5 things we learned from the education committee’s MATs hearing

The House of Commons education committee has spent the morning grilling academics, think tank leaders and faith school bosses about multi-academy trusts. Here is what we learned.

1. Academies don’t necessarily offer autonomy to their schools and teachers

Some leading academics agreed this morning that the ‘freedom’ which supporters of the academies programme often talk about in relation to conversion isn’t always seen on the ground.

In fact, Dr Melanie Ehren, reader in educational accountability and improvement, at the UCL Institute of Education claimed trust were often putting pressure on schools to do things a certain way.

Professor Merryn Hutchings, co-author of the Sutton Trust’s Chain Effects report, said schools were also under pressure from government testing requirements.

2. Academy status is not a ‘silver bullet’ for school improvement

This phrase is often used, and that’s probably because it’s true. Most research which looks at the performance of schools before and after they convert to become academies shows that the change does not always boost a school’s results.

A study published this morning by the Education Policy Institute and London School of Economics has reinforced that view, and Natalie Perera, from the EPI, was quizzed about this during the hearing.

3. We don’t know how realistic the government’s 1,000 new MATs target is, or whether the system can cope

The national schools commissioner Sir David Carter has talked about the need for 1,000 new multi-academy trusts by 2020, but the jury is out on whether this can indeed be facilitated.

There are also doubts about the ability of the relevant government departments and agencies to handle such an expansion.

4. Community schools could end up under the control of MATs with majority-religious boards

Andrew Copson, the chief executive of the British Humanists Association, has raised fears about the impact that “mixed MATs” – trusts with religious and non-religious schools in them – will have on non-faith schools.

Copson says the governance arrangements of MATs are weighted in favour of religious schools, and said a religious body would have the right to a majority on a MAT board if just one of the schools within the trust was a former voluntary-aided religious school, even if the majority of institutions in the MAT were former community schools with no faith ethos.


But Nigel Genders, chief education officer for the Church of England said the reality was that where community schools came into MATs controlled by church appointees, they were “absolutely clear about the community school being safeguarded”.

5. New Catholic schools will only open where parents want them

Paul Barber, from the Catholic Education Service, sought to reassure MPs about the expansion of faith schools by insisting they would be driven by demand.

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  1. No autonomy! It’s not a silver bullet! This is not news. I think this was pretty obvious from the start. Why do we have to have a level of debate that doesn’t even acknowledge the whole thing was political interference driven by market ideals not educational ones. It’s not ‘news’ that schools don’t improve just because they’ve become academies; it was perfectly obvious from the start that this would be the outcome. The desired results are there but they have little to do with educational improvement: a dismantling of state provision by any means necessary.

  2. Six years down the line and the ‘expert opinion’ so hated by Gove and others is shown to be correct. What a waste of billions of pounds for cosmetic structural change. What a waste of the time and energy of good Heads and teachers. What a damning indictment of ideological change pushed through with no consideration of the potential chaos that has ensued in so many schools.

    Granted many good schools have converted and, surprise, surprise they have still been good, but far too many have fallen or been passed around from trust to trust like an unwanted Christmas present. The change to an academy does not mean a school ‘will’ become good. It’s as likely (if not more likely) to fail and get worse.

    The focus should be on teaching and learning NOT the destruction of local authorities and the privatisation of our school system. Our local communities deserve better and it’s parents, teachers and the pupils that will change schools not Ministers ideological beliefs.