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Is joining a MAT the right decision for your school?

Michelle Gray, from berg, looks at the pros and cons of joining a multi-academy trust

Posted by Lucinda Reid | January 06, 2017 | People, policy, politics

When the 500 schools expected to go ahead with academy conversion by 2020 reopen, they must decide how they wish to be governed. Many will choose the multi-academy trust (MAT) model, but is this the right way to go?

In the eyes of the Department of Education (DfE) it is.

The DfE recommends the MAT system as the preferred system of governance for new academies. It is also always open to existing academies to form or join MATs.

This article covers the benefits of being part of a  MAT, and provides you with all the information you need to make an informed decision about the future of your school.

What is a MAT?

A MAT enables and encourages collaboration amongst schools as they work together strategically to improve their educational offerings in a ‘hub-style’ approach. As well as sharing knowledge and resources, it is argued that by uniting schools into a cohesive bloc, MATs afford schools unity in strength, whereas they had once been forced to negotiate in isolation. 

There is no single definition of the structure of a MAT, as there is no ‘one size fits all’ approach. It is also up to a school’s own discretion if they work under a Board of Directors and Trustees as a single entity trust, join an established MAT or even form a MAT of their own.

What are the key benefits of being involved with a MAT?

1) Support

Being part of a MAT enables the ‘weaker’ academies access to guidance and support from the larger, more successful academies in a bid to raise overall standards. By joining a MAT, a newly converted academy can enjoy partnering with a school that has already successfully navigated the conversion process.

2) Power to negotiate

Being part of a larger group of interconnected schools often results in schools negotiating more favourable terms and contracts for external services (such as waste removal). Saving money on such expenditures means the school has more budget to invest back into the education of its pupils

3) More opportunity for staff

 Being part of a MAT allows for a greater range of opportunities for teachers and other members of staff. The overall effect of this is a school’s ability to retain its best staff who otherwise may have moved on.

Are there any cons to consider?

1) Geographical issues

 It can be difficult to establish effective, collaborative governance if the schools within your MAT are a considerable distance from each other.

2) Disruption to MAT structure

As a MAT can accept new members at any time who may want representation on a MAT board, it is possible the dynamics that attracted you to a specific MAT may shift as time passes.

3) Reputation

If a school within your MAT struggles to maintain standards, you could find that your school’s reputation suffers as a result.

There are many examples of successful MATs working to the benefit of schools involved. That’s why it is so essential that schools carefully review their options before deciding on which MAT to join, should they decide upon this route.

Joining a MAT if you are already an academy

Should your academy decide to join an existing trust, you need to make sure you are aware of all the steps involved, and be confident your academy can complete each one with no hiccups.

Below are the things you must be aware of before joining a MAT:

● The existing academy will need to enter into a deed of termination which will end the current funding agreement

● The MAT will enter into a supplementary funding agreement on behalf of the academy

● The employment of staff will transfer from the single academy trust to the MAT, in line with the Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations 2006 (also known as ‘TUPE’)

● All assets and contracts undertaken by the single academy will be transferred to the MAT under a commercial transfer agreement (a solicitor can do this on your behalf)

● Use of the academy school and buildings must be granted to the MAT either by transferring the freehold of the land or via a 125 year lease from the owner of the land (which may be the local authority)

Big decisions

The decision to join a MAT is not one that should be taken lightly; making the wrong decision about which MAT to join could result in negative repercussions for your school. With that being said, what is evident is the increased level of support joining a well-chosen MAT can offer an academy.

The guidance, shared resources and collaborative expertise offered by MATs means that for many academies, joining one is a natural next step. After all, it’s clear that a successful academy is one that works closely with other schools in order to improve educational standards.

Does this sound like something that could benefit your school? Only you can decide but there is plenty of support available to help.

This is a guest contribution from berg, whose education department assists schools looking to convert to academies. If you are interested in converting your school into an academy, check out their step by step guide.

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