About 1,000 new multi-academy trusts will be created by 2020 with smaller chains having to grow to accommodate more schools, Sir David Carter (pictured above) warned as he explained his plans to carry out a “health check” of trusts before they could expand.

The national schools commissioner, who told ASCL delegates that the growth of the academies programme would need to be managed, outlined proposals for a four-tier hierarchy of trusts ranging from those with up to five schools to “system leaders” with 30 or more.

Speaking at a seminar, he said the plan was partly based on lessons learned from the past.

“We do have examples of trusts that have grown too fast,” he said. “My challenge is we are probably going to need some of our trusts to grow again. The three to six-academy trusts will struggle to be sustainable. We need them to grow, to 10, to 15, to 20.”

Sir David also described a shift in the nature of free school applications, hinting at an increase in bids to open alternative provision (AP) free schools in wave 11, which closed last week.

The proportion of AP bids has remained fairly stable, making up 14.3 per cent of applications in wave 7, 12.6 per cent in wave 8 and 13.1 per cent in wave 9. Wave 10 appears to be an anomaly, with just one bid out of 42 for AP.

Sir David said he felt the increase was due in part to people “recognising that those provisions are not tight enough in their communities and they want to take a close look at that”.

He also spoke of his desire to see council education staff set up and run multi-academy trusts, but said conversations would have to happen “quite soon”, with primary schools that looked to local authorities for support facing a change in that relationship as a result of forced academisation.

“If the emphasis is on changing that relationship in the future, then where does that support come from? They’ve got a great relationship with those people. I certainly think that the people who are currently employed by local authorities might choose to become sponsors and set up trusts themselves. I would welcome that conversation.”

The fact that councils can no longer open new schools is the subject of a long-running campaign by the Local Government Association, which has warned that
there aren’t enough “viable” academy chains to take on extra schools.