COMMONS

MPs concerned about performance of multi-academy trusts

28 February 2017

Significant concerns about the performance, accountability and expansion of multi-academy trusts (MATs) are raised by the House of Commons Education Committee in its report. The Committee calls on Ministers to allow local authorities with a track record of strong educational performance to set-up their own MATs.

The report finds that there is a high degree of uncertainty around the effectiveness of MATs. It adds that there is not yet the evidence to support large scale expansion.

Department for Education 'Growth check'

The Committee welcomes the development of the Department for Education’s ‘growth check’ to assess whether a MAT should be allowed to take on more schools but urges the Government to place tighter restrictions on the growth of trusts. It also recommends that the Government commission and publish independent, robust research on what the highest performing MATs are doing.

Financial oversight capabilities

The Committee says the DfE has a long way to go to demonstrate that public money given to academies is being used effectively. The report states that it is far from clear that the DfE or Education Funding Agency can cope with the further pressure on their financial oversight capabilities that significant expansion of MATs will create.

Neil Carmichael, Chair of the House of Commons Education Committee, said:

"Since launching this inquiry there have been several changes to academy policy which have caused uncertainty and instability in the sector.  We have significant concerns about the performance, accountability and expansion of multi-academy trusts. While some MATs are producing excellent results and making a valuable contribution to our education system, a considerable number are failing to improve and are consistently at the bottom of league tables.

MATs have emerged from the Government’s plan to increase the number of academies but policy and oversight have been playing catch-up.

Only time will tell if MATs are more successful than local authorities in tackling under-performance and supporting high-performing schools. But if the Government is to pursue the goal of further academisation, it will need to work with local authorities and allow those councils with a track record of strong educational performance to use their expertise within their education department to create MATs."

Ofsted

The report also points to gaps in how MATs are assessed by Ofsted and Regional Schools Commissioners. It adds that Ofsted should be given the power to conduct full inspections of trusts. The Committee further concludes that MATs are not sufficiently accountable to parents and local communities. It finds that there is too much focus on upward accountability and not enough on local engagement.

The Committee finds that small primary schools, often in rural locations, could be left behind as secondary schools become academies and join or form MATs. There is a risk that a scarcity of sponsors in rural areas could lead to the appointment of sponsors without a quality track record and the DfE must prioritise support and funding to trusts which take on struggling schools in such areas.

The Committee is also concerned by the growth of ‘untouchable’ schools and the length of time it is taking for some to be re-brokered.
The report outlines six characteristics which the Committee believes trusts must possess in order to be successful. These include strong regional structures, robust financial controls, enhanced opportunities for career development and tangible accountability at all 10 levels

Further information

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