Developing your Multi Academy Trust
For some time now, the Government has continued to focus on growing existing Multi Academy Trusts (MATs) rather than establishing new Trusts. Their vision is for every school to be part of a family of schools in strong academy trusts.
In order to maximise the benefits of MATs, there has been a sustained push from the Government to create larger, sustainable Trusts with 8 to 12 schools. In December 2016, the Department for Education (DfE) issued guidance for schools and the recommendations within it are still relevant today.
If you are looking to grow your MAT, an effective governance structure is key to managing your existing schools as well as allowing for future growth. We have summarised the six fundamental elements of effective governance below:
The Board of Trustees are accountable for the use of public funds awarded to the Trust. Therefore, there must be effective communication of decisions to relevant parties, including parents and the Local Governing Body. Any feedback received from these parties must be incorporated into the plans and decisions of the Board. This makes it transparent for any schools joining the Trust that their views and concerns will be listened to.
It is important that systems are put in place to ensure compliance, consistency and value for money across all schools in the Trust. When a new school joins they should be able to incorporate new policies and procedures straight away. In addition, creating a standard system of reporting across all areas, including finance, enables the Board to easily benchmark schools and identify arising issues or trends.
3. Strategic Leadership
The role of the Board of Trustees is to provide a clear ethos, vision and strategic direction of the MAT, thereby ensuring consistency across all the schools. This strategy feeds into plans set by the Board who can then challenge the CEO or other staff on results. A transparent strategy also means new schools joining will be clear on what they are expected to contribute and achieve as part of the Trust.
A Trust Board should be established based on the skills required, rather than due to a legacy that existed in the schools before they joined the Trust. A skills audit should be undertaken to identify any skills gaps in the Board and appropriate Trustees recruited to fill any shortages. To provide capacity for future growth, a Board member with an HR background will likely be required, in addition to those with financial and legal experience. Someone external with a background in education is also advised.
The Governance structure is not the same for all Trusts and the level of autonomy given to Local Governing Bodies will vary. The Trust Board sets the strategy for the Trust and the Executive Management Team are then responsible for delivering that strategy. However, the level of delegation to Local Governing Bodies should be set out so it is apparent to schools where the responsibilities lie. For new schools joining the Trust, it should be clear what degree of autonomy they are to sacrifice.
The governance should be periodically reviewed, both in terms of levels and skills, as a Multi Academy Trust grows. It is also recommended to undertake external reviews of the Board’s effectiveness to provide a fresh perspective. As the Trust grows it may be beneficial to create regional Boards that govern a group of schools within the Trust.
A useful resource on creating and growing academy trusts was published by the DfE in May 2021.