across the country. It also shows that the push from NGA and others to drive better governance practice through separation of layers within a trust’s governance structure is creating real results. We are really pleased that the stronger guidance from the Department for Education that is increasingly shared across large swathes of the sector appears to be hitting home.”