Failing to view a multi academy trust (MAT) as a single organisation which brings a fundamental change to the identity of schools within it is one of the key challenges facing MATs, according to Moving MATs forward: the power of governance, a new comprehensive report from the National Governance Association (NGA).
Autonomy – which is still lauded by many in the sector as one of the benefits of joining a MAT – is not attainable for schools once they have become part of a MAT, the report states. The MAT’s board of trustees can vary how it asserts its control and how much it will delegate to the both the professionals and those governing at local level. Misunderstanding where power and strategic decision-making lies can have profound implications, for example on resource distribution, school improvement plans and growth.
Governing a MAT is significantly different from governing a single school; yet, the report argues, MATs are operating and being governed within frameworks and language rooted in a system designed for single schools. This system itself as well of the understanding of it has not evolved to meet the challenges and distinctiveness of MAT governance. Overcoming these challenges requires MATs being willing to share and learn from each other and from the third sector, and relies on policymakers and the wider education sector embrace the knowledge and experience gained over the past decade. This will require collaboration, time and respect for the role of governance.
Drawn from NGA’s extensive evidence base, the report explores eleven issues with governance and oversight which both impact a board’s ability to carry out its core functions:
Getting the right people around the table
Ethics, culture, behaviour and relationships
Who does what?
Community engagement and accountability to stakeholders
The future of the local tier
Communication and information management
Due diligence and risk management
Growth, location and sustainability
Oversight, review and holding trusts to account
System leadership: collaboration and support other MATs and schools to improve
From the insights gained through the report, NGA have identified four questions which need thorough honest and open debate across the sector:
Is the role of trust members in MATs currently concentrating power in the hands of a small number of individuals?
Is school improvement best served by geographically dispersed MATs?
Should growing MATs above a certain size be discouraged?
What are the implications of the changing role of school leaders in MATs and how might these work best?