1,000 new multi-academy trusts needed by 2020, says national schools commissioners

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.


Your thoughts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


  1. Jon O'Connor

    Sir David Carter’s position provides some welcome clarity: those who are minded to see the promotion of MAT vehicles for school management as an increasingly irresistable force will appreciate the honesty of the new NSC in seeking to design a system around the policy.
    The lack of coherence or cohesion and quality assurance have been the most glaring issues of fragmentation arising from the academisation agenda.
    Although this is something of a glue-together “retrofit”, with little depth of planning, there is at least now a viable concept for what is in reality the increasing marketisation of education: in this model, individual schools and MATs effectively become transferable public assets – with RSCs monitoring KPI for the associated contracting arrangements.
    Whether this is desirable in the public sector will depend on your view of the significant change to public service values and principles involved.
    The emerging model prescribes a simple flow of accountability from DfE > RSC > Sub-regional sponsor > MAT. One can see now that this almost certainly creates a subservient position for local learning communities, oddly similar to the accountability for maintained schools to local authorities, but somewhat at odds with the hitherto overstated promise of a system of autonomous academies. This was never a realistic policy position given the ultimate accountability of the Secretary of State for the education system.
    The devil is now in the design detail for this layered academy system: a modicum of realism would suggest we are entering into a period of significant turbulence in the education service – alongside national issues of teacher supply and quality and leadership under strain.
    There will also be equally significant costs arising from the myriad legal and administration processes. By 2020, we should know if it is all working well as a system – and at what cost to the Treasury – but also whether there is some real benefit to those children and young people at the centre of these winds of change.

    • Jon, I take it that you mean that this is the best spin that can be put on a completely anarchic policy which sees the atomisation of our education system. Those involved in education for any time will probably continue to see the utterances of the pro-academy lobby as the Emporor’s New Clothes. A policy which pretends to be about educational quality but is nothing of the sort. We are heading back to the 1800s to an education system which relies on charitable endeavour to ensure the needs of the most vulnerable are met. Farewell to Fair Access. Education has become the market commodity that the the neo-cons always believed it to be. So glad I and my children have gone beyond that stage but so sad for those that come behind. I will be leaving the sector as soon as I can afford to and will work with sadness and quiet despair until then.

      • Janet Downs

        The Education Committee chair told the BBC (20 January 2016) that the DfE’s approach to major educational change was ‘Acting first; thinking later’. It appears it’s taken five years to realise this.
        The Academies Act was passed shortly after the Coalition came to power with the speed usually reserved for national emergencies. The NAO found the academies programme had cost £1b more than expected in 2010/11 and 2011/12.
        Despite this overspend and the on-going cost of academization there is increasing evidence that changing school structure doesn’t guarantee improvement. In some cases, the opposite is true.
        The supposed ‘freedoms’ given to academies are illusory. Non-academies can do most things academies can do but without the extra administrative and legal burdens. Heads of academies in MATs have less freedom than heads in non-academies or stand-alone academies. The latter are already under threat to either join a MAT or avoid this by setting up a MAT and hoovering up other academies. Now it appears small MATs are equally under threat of being swallowed up by larger ones. Good bye freedom. Hello running schools for profit as MATs outsource to for-profit education providers.

  2. The multi-academy trust is without doubt the future, whether this is desired or not.

    It is clear that under the current Government the number of academies is going to continue to rise, especially after the move to turn all “coasting” schools into academies.

    Single academy trusts, and smaller MATs to a lesser degree, are likely to struggle as the real time funding cuts kick in alongside rising staff costs. The support a MAT – the right MAT – can give an academy cannot be underestimated; educationally and financially. Finding the right MAT with the culture that fits your academy is vital otherwise the risk of failure is high.

    It is interesting to hear Sir David talk about MATs of 10, 15 or 20 academies. Last year the DfE made it clear that the larger MAT model has not worked, with various examples where governance has failed in MATs of 30+ schools. My understanding wa that the preferred size now is a regionalised MAT with 10-15 academies; this article goes slightly further suggesting 20.

    It is dangerous to talk about a preferred size; what may work for one MAT may not work for another. Run in the correct way there is nothing to say a smaller MAT cannot work. The same argument could be applied to single academy trusts although the chance of longer term sustainabiltiy here is perhaps much lower.

    Many schools I talk to do feel like it is preferable to join or form a MAT with other schools of their choice, usually schools they already know well and work with in a more informal way, rather than risk being pushed into a MAT they would prefer not to join.

    It will certainly be interesting what happens over the next twelve months; I predict lots more MATs, mergers between smaller MATs, and a lot more transfers between MATs as individual academies seem to find the culture which fits their own aims and objectives.