In April 2021 The Department for Education (DfE) issued non-statutory guidance on creating and growing academy trusts(1). Within this guidance, it sets out its ambition for all schools to be part of strong academy trusts, in strong families of schools, and explains the benefits of the academy trust model.
There are approximately 1,170 multi-academy trusts (MATs) in England that manage at least two schools. Most – 598 – have five or fewer schools. And there are 24,323 schools in England – 16,769 primary schools, 3,448 secondary schools and 1,044 special schools(2)- with the potential to convert to academies.
The DfE explicitly states its support for :
- Maintained schools to join an existing academy trust or to collectively establish a new one
- Strong academy trusts to grow, and to take on and transform schools with low educational standards in areas of long-standing need
- Stand-alone academy trusts (those containing single schools) to join an existing MAT or work with other schools to establish a new one
- Dioceses to work closely with regional school commissioners to implement their own academy strategies.
So, bearing this in mind, what are some of the initial considerations for MATs wishing to grow? How do you attract new schools into your MAT, and ensure that it’s the right fit for both?
1. Go in with eyes wide open
Many schools have a choice and can determine which trust they want to join. So, it’s crucial for schools to consider what’s important for them when they’re looking for a suitable MAT to join:
- A trust / MAT’s reputation and performance
- Cultural fit – does the school align with the trust’s ethos and values?
- Decision making within the MAT, and the level of autonomy that the school will retain
- Level of short- and long-term change expected.
For the trust, it’s critical to undertake comprehensive due diligence to identify risks associated with a school joining, and to determine whether the school is the right fit. For both the trust and the school, it’s important to review these considerations at the outset to avoid wasting time and effort. Your findings may mean that you have to walk away. If the fit is right, the next stages of dialogue provide an opportunity to move forward in a positive way.
2. Be open and communicate clearly
Trusts should consider the following when opening a dialogue with schools that may join them:
- Be open and transparent
- Be clear on what your trust stands for
- Be open about how you lead and manage your trust
- Share and discuss your growth strategy and expectations
- Build relationships with the school’s key stakeholders / decision makers
- Consider working together informally for a time, to share resources and see if your goals align before you commit to a partnership. The DfE has issued specific guidance on this approach.
3. Communication, communication, communication
If a school decides to join your trust, it’s important to get off on the right foot, so consider the following:
- School staff will have concerns about the changes
- Your first engagement with staff through the TUPE process is critical for you to establish your leadership style and the trust’s values and strategy
- Plan your communication approach and your key messages. Clarity is important
- Put yourself in staff members’ shoes. What questions will they have? What will their concerns be? Try to address these in your communications
- Your first engagement with staff will set the scene for the future – consider how you will create a positive impression of the trust, its leaders and staff.
- Communication is key: ensure regular engagement and updates to the school leaders as well as staff during the TUPE process
- Address queries and questions promptly and, where you can’t, ensure that people have timescales for responses
- No surprises – be clear on what staff can expect once they join the trust. Provide clarity on the centralised management structure and decision-making authority, as well as any plans the trust has to review functions and processes to ensure effective working practices and required levels of governance
- Consider introducing existing heads of departments in your trust to the school leaders, to start developing relationships. In the spirit of transparency, it allows them to ask open questions to those who have already joined the trust.
Investing time at this stage enables you to identify and achieve better fits between schools and trusts, enabling long-term relationships and better outcomes for your pupils’ education. To find out more about our cost effective services for your academy or MAT download our brochure by clicking the button below or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org