Although we have seen a steady increase in the number of schools converting to Academy status in the last 12 months, the largest increase by far has been in primary schools. The number of open primary Academies has increased by 47% in the last 12 months, with over 2,150 now open.
So, why the large increase in the number of schools becoming Academies? From our experience, this has been driven by several key factors being; the growing concern over the ability of some Local Authorities to continue to provide services to Academies, the desire for schools to have more control over their budgets and to exercise freedom of choice in their activities, and the fear of a forced conversion at some point in the future.
For many primary schools, the prospect of converting on their own is a daunting one. Many smaller schools will struggle to have sufficient resources and funding to both set up and then run their own Academy, including having sufficient financial resources and expertise to deal with the increased Academy compliance and reporting requirements.
An option for schools looking to convert to Academy status is to form groups or partnerships of schools. Some of these can be informal partnerships or collaborations while others can be more structured formal arrangements, like a Multi-Academy Trust (MAT).
In a MAT, there is a single Academy Trust with a Board of Trustees and then an advisory body or Local Governing Body (LGB) for each Academy within the MAT. Although the Board retains ultimate responsibility for all Academies in the MAT, it is quite common to delegate certain responsibilities to the LGBs. There are many benefits available in forming a MAT structure, including:
• Sharing best practice amongst the schools, thereby improving the overall pupil experience;
• Sharing resources as staff can be moved between schools more easily providing greater professional development opportunities;
• Generating cost savings as key service contracts can be re-negotiated and key functions like finance, HR and administration can be centralised across all the schools; and
• Improved cash flow, particularly for smaller schools, enabling funds to be focused where they are most needed.
Although school considering converting to Academy status must seek appropriate advice, here are our top tips for those looking to establish a Multi-Academy Trust:
• Do not underestimate the scale of the task and make sure all the schools involved are doing it for the right reasons;
• Ensure everyone involved understands what being a MAT means – do not assume they already know;
• Be absolutely clear about the ethos and philosophy of the MAT and ensure this is clearly communicated to everyone involved, including LGBs and all staff;
• Although each school should maintain its own identity, make sure you have a joined up approach to your thinking as a MAT;
• Create a skills-based Board of Governors and, where utilised, LGBs
• Define roles early on in the process, especially leadership roles, and learn from others on how they have done things in their MATs.
• Appoint a Business Director who will be solely focused on the business side of the MAT, including the finance functions and systems;
• Ensure your finance team have the appropriate finance qualifications and resources to deal with the various compliance and financial reporting requirements;
• Above all, make sure you stay focused on achievement and what is best for the children.