A survey by the National Governance Association (NGA) has highlighted multi academy trusts (MATs) trustees' views on the government's plans for school and trust reform – including those laid out in March's school's white paper.
Over 100 trustees responded to the survey, which highlighted that only half believe in the commitment to a fully academised school system by 2030. The figures come with some trustees expressing that they 'do not want good schools to join reluctantly without commitment to the group.'. However, other respondents were more positive and argued that a fully academised system would move beyond the current inefficient and fragmented reality for some schools.
MAT trustees were generally welcoming of the idea of increased scrutiny and oversight of MATs, as proposed by the white paper.
Along with more scrutiny for trusts, respondents were clearly in favour of inspections and grading of entire trusts, with a majority agreeing it was necessary.
Many trustees highlighted, however, that any move such as this would require improvements to Ofsted for it to work in practice. One respondent said simply “Ofsted do not have the required skills.”
Other notable findings included:
- A clear majority of trustees agreed that local governance arrangements were improving accountability, highlighting the value of local oversight and community links which were provided by the local tier. Saying: “every school has its own individual context and therefore needs its own governors, who understand the local circumstances” and “local governance is key as it is only the local governors who really know their school and needs of the community.”
- Under half of respondents agree with the Schools bill recommendation to allow local authorities and diocese to request academy orders against a governing body's objections.
A respondent argued “as more schools academise the LA support available for the non-academy schools dwindles and becomes inadequate. It is entirely reasonable for an LA to choose to withdraw from supporting schools. However, the individual schools should be given a free choice of which MAT to join, not forced into one particular MAT.”. One trustee added “This is taking away autonomy, responsibility and accountability from those best qualified to have the school's and pupils!
- Almost half of trustees disagreed that trusts should serve at least 7,500 pupils or ten schools.
One respondent said “the geographic distribution is important here. Where possible they should be located together. More care should be given to common ethos and values of the family of schools as well as the pupil numbers/number of schools.” Another argued “there needs to be a maximum cap and a proximity ruling. To have a school in Cornwall and another in Northumbria doesn't make sense.”
- Trustees were split on the idea that 'the proportion of schools in a local area served by an individual trust should be limited'. One respondent said “there are a great number of benefits which can arise from locality based MAT's and where a trust is effective and is making a real difference why should they be prevented from expanding in their local area.” Another said it would “further corrode local accountability” and “create unnecessary competition between schools for pupils”.
Michael Barton, Senior Advice Officer at The National Governance Association said:
“It is clear that many of the government’s proposals have failed to persuade the sector so far, suggesting the need for a rethink or a more robust justification. Contrary to the popular narrative, it was also evident that trustees are not opposed to greater transparency and more stringent standards for trusts. We hope that the Secretary of State uses this evidence when reflecting on her priorities moving forwards, especially given the huge challenges already facing the sector. Thank you to all of the trustees who took the time to respond.”
Emma Knights Chief Executive of the National Governance Association said:
“These findings confirm NGA’s long-held view based on our extensive work with MATs of all shapes and sizes up and down the country that most trustees understand the need for clear standards, scrutiny and greater transparency. The responses of MAT trustees support the case made over the past few years by NGA that the issues of locality, size of trust and impact on pupils need to be more thoroughly examined, listened to, and reported on transparently in an evidence-based manner. NGA has always been aware of the variety and nuance of trustees’ views. I urge the new Secretary of State while considering her priorities for the coming year to take note of the diversity of views within the MAT sector, especially when other issues, in particular around funding, staffing and SEND, are so pressing.”