The academies minister wants more converter schools to join turnaround trusts – but admitted a “real challenge” in changing the perception joining a MAT is “a punishment rather than an opportunity”.
Baroness Barran said today the Department for Education should be “encouraging” such converter schools – those rated ‘good’ or above that choose to academise – into trusts with “unbelievably challenging schools”.
Speaking at the Confederation of School Trust’s finance and operation conference this morning, she added many of those opting to convert are instead moving “from one relatively warm and cosy place to another”.
“I think that one of the challenges that we all share is getting the messaging out about why it’s a good thing to be in a strong multi-academy trust,” she said.
“Partly because there’s an intervention element to driving trusts, there’s a danger that things get seen as a punishment rather than an opportunity. I think it’s a real challenge to turn that narrative around.”
Hannah Woodhouse, the former regional director for the south west, previously said the DfE saw “the biggest interest [in conversion] since 2018” last year.
Schools Week analysis in December showed there were 608 schools using the voluntary converter route to move out of local authority control. The figure is almost double that recorded at same time the year before (373) and was the highest since 2018 (732).
CST CEO Leora Cruddas said there needs to be “a conversation about speeding up the conversion of good schools into trusts”.
RAAC: Council schools ‘left on their own’
She argued that it is important for them to make the switch “because they bring capacity” to MATs, adding that, “if left on their own”, she is “a bit worried whether they’ll remain good”.
Barran agreed, saying converter schools have a role in “building capacity and trusts taking on unbelievably challenging schools.
“My worry is that most of the conversion that happens is not into those trusts – it is from one relatively warm and cosy place to another one.”
Barran also revealed that ministers are “worried about the support” primary schools are “getting or not getting from local authorities”.
She stated that during the RAAC crisis, those “in strong trusts really felt supported” – while some council-run schools “were just on their own, with a headteacher taking all the pressure”.
“That felt very unfair on them and unsafe.”
‘Don’t focus as much on severe absence’
During the talk, Barran also spoke about attendance.
She pointed out around a third of children have between six and 15 per cent absence, but said the conversation in schools is “almost entirely” on the one to seven per cent of children with below 50 per cent attendance.
“I’m not saying we shouldn’t worry about them, but I think we all know that in the vast majority of those cases, schools aren’t going to resolve those issues on their own.”