DfE plots academy trust expansions and mergers across England

New 'trust development statements' reveal ministers' plan to shake up school structures across England

New 'trust development statements' reveal ministers' plan to shake up school structures across England

4 Apr 2023, 16:02

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The government has unveiled plans to expand, merge or create new multi-academy trusts in 55 priority areas in a bid to improve under-performing schools.

Department for Education (DfE) bosses believe their approach, set out in new “trust development statements”, will boost attainment in left-behind towns and counties – where as many as one in five primaries and secondaries have been ordered to improve by Ofsted. 

It comes after academies minister Baroness Barran told Schools Week the government will ramp up its use of powers to strip trusts of groups of underperforming academies en-masse.

Government officials want leaders to either expand trusts or launch new ones in “education investment areas” (EIAs), which are said to have the nation’s weakest Key Stage 2 and GCSE results.

The government hopes its approach will ensure “no school is left isolated”, while also bringing “small vulnerable trusts” into larger groups and allowing organisations’ “viability concerns to be well managed”. 

“Where possible”, trusts should “seek to incorporate schools and single-academy trusts [SATs] with less-than-good Ofsted judgments as well as those that are, if not in a high-quality MAT, at risk of becoming isolated”.

But the department stressed proposals hinging on “unplanned incremental growth” were “actively discouraged”. 

The north west

The north west has more EIAs than any other region

Government bosses want to consolidate existing trusts in Blackpool to tackle high absence and exclusion rates in the area, while also improving inclusion among disadvantaged youngsters. 

Similar growth plans have been set out for Knowsley, Halton, Manchester, St Helens, Wirral and Tameside to “raise standards”.

Education chiefs hope to reduce the number of SATs or trusts with “a small number of academies” in Bolton. They stressed secondary growth applications were sought from organisations “with a track-record” of driving up GSCE results. 

The DfE said a “particular focus” needed to be paid to supporting pupils with English as an additional language or special educational needs and disability in Oldham and Rochdale

Proposals for a cross-phase trust will also be considered in Bury

New MATs are wanted for Liverpool, Salford and Sefton

The north east

Larger MATs are wanted in Sunderland, as the DfE seeks a reduction in the number of trusts in the area. 

Trusts are also being urged to expand in Hartlepool and Darlington, which has more ‘inadequate’ and ‘requires improvement’ schools (seven altogether) than ‘outstanding’ ones (four).           

Officials also believe new trusts could be formed in South Tyneside, Middlesbrough and County Durham, where just over a quarter of disadvantaged pupils achieved a grade 5 or above in Key Stage 4 English and maths. 

The figure is 20 per cent lower than the average for all youngsters across the EIA. 

Yorkshire and the Humber

It is hoped the disadvantage gap in Doncaster – where persistent absence, suspension and permanent exclusion rates are all above the national average – will be closed by “consolidating and strengthening [its] trust landscape”. 

The same is suggested for Bradford, Leeds, North Yorkshire, Rotherham and Wakefield.  

In Leeds, education chiefs want to “build capacity of both Catholic and Church of England diocesan MATs to accommodate remaining faith schools” in the area. 

And in North Yorkshire, Scarborough has been identified as a “priority area to address underperformance and high levels of suspension, permanent exclusion and low attendance”.

The department’s vision also involves building “SEND capacity” across Kirklees by growing trusts “with a record of providing a compelling offer for children with special needs within mainstream settings”.

The West Midlands

In Coventry, Dudley and Walsall ministers want existing MATs to grow, and to create “new high-quality” chains.

Government bosses want to raise phonics, Key Stage 2 and GCSE attainment and progress levels in Stoke-on-Trent by merging smaller trusts, transferring SATs and converting council-maintained schools. 

They are also keen to see the three remaining secondaries and 65 local authority-maintained primaries in Sandwell brought “into high-quality and suitable trusts”.

The East Midlands 

In Derby, where almost 20 per cent of schools have been rated ‘requires improvement’ or ‘inadequate’, the DfE said it wanted “high-quality” academy groups already operating in the area to expand.  

The DfE would “welcome proposals to create a new, high-quality trust in the area with capacity and expertise to support both primary and secondary schools” over the next two years. 

Many local authority-maintained sites in Lincolnshire are in rural, “geographically isolated” areas. 

The DfE suggested there was the potential for “existing trusts to grow and new ones to be developed within the county”. 

Education chiefs are calling for new primary trusts to be formed in Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire.

Four parts of North Northamptonshire – Corby, Kettering, Wellingborough and Rushden – have been singled out as areas where “consolidation” is particularly needed.

Applications for groups eyeing schools in Nottingham “with a record of improving attainment at Key Stage 2 and working with the most vulnerable disadvantaged” children will be welcomed by the DfE.

The east of England

The same is recommended for Bedford, where – as of December 31 – 16 of 73 state-funded schools either had ratings of ‘requires improvement’ or ‘inadequate’. 

But the DfE said it hoped mergers of SATs and smaller trusts will also take place.

The government thinks performance could be raised in Cambridgeshire by “growing high-quality MATs” or getting others to enter the area. 

The county’s Key Stage 2 attainment levels are currently below the England average, while GCSE outcomes are above nationwide norms.   

Elsewhere in the east of England, three EIAs – Central Bedfordshire, Luton and Peterborough – have been listed as locations where the DfE wants new trusts to form.

The DfE believes there needs to be a “focus on improving Key Stage 2 outcomes, particularly for disadvantaged pupils, through MAT structures and work across trusts” in Suffolk.

In Norfolk, the government thinks MATs could expand or that “high-quality trusts” could be brought into the area to boost schools. 

The south west

The DfE hopes to create “geographic coherence” in “fragmented” parts of Cornwall through mergers and “the growth of high-quality MATs”.

There is said to be “a pressing need to raise education standards by consolidating the trust landscape” in Dorset

Ministers also want existing groups of schools to expand across North Somerset, Somerset, South Gloucestershire and Swindon.  

SEND provision is listed as a “priority” for Plymouth, as the government notes there is an “opportunity to grow specialist trust capacity in the city”. 

The south east

The DfE’s plan for the Isle of Wight – which has no ‘outstanding’ or ‘inadequate’ schools – is to encourage successful MATs “currently based on the mainland to expand onto the island and to develop hubs”.

Documents show its pupil progress and attainment outcomes at Key Stage 2 and GCSE level are below the national average.

In East Sussex, where Hastings has been identified as a “priority area”, brand-new MATs are wanted. Large trusts based elsewhere will also be encouraged to move into the region.

Meanwhile, government believes Portsmouth is best suited to an approach that will see good trusts grow and the consolidation of MATs “to provide options for the city’s remaining authority-maintained schools”.

‘Get in touch’ says DfE

DfE papers say any established MAT, school or group looking to form a new trust or join an existing one trust should contact their local regional director’s office for a discussion.

During these talks the department will be able to provide more information on the opportunities available in each EIA.

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One comment

  1. Jeff Fair

    It is always said in education that ideas repeat themselves…
    Reading these proposals – they sound like Local Education Authorities – although they will have no local accountability.
    And we all know from DfE evidence that governance actually does little to improve standards – but moving weaker pupils out does improve a schools results – although not the overall lifechances of the pupils in the area…