Covid-19 and its impact on the growth of Multi Academy Trusts
Despite starting this research ahead of Covid-19, the virus hit as we were nearing completion and we felt it imperative to capture the insight and feedback from some of the leaders and experts we were already talking to about the additional challenges the pandemic has brought for the growth of MATs. We’ve included some of the key findings and feedback from our contributors below.
Not surprisingly, feedback confirms that Covid-19 has had a significant impact on MATs and is likely to be a key influence on the growth of Trusts for some time. Running Schools at the moment is extremely challenging and so managing the immediate issues linked to the pandemic need to take priority.
Factors that influence a MAT’s ability to cope with the pandemic
All contributors agreed that there would be a slowdown in the growth of MATs in the short term and that the capacity for future growth rests, to some extent on a MAT’s ability to cope with the following:
- Level of IT and technical infrastructure to support effective distance learning
- The size of the central services team within the MAT
- The scale of staff absences that need to be managed
- Number of children attending the MAT
- The socio-economic profile of the community served by the MAT
Bigger is better
Resilience was a word used in a lot of feedback, particularly in terms of larger MATs and their ability to cope with the crisis, move beyond it and think about growth sooner. However, it was acknowledged that the situation was changing quickly and new challenges were likely to arise that might well be a barrier to growth even for larger MATs.
The slowing pipeline of Schools converting
Ofsted, Regional Schools Commissioners (RSCs) and Local Authorities would normally be involved in the conversions of Schools to Academies but Covid-19 has meant these organisations are not operating in the usual way. Inspections are not taking place during the Summer term, therefore slowing the rate of compulsory conversions. RSC offices are not progressing any conversion plans, and local authorities have re-aligned much of their workforce which will also slow the conversion of local authority Schools to become Academies along with the consultations with local communities.
Funding to support growth
With the amount of emergency funding already committed, many contributors felt it was very unlikely funding for Schools would increase and there was agreement that the treasury was under pressure to prioritise funding for the NHS, social care and business.
Convincing ministers that new funding should be found for Schools was, therefore, going to be a tall order and as a result, there could be more consolidation amongst MATs with smaller ones choosing to become part of larger MATs.
Stephen Morales who was a member of the research steering group and is the CEO of the Institute of School Business Leadership said:
“Covid-19 is a huge disruptive challenge for the leaders of MATs and growth plans are likely to slow down. In the medium term, mergers may well increase as smaller Trusts cope with the longer-term impact of the crisis.”
Collaboration driving growth
There was a great deal of positive feedback in the research around the collaboration between Trusts during the Covid-19 crisis and the support and help Trusts had given Schools in their networks. Contributors thought this might well encourage remaining local authority Schools to convert and join a MAT which would certainly help with longer-term growth issues.
It’s clear that the numerous challenges facing a MAT’s ability to grow have intensified due to Covid-19 and the additional obstacles brought about by the virus will impact them in very different ways. Whilst larger MAT’s may be considered more ‘resilient’ and equipped to cope with the pandemic, there are many factors that remain outside of their control and will do for some time, making growth much harder to attain. Having the tools and insight to grow sustainably is more crucial than ever and this is a common theme that is echoed in our research.
Mark Lacey, also a member of the research steering group and CEO of the Diocese of Salisbury Academy Trust said:
“It’s essential to ensure that our growth is responsible and sustainable and that’s even more important now that we’re dealing with Covid-19 as well. In the early years, some MATs did grow too quickly and this led to issues. I think the whole sector has learnt from this and is now, rightly, more cautious. What’s important is that MAT leaders have a clear vision and strategy for growth which is quite specific and avoids a scattergun, reactive approach.”
To download the free report ‘Sustainable Growth in Multi Academy Trusts’, click here.