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Multi-academy trusts (MATS)

If your child's school has converted to academy status, or was established as an academy, then it will be run by an Academy Trust or a Multi-Academy Trust (MAT).

This guide, which applies only to the education landscape in England, talks you through the basics of MATs: what they are, how they operate, what powers they have and where you can find out more. For details on the type of schools governed by MATs, see our guide to academies.

What is a Multi-Academy Trust (MAT)?

A MAT is a charitable company which has been set up to operate more than one academy or free school in the English education system. Smaller MATs may see their academies geographically close to each other, whereas larger ones have academies throughout the country. Through a MAT, the academies share in common the members and directors of the board of trustees that govern them and maintain control over the employment of staff. There is no ‘lead school’ – but all of the academies under control of the MAT should be treated equally.

Who is in charge of a MAT and what do they do?

MATs operate independently of Local Authority (LA) control. They are funded by central government but remain autonomous in running their schools. Boards of academy trusts have more wide-ranging duties than governing bodies of maintained schools because they include overseeing admissions, the curriculum and financial matters which are delegated to different people on the board.

An MAT’s board comprises:

Members: They can decide on and change aspects of the MAT's constitution, if it wins the approval of the Department for Education, but they also have to abide by the rules of the constitution. Members can also appoint trustees and are responsible for holding them to account. Members comprise representatives from each of the academies.

Trustees: They are responsible for the day-to-day running of the academies and:

  • set the strategic direction
  • hold headteachers to account
  • manage budgets

Trustees need to be aware of their obligations to the Department for Education and understand the funding agreement, enabling them to allocate the funding received from government.

When taking decisions, members of the board of trustees are expected to act in the best interests of the MAT as a whole, rather than in the interests of one or particular academies.

Local Governors: Trustees can delegate duties to local governing bodies (LGBs), though the trustees remain accountable for them. This is especially helpful for MATs with a large number of schools under their jurisdiction where it is harder for a small group of trustees to directly govern. Delegations to LGBs, usually one body overseeing each school, must be set out and published in a clear scheme. Regardless of the extent of delegation, the trust remains accountable for the performance of all its schools.

Who are Academy Sponsors and what do they do?

The Department for Education allows any of the following groups to apply to become an academy sponsor:

  • schools
  • further education colleges
  • sixth-form colleges
  • universities
  • businesses and entrepreneurs
  • educational foundations
  • charities and philanthropists
  • faith communities
  • individuals with the relevant skills, experience and track record

An academy sponsor supports the group of academies by working with the academy trust, which they can also help to set up. Academy sponsors:

  • appoint the leadership team and governing body
  • monitor the academy’s performance and intervene where necessary
  • liaise with the DfE about the academies' performance
  • involve parents and the community through events, mentoring and business links
  • making sure the academy spends its government funding effectively

It's important that sponsors have financial experience so that they can provide the relevant expertise in managing budgets.

What are the advantages of MATs?

An MAT model allows for:

  • improving quality of teaching and learning
  • sharing of best practice
  • economic benefits of sharing services
  • flexible staffing resources and retention
  • headteacher autonomy in day-to-day running of school

What are the disadvantages of MATs?

There is a danger that the larger the MAT becomes the harder it is to ensure a consistent approach across every academy school. This leads to the risk that if one academy fails, such as through a poor Ofsted grading placing it in special measures, the reputations of every academy and the MAT itself will be adversely affected.

How many of England's schools are run as part of an MAT?

The government’s white paper, Educational Excellence Everywhere, published in 2016, set out a target for full academisation of England’s schools. This ambition has since been scaled down, but it remains the case that the overall number of academies will increase, leading to the establishment of more MATs in the near future. Currently, around 20% of state-funded schools are academies, and at least half of them are run by a MAT.

How many schools can be run by a MAT?

The number varies, but the vast majority of MATs are accountable to between three and five academy schools. The largest MATs, representing around 5% of the total, are responsible for twenty or more schools. It may be that, in time, there are fewer smaller MATs and a greater number of larger ones.

How do academies become part of an MAT?

A school may convert to an academy and then seek to join an existing academy chain, where it is run by that MAT’s board of trustees. Alternatively, a group of schools may decide collectively to unite and set up between them a new MAT, collaborating on the remit and governance. This should be the end process of a decision that requires the backing of the entire senior leadership team (SLT) and governing body. The pay and conditions of current employees will be protected if a school converts to an academy, though academy trusts can set their own employment terms for incoming members of staff post-conversion.

Is there a change to the way an academy is funded under a MAT?

No. Academies are directly funded by central government, so joining an MAT from an Academy Trust makes no difference to how funds are calculated or allocated.

Reviewed: January 2018

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