Most heads doubt all-academy system will boost outcomes

But a poll suggests DfE plans to let good schools bid to divorce failing trusts will help lessen fears over its academy vision

But a poll suggests DfE plans to let good schools bid to divorce failing trusts will help lessen fears over its academy vision

30 Apr 2022, 0:01

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Three-quarters of school leaders polled by a union do not expect the government’s multi-academy trust agenda to improve outcomes for pupils.

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of leaders’ union NAHT, which carried out the survey, said the Department for Education should explore how schools could “divorce their MAT when things aren’t working” to address members’ concerns.

The DfE said in response it will let “good” or “outstanding” schools in trusts “not delivering the expected standards” request such an exit from regulators, in limited circumstances. It had previously committed only to consult on the measures.

The government’s recent white paper set out a vision for all schools to be in “strong” MATs by 2030, and for all MATs to have at least 10 schools. It also pledged new statutory standards all trusts must follow, with consultation likely this term.

‘More work to do’ to convince reticent leaders

Some 57 per cent of NAHT members already working in multi-academy trusts said they were satisfied by the experience. But Whiteman said the poll showed government had “a lot more work to do” convincing school leaders of its plans for further structural reform.

Seventy-six per cent of more than 1,000 leaders polled disagreed that a fully trust-led system would improve pupil outcomes. The survey was carried out after the white paper and published to coincide with the NAHT’s annual conference in Telford this weekend.

Among leaders of standalone trusts and maintained schools, 83 per cent do not expect their school to join a trust in the next four years, and 62 per cent think it will never happen.

The white paper stopped short of compelling more schools to join multi-academy trusts, other than schools with two consecutive “requires improvement” or one “inadequate” rating.

NAHT members’ greatest fears about MATs were losing autonomy for school leaders (92 per cent) or boards (74 per cent), losing a school’s “unique local context” (83 per cent) and the financial impact (60 per cent).

‘Right to leave’ would make heads more amenable

Asked what might make them more likely to join trust, respondents highlighted a right to leave where it is not working (52 per cent) and protections around their funding to limit top-slicing or pooling (51 per cent).

The white paper proposed letting schools request regulator permission to leave trusts, a move welcomed by the National Governance Association but condemned by trust leaders.

But many NAHT members in MATs praised the cross-school collaboration and sharing of resurces that the structure facilitated, and said centralising HR and finance was beneficial.

A Department for Education spokesperson welcomed these findings, adding that MAT schools benefit from trust support on “teacher training, curriculum, financial planning and inclusivity towards children with additional needs”, as well as “excellent behaviour and attendance cultures”.

The department will be “working with the sector and unions” towards a fully trust-led school system, improving regulation and holding trusts “accountable”.

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