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The future of multi academy trusts

There are opportunities and challenges ahead for MATs as the academy sector changes, says Tina Allison

Posted by Hannah Oakman | June 23, 2016 | People, policy, politics

There are no signs of the pace of change in the education sector slowing down. Academisation, whether it be for every school by 2020 or the revised position of the Government which suggests that transformation may not be for the whole market, one thing that is certain is this will mean some opportunities and challenges for Multi Academy Trusts (MATs).

An opportunity for growth

Although the government has not gone so far as to state that every academy must join a MAT, with the burden of regulation and the additional responsibilities running an academy brings, this will be the most sensible alternative for many new academies. As with any business that has a plan of expansion, there will be a need to carefully plan ahead and for key issues to be tackled.

Governance

It is has been well documented that academy schools find it challenging to build boards with suitable skills. In the case of a MAT, due its potential size and the complexity that comes with running a more geographically diverse business, there is an even greater need for a governing body with a wide skill base. Whilst if more academies join MATs there will be a need for fewer boards in total, there will still be a shortage of the specialist financial, educational and general business skills. 

Those MATs with good quality boards in place and an appetite to grow, need to make sure they acquire schools that are appropriate for them to run. Considerations should include:

  • Geographical location: it is important as those schools within a small radius of a few miles can help support and share resources. Whereas schools in remote locations are both difficult and more expensive to support and therefore they will need to have a good strategy in place if they take on these schools.
  • Due diligence:  it is important that the governors are fully aware of the educational and financial position of the school so that they can make informed decisions whether they believe in joining the MAT the school’s educational outcomes will be improved.
  • Cultural fit: for it to be successful for both parties there needs to be synergy in their ethos and values otherwise they may find it difficult to chart an agreed course.

Economies of scale

As the number of MATs grow there will be greater demand in the market to find new ways for these organisations to achieve economies of scale. For example, if a MAT contains a number of academies in different local authorities it will be contributing into a number of different Local Government Pension Schemes with different financial positions and contribution rates. Opportunities to consolidate schemes will generate savings over the medium term and make financial planning easier.

As MATs develop and grow their business they are becoming more skilled at providing IT infrastructure, performing due diligence and providing consultancy to their academies. In growing their own business, they have developed skill sets and products which they could sell to other developing groups. This kind of entrepreneurship will provide the additional funds necessary to help with running costs and the good quality support and know-how the sector desperately needs.

Achieving results

Currently, many MATs feel under pressure to achieve the government’s target in both educational and financial terms. If academisation of our schools is to be successful, the sector will need to be able to operate within tight financial constraints. There will be even greater pressure on management to provide business plans that demonstrate academies in deficit have realistic plans for returning to surplus and that there are measures being put in place to support those schools struggling academically to achieve their targets. 

It is clear to see that having a network of good quality MATs throughout the country is pivotal to the success of the academisation programme however, for that to be achieved, MATs will need support from the government and regulator to achieve the required standards. 

Tina Allison is Head of Education at audit, tax and advisory firm, Crowe Clark Whitehill.

W: www.croweclarkwhitehill.co.uk

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