Academies

No need to rush into trusts, governance expert tells schools

National Governance Association chief says it's still up to 'good' or 'outstanding' schools whether to join MATs

National Governance Association chief says it's still up to 'good' or 'outstanding' schools whether to join MATs

20 Nov 2022, 5:00

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Schools should not rush to join multi-academy trusts, despite the government’s 2030 vision for an all-academy system, the head of the National Governance Association has said.

Emma Knights (pictured), the group’s chief executive, told the School and Academies Show in Birmingham that it “really worries me when people say ‘we’re being told to do this’”. 

One headteacher in the audience said the schools white paper earlier this year “had everybody scrambling suddenly not to be last one to be picked for the team”.

But Knights said: “For those of you that are leading or governing ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ schools, the decision is still yours.

“I think sometimes the mythology feels different, but actually that is the way the system is set up. That is what the law says.”

She said the past decade had shown that when trusts rushed and grew too quickly, it “didn’t necessarily work terribly well”.

Mergers had not been that common so far, but the NGA expected them to pick up, she said. The diminishing number of maintained schools was gradually limiting trusts’ ability to grow through conversions.

Most trust leaders expect to take on more schools

Meanwhile research by Arbor, a school management information software provider, shows 92 per cent of multi-academy trust leaders surveyed expected their trust to add at least one school over the next three years.

While 58 per cent said their preference was adding new schools, 26 per cent said they would prefer mergers. But the vast majority said they wanted mergers with similar or smaller trusts, not larger ones.

The poll, shared exclusively with Schools Week, also asked maintained school leaders if they expected to be part of a multi-academy trust by 2030.

Almost half (45 per cent) agreed, but almost as many answered “I don’t know”, and 14 per cent said they did not.

At another panel event, Lord Knight, a former Labour minister and chair of the E-ACT trust, said he feared that some trusts would grow “just because they’re rescuing trusts, because they’ve become unviable” as financial pressures increased. “That’s no way to start a partnership and relationship.”

Hannah Woodhouse, a DfE regional director, said four single-academy trusts had joined MATs in the past month in the south west. She said there was a “question about how…we consolidate small trusts who can’t all grow.”

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