Barran: We need to give MATs support not inspection (for now)

New 'transparent' commissioning will also address concerns over decision making done based on a 'list of the friends of the regional director', academies minister says

New 'transparent' commissioning will also address concerns over decision making done based on a 'list of the friends of the regional director', academies minister says

17 May 2023, 12:15


Academy trusts need “more support and capacity building” rather than Ofsted inspections, the academies minister said today.

Explaining more about the government’s decision not to push ahead with MAT inspections, Barran added ministers thought it would not be “a helpful thing to do at this point”.

The government’s recent regulatory and commissioning review did not include plans to inspect trusts, despite its terms of reference stating it would look at trust-level inspection.

At present, Ofsted carries out summary evaluations of trusts by batch-inspecting some of their schools.

Speaking at the Schools and Academies Show this morning, Barran said ministers “felt we need to put in more support and more capacity building because so many trusts are young and not yet fully mature”.

“[We] weren’t sure it was really a helpful thing to do at this point”.

Barran added that the review’s expert advisory group had also warned ministers not to “introduce MAT inspections without thinking about school inspection”.

“Because to layer one thing on another just creates a huge burden – so that’s literally where we are at in our thinking.”

An Ofsted report last month found the current inspection model does not hold MATs “sufficiently accountable” or attribute enough credit to their work.

While Barran said “it’s absolutely not on the agenda for either Nick Gibb (schools minister) or I and we’ve talked about it a lot”, she said that was “not to exclude it sometime down the track”.

MAT descriptors ‘won’t be algorithm’

As part of the academies commissioning review, the government pledged to introduce a new, “more transparent” system of decision making over school sponsorship, conversion and trust mergers.

Barran wants an approach that is “as transparent as possible… Because what we’ve heard from all of you was it felt like it was at best a black box, and at worst a kind of list of the friends of the regional director.

“And I think we would say that’s not what it feels like on our side of the fence. But if that’s what it feels like on the other side of the fence, we have to address that.”

Government has published new quality descriptors for trusts, which will be used to help inform commissioning decisions.

But Barran today insisted the new approach to commissioning would not equate to “a kind of algorithm that sends people to the top or the bottom”.

“It’s to push us to make sure we are always objective in our decisions and that it pushes us to ask good questions before we make decisions.

“In no place in the framework does achieving a quantitative metric mean, you know, pass [go], earn £200, get a new school.”

She acknowledged there was a “huge amount of concern” about the government’s plans, but said they would “help us ask questions and understand in a more nuanced way”.

‘Friendlier’ trust handbook, but more capital duties

Government has promised to slim down the rules MATs have to adhere to under the academy trust handbook.

Barran said today that “overall you will see a slimmer, shorter and friendlier handbook. I think it will be significant change this year, more change next year. There’s some things we just can’t implement quickly enough.”

But she said there would be new things too, “principally around school capital and the responsibility of responsible bodies around that and where we felt there wasn’t enough in there.”

Barran reportedly told an attendee after the session that the handbook is due in July. Last year’s was published just days before the start of the new academic year.

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  1. We at Holland Park School trusted Dame Diana Barran to keep her word and act in the best interest of our children. Instead she forced us into the United Learning Trust and so far it is an unmitigated disaster. She said ULT were chosen because they had “capacity” (spare teachers) and a “rapid improvement plan”. Turns out the rapid improvement plan never existed – still doesn’t – and ULT doesn’t have any spare teachers for us. The children affected don’t have time for the MAT to get it right.

    Under Freedom of Investigation we requested the minutes of the meetings where it was decided HPS would be forced into ULT MAT. Amazing how much was redacted, but of what wasn’t Diana Barran seemed to just accept what others told her without asking any investigative questions.

    We no longer believe she cares about the best interests of our school, our community or our children.

  2. Giuseppe C.

    So: They first arbitrarily assign schools to MATs based on obscure Ofsted reports, vague promises from the MATs and against parents, teachers and local authorities requests. Then they remove the need for the MATs to prove that they implemented what promised (and may even assign more resources to the MATs in addition to what they already get). I guess that state schools will keep receiving inspections. To stop the crazy MATification and ensure that all funds go to students and workforce is the answer.

  3. Sam H

    I guess as long as they only mess with the education of state school children, the government doesn’t really care.
    What is happening to our schools is an outrage and all involved should hang their heads in shame.

  4. Dustin

    This ideologically driven MAT push is never more exposed than when it has to be protected from the very inspections that were used to force them on communities that didn’t want them.

    It’s correct that people feel rolled over by phony consultations that rubber-stamp all too cozy relationships. Because that is what’s happening, regardless of what it “looks like” on their side of the fence.