Published on 28 March 2022, the Schools White Paper, “Opportunity for all: strong schools with great teachers for your child,” sets out the government’s vision for a stronger and fairer school system. To support its implementation the DfE have published on 25 May “Implementing school system reform in 2022 to 2023 – Next steps following the Schools White Paper” which provides a framework for how schools and academies should consider moving forward.
To achieve their ambition for education, the government wants a fully trust led system by 2030, where all schools should be, or working towards being, in a Multi-Academy Trust (MAT).
This means that there will be no maintained local authority schools, and all schools will be part of a MAT, or in the process of joining one.
The school system has changed significantly since the introduction of the Academies Act 2010. By January 2022, 38.6% of primary schools and 79.8% of secondary schools were academies. This equates to 45.5% of all schools being academies so there is still a long way to go to create a fully MAT led system.
The government’s “Case for a fully trust-led system” document says that strong MATs can transform previously underperforming schools with more than 7 out of 10 sponsored academies now rated ‘Good’ or ‘Outstanding.’ The government states that due to a lack of coordination, there are many schools, trusts and local authorities with unclear roles and responsibilities and so by strengthening the school system, it hopes to raise standards for all children, ensuring improvements are felt fairly across England.
The White Paper indicates that trusts develop central capacity when they have more than 10 schools. Therefore, as the White Paper explains, the government expects that most trusts will be on a trajectory to either serve a minimum of 7,500 pupils, or run at least 10 schools. They argue that this size creates economies of scale and the potential for collaboration between families of schools working together, to share good practice, provide more opportunities to staff, and support their schools to improve.
What this means for maintained schools
All maintained schools will be expected to convert to a MAT by 2030, or have plans to join one. Local Authorities will be given the power to establish new MATs in areas where too few strong trusts exist and schools may be encouraged to join. These trusts will be regulated in the same way as any other trusts, including limits to local authority involvement on the trust board.
Some local authorities are considering setting up their own MATs with a view to move their current maintained schools into a locally created MAT. Nadim Zahawi, Secretary of State for Education said he was “open-minded” when asked whether councils in areas with high-performing trusts would be prevented from setting up their own MAT.
He said the policy on council MATs was the result of “learning from the past”, and in particular, the failed bid in 2016 to force all schools to become Academies.
I’m open-minded when it comes to how that ultimately will operate on the ground. I just don’t believe that it’s fair to exclude a high-performing local authority that is delivering great outcomes for students from this journey.
Whilst there will be no widespread forced Academisation, there is a consultation on moving schools that have received two consecutive below ‘Good’ judgements from Ofsted into MATs. 55 Education Investment Areas (EIA) have been identified as those with the poorest outcomes, and schools that have received two consecutive below ‘Good’ judgements from Ofsted in these areas will be the first to move into strong trusts, before the measure is extended to the rest of the country.
The government assures that selective schools will be secure in MATs. Similarly, Church and faith schools will be able to retain their statutory freedoms and protections, which will also apply to academies with a religious character. It is clear that the DfE will not approve any new Single Academy Trusts (SATs), so the option for a maintained school to convert to an Academy is now off the table.
As a maintained school, governors will be looking at some point to:
- Join an established MAT
- Create a MAT with other schools
- Join a MAT formed by the Local Authority
The choice is the school’s, however, doing nothing is not really an option the Governors should consider.
What this means for Academies
The School White Paper sets out, for the first time, the principles of strong trusts:
- High quality and inclusive education
- Transformative school improvement to quickly improve standards
- Effective and robust strategic governance
- Strong financial management
- Trains, recruits, develops and deploys their workforce effectively
Single-Academy Trusts and smaller MATs should prepare to expand to a minimum of 10 schools or merge with other trusts. There may also be exceptional circumstances in which a good school can request to be moved into a stronger trust.
To curb monopolisation, the government will limit the proportion of schools within a local area that can be run by an individual trust. However, there is no maximum trust size.
The government recognises that the current regulatory system for Academy Trusts, originally designed for just a small group of schools, now requires improvement. To increase clarity in the short-term, the government will bring together new and existing requirements on Academy Trusts to create statutory academy standards.
In the long term, the government will develop a regulatory approach that is fit for a fully trust-led system. This will include holding trusts to account through inspection and clarifying expectations for both parents and staff.
Trusts may seek support from the new Regions Group, which is set to be established by September 2022. This will be led by nine Regional Directors aligning with the nine regions used across the rest of Government. The group will work with local partners to expand the reach of the strongest trusts and drive improvement, supporting effective collaborations to ensure the best outcomes for communities.
If you are a Single-Academy Trust (SAT), then the white paper has created additional questions. Many SATs are judged outstanding and are well performing trusts, but the white paper has said that there is no place for these SAT’s in the trust system that the DfE wants. Many SATs are now in the process of deciding where their future lies.
What should you do next?
Maintained schools and SATs
The DfE has asked leaders, governors or trustees of maintained schools and SATs to think about joining an existing trust, expanding your trust or establishing a new one, if needed in your area.
Consider which of the trusts already operating in your area may be a suitable match. Alternatively, if you think there is a need for a new trust in your area, involving your school and others, you should engage with your regional office in the DfE to discuss this.
For school leaders and governors or trustees in EIAs, this will be through engaging in our new approach to area based commissioning. For most school leaders and governors outside EIAs, this will mean preparing for area based commissioning being developed in your area.
When looking at joining a trust, school leaders and governors or trustees should consider the impact of the trust on school improvement – for instance on standards, academic results and inspection outcomes. Equally, you should consider the trust’s impact on inclusion as well as on how the trust works with its local community.
If you are a leader or trustee of a strong trust, the DfE would like you to consider where you could grow your trust – either locally or beyond. You should do so, first in consultation with your regional team, and then in discussion with the relevant Local Authority about the possibility of welcoming maintained schools into your trust.
If you lead a strong trust, have consistent evidence of improvement and there is space for growth locally, it may be appropriate to develop a growth strategy. Alternatively, you may wish to consider merging with other trusts so that your schools can benefit from greater economies of scale.
If your trust is not yet able to evidence consistent and sustained school improvement, it might be more appropriate to have a period of consolidation and focus on current practice, improving the schools currently in the trust rather than looking to expand.
How we can help
One Education can support you through this fundamental change in the education landscape:
- We have experience supporting maintained schools to plan for Academisation and identify the options available and frame your considerations on how to move forward
- We have experience working with Single and Multi-Academy trusts to plan for growth and amalgamation with other trusts
- We have extensive experience and an exemplary track record in supporting Academy conversion, and successfully supporting the growth of Multi-Academy Trusts
FREE NO OBLIGATION CONSULTATION
One Education offers a free no obligation scoping meeting to provide you with all the information you will need in order to plan your next steps.
This meeting can be arranged with your school Governors or senior members of staff.
We will provide you with the key steps and milestones involved in converting to Academy status and joining or setting up a Multi-Academy Trust.
For further information contact us.