New research exposes how multi academy trusts are struggling to grow

Wednesday, 20 May 2020 | Written by Rachel Panther, Managing Director, PrimarySite

PrimarySite MD, Rachel Panther on new multi academy trust research launch

In October 2019, PrimarySite undertook a significant research project to understand more about how multi academy trusts (MATs) have experienced growth and how they may continue to grow in the future.

As educational specialists, we understand the daily challenges faced by schools and multi academy trust leadership teams and are passionate about making life easier for them through insight, innovation and technology.

After an extensive review of existing literature, we found that much of the research focused on school improvement, governance and leadership, with very little focus specifically on MAT growth strategies. Many of our regular discussions with MAT leaders centred on their plans for growth and we were struck by the diversity of approaches that they chose to adopt. Despite a shared keenness to expand, it was clear there was no single blueprint for sustainable growth.

We, therefore, felt compelled to commission this research report, ‘Sustainable Growth in Multi Academy Trusts’. We wanted to share expertise, experience and contribute to the work that many are doing to help establish best practice. We also wanted to assist to develop a greater body of knowledge about what it means for school trusts to grow sustainably.

When you reflect on why MATS started to form and schools academised, it was about achieving a higher level of freedom and control over finances and curriculum, breaking some of the links with local authorities. However, with this greater level of autonomy comes a need to reach a critical size in order to achieve financial sustainability and exploit economies of scale to enable future development. We wanted to validate the aims of the sector, examine opportunities for supporting growth and uncover how the landscape for trusts will evolve in the future. By sharing expertise and first-hand experience of MAT leaders my vision for this research is that it acts as a valuable tool for providing direction to MAT’s wanting to develop their own proactive growth strategy.

Key questions we wanted to answer:

  • Why do trusts have to grow?
  • How are they growing now?
  • How has that changed?
  • What are the challenges and barriers and how can these be overcome?

A steering group was formed who helped inform the themes of the research and highlight areas for further consideration. Our thanks go to all of them listed below:

  • Mark Lacey, CEO, Diocese of Salisbury Academy Trust
  • Gavin Booth, CEO Infinity Academies Trust
  • Stephen Morales, CEO, Institute of School Business Leadership
  • Andrew Moorhouse, CEO, Primary First Trust
  • Christine Quinn, formerly West Midlands RSC

Using interviews and surveys with MAT leaders and experts we were able to identify five important challenges for growth:

  • Lack of available schools wanting to join MATs
  • A risk averse culture
  • Competition from other MATs
  • A shortage of senior leaders with the right expertise
  • Limited access to funding to support growth

Of course, Covid-19 has brought about additional and unique challenges to the growth of MAT’s and these issues along with the overall findings of the report can be found here.

In Summary

The research shows that MAT leaders are keen to grow in a sustainable way but face numerous challenges which have now intensified due to Covid-19. The impact of these challenges on school trusts is not the same for all, indeed some of our contributors had not experienced any significant challenges at all. Others viewed ‘challenges’ more as issues that simply needed to be overcome with a creative solution.

Trusts are a relatively new, emerging but specialist sector and there is a very strong belief that future leaders must develop from within. They need the right leaders, with the right background who are not only passionate about education but are willing and capable to learn new skills about growth, operations and relationship management. The good news is that there are emerging networks to support school trust leaders and professional development support and courses for new CEOs.

Effective networking, communication and marketing strategy is integral to support growth and this was highlighted in the research as an area for improvement. Feedback focused on the importance of more formal communication as new schools joined, and how building a strong online presence through MAT websites promoted the values, ethos, identity and culture of the trust to prospective schools.

Many of our contributors talked about a clear, coherent strategy as key to supporting sustainable growth. Our report is packed with advice from MAT leaders, and I hope that in these challenging times it helps to establish best practice and proves a useful resource for MATs that have an ambition to grow.

To download the report Sustainable Growth in Multi Academy Trusts


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