'Focus on sharing resources', academy trusts told

Multi-academy trusts should be entrepreneurial and willing to take calculated risks to remain sustainable “in an age of austerity”, according to a new report.

Forum Strategy, which represents a group of 80 MATs across the country, has said trusts should place a greater importance on chief operating officers, rather than finance offers, so they could focus on sharing resources and services between their schools and with other trusts.

The group’s report, ‘sustainability through an age of austerity’, which was published today, said there was “great scope for individual MATs and the wider sector to realise greater efficiencies and to generate income and from a wide range of provision”, but warned all “entrepreneurial” enterprises should be “driven by the needs of children”.

Michael Pain, the group’s chief executive, told Schools Week: “We are seeing some really importance services being cut back – mental health services, psychology services.

“Trusts and schools have to think about cutting back support roles instead of the frontline, but maybe you can make some of these support roles sustainable by developing them across the trust and offering them out to the wider sector at a more appropriate rate.”

MATs should also “regularly audit the skills, talents and experiences of staff” and see how they could contribute to the wider MAT network through “talent directories”. Staff members with particular expertise could be shared between schools.

The report said many trust chief executives “would benefit from the wider remit and operational delivery experience of a chief operating officer” in addition to or instead of a chief finance officer, to drive this entrepreneurial change, and that financial directors could report to operating officers.

The report said the government should consider a “seed funding initiative” to allow the development of cross-trust services, including catering, IT services and mental health support.

“Services designed by MATs for MATs could result in higher-quality provision for pupils, at lower costs than if provided by private profit-making providers, and with better accountability attached to the service,” it said.