Schools in multi-academy trusts spend less on “back office” costs and more on primary teaching staff, compared to standalone academies and local authority schools.
Primary schools in multi-academy trusts spend £23 more on teaching staff per pupil than local authority schools, according to a new report from the Education Policy Institute.
And secondary schools in MATs spend £49 less per pupil on running costs – such as maintenance, water, energy, IT and catering expenses – compared to local authority schools.
Yet savings for secondary schools in MATs are “not necessarily translating into increased expenditure on teaching staff”, said the report, which was commissioned by IT provider the Stone Group.
At secondary level, MATs spent a similar amount to local authorities.
Costs are also not further reduced for individual schools as a MAT grows, said the report, which examined the cost savings and “economies of scale” of belonging to a local authority, single-academy trust or multi-academy trust.
There are 6,334 open academies, free schools, university technical colleges and studio schools in England.
Local authority maintained schools remain the largest proportion of schools, followed by those in MATs. There are more pupils in single-trust academies, than in MAT academies – even though there are slightly more MAT academies than single-trust academies.
Two-thirds of all academies operate in a multi-academy trust.
Here are seven key findings in the report:
1. Schools save on running costs when they are in a multi-academy trust – especially secondary schools
There was a saving of £6 per pupil for primary schools on running expenses when they were in a multi-academy trust, compared to being with their local authority.
But they saved more when they belonged to a single academy trust, at £1,183 per pupil compared to £1,255 in a MAT – a saving of £72.
The difference between MATs and local authority schools was more pronounced at secondary school level, with a £49 saving on running expenses for those in MATs compared to in a local authority school.
Being in a single-academy trust seemed to make little difference to savings at secondary level.
2. Primary schools in MATs spend more per pupil on teachers than LA schools – but it’s about the same at secondary school level
Primary schools in MATs spend £23 more on teaching staff than those in local authority schools, at £2,202 per pupil compared to £2,179.
They both spent slightly more than schools in single-academy trusts, which spent £2,155 per pupil on teaching staff on average.
At secondary school level, schools within a MAT spent £3,262 per pupil on teaching staff – actually £3 less than the £3,265 spent by LA schools on the same.
Secondary schools in single academy trusts actually spent £55 less than LA schools on teaching staff, at £3,210.
3. Secondary schools in MATs do not re-direct their back office savings into staff
Even though secondary schools in MATs are making a £49 saving on running expenses, they are spending the same as (or £3 less on average) LA schools on teaching staff.
The report said the finding showed savings by secondary schools in MATs was “not necessarily translating into increased expenditure on teaching staff.”
4. MATs that grow do not save significantly more on back office costs – and do not spend more on teachers
MATs formed of 10 academies do not spend significantly less on back office functions than MATs comprised of two, the report found.
And MATs larger than 10 academies even spent “slightly less on teaching staff” overall than their smaller counterparts.
Larger MATs are “not yielding back office savings that are then re-directed into teaching,” said the report.
5. MATs that are geographically spread out spend more on back office costs
The more a MAT is spread out, the more it spends on back office costs.
And larger trusts tend to have more academies that are further apart from one another.
Lord Nash, under-secretary of state for schools, has previously said he would like all academies within a trust to be with “an hour drive” away from one another.
6. Some MATs use technology more cost-effectively than others
“We find that the use of technology can greatly help to bring about further efficiency savings, helping trusts to overcome barriers such as geography,” said the report.
Some MATs made greater use of Skype and video conferencing to reduce travel, and used technology to standardise HR and teaching materials, than others.
7. Length of time a school has belonged to a MAT does not appear to improve savings
The report said it would seem “unlikely” that efficiency savings and economies of scale would be made when a school first joined a MAT.
“Rather, they would build up over time.”
Expenditure on teaching staff did not seem particularly affected by how long an academy had been in a MAT, the report found.
But large variations on back office costs between schools on joining a MAT did seem to even out over time.
“This might indicate that some process of standardisation and assimilation of back office spending occurs the longer an academy has been part of a MAT.”