Investigation: The ‘big question’ looming over DfE MATs target

Exclusive: Single-academy trusts are more than twice as likely to be rated ‘outstanding’ by Ofsted than schools in multi-academy trusts, Tes analysis shows
23rd September 2022, 5:00am

Share

Investigation: The ‘big question’ looming over DfE MATs target

https://www.tes.com/magazine/news/general/investigation-big-question-looming-over-dfe-mats-target
Investigation: The ‘big question’ looming over DfE MATs target

Ministers face fresh questions over how to ensure all schools become part of a multi-academy trust (MAT), as findings show most standalone schools are performing too well for the government to intervene. 

The government has said that it wants all schools to be in, or moving towards being in, a MAT by 2030, and has also said it wants trusts to have more than 10 schools.

But not all school leaders want to join a MAT, and now a Tes analysis shows relatively few single-academy trusts (SATs) will be able to be forcibly moved into one based on their Ofsted rating.

The findings form part of an investigation into how different types of schools fare in Ofsted inspections.

The exclusive analysis shows standalone academy trusts are more than twice as likely to be rated “outstanding” than schools in MATs.

And the majority of these standalone schools are above the threshold for government intervention based on their inspection ratings. 

While MATs are likely to have challenging schools that they have taken on, with the aim of supporting them to improve, the figures point to a major problem for the government’s vision for a MAT-led system.

How the government can intervene

The government can intervene to rebroker underperforming academies and move them into a new trust if they are rated as “inadequate” by Ofsted.

The Department for Education is also creating new powers to allow it to intervene if schools receive two consecutive judgements of less than “good” from the inspectorate.

However, Tes’ analysis of graded Ofsted inspection judgements, from September 2021 to June 2022, shows relatively few SATs fall into these categories.

And not all leaders are persuaded of the benefits of joining a MAT.

‘Why would we want to join a MAT?’

Evelyn Forde, headteacher of Copthall School, which is in an SAT in North London, said she has no plans to join a MAT.

Ms Forde, who is also the new president of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), said: “The data you highlight from Ofsted is interesting and I think the question for a lot of SATs that are happy with their approach is, why would we want to join a MAT?”

She continued: “As it stands, I cannot see any benefit for my school in joining a trust. What are the benefits for our community?”

Tes’ analysis of Ofsted inspection data has been broken down by FFT Education Datalab to show how schools in different sizes of academy trusts have been rated.

The data looked at SATs, schools in MATs with two to four schools, five to 10, 11 to 20, and more than 20 schools.

Reports from the graded Section 5 inspections from September 2021 to the end of June 2022 show that 13 per cent of SAT schools were judged to be “outstanding”.

This is more than twice as many as schools in MATs of all sizes.

Investigation: The ‘big question’ looming over DfE MATs target


The statistic is perhaps unsurprising given that DfE’s model of school improvement means that when a school is rated as “inadequate”, it will be given an academy order and moved into a MAT.   

However, the figures point to a problem for the government’s MAT target, which is that the majority of SATs are performing too well to be targeted for intervention and moved into trusts.

Overall, 13 per cent of schools in SATs were judged to be “outstanding”, 57 per cent were “good”, 21.4 per cent were judged “requires improvement” and 8.4 per cent were rated as “inadequate”.

The proportion of SAT schools receiving Ofsted’s bottom rating was slightly higher than for schools in MATs.

But this still means more than nine out of 10 SATs were not liable to be moved into trusts as a result of an Ofsted “inadequate” judgement. 

School leaders have said ministers face a major question over how they will move SATs into MATs.

‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’

Responding to today’s findings, Geoff Barton, general secretary of ASCL, said: “Whatever your views on the government’s White Paper reforms, there’s clearly a big question mark over how the government intends to leverage its ambition to have every school in a multi-academy trust by 2030.

“Some SATs will choose to join MATs out of their own volition because they see benefits in doing so for their communities.

“But our impression is that many SATs are waiting to see how things progress before making any decisions - after all, there’ll be two general elections before 2030. And if their performance is strong and they have happy children and families - which most have - then they may well be thinking: ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.’”

Instead of focusing on structural change, the government should focus on the ”looming funding crisis and a severe shortage of teachers”, he added.

Maintained schools more likely to get repeated RI judgement

The analysis also shows that maintained schools are more likely to get repeated “requires improvement” ratings than academies.

Data from graded visits between September 2021 and June 2022 this year show that more than a third of maintained schools rated as “requires improvement” failed to improve to “good” in their latest Section 5 inspection.

This means they will fall into a new government threshold for academy intervention, which is being launched this year.

A smaller proportion - a quarter - of academies rated as “requires improvement” did not improve to “good”.

Government goal for all schools to be in MATs

The government has set the target of all schools being in, or moving towards being in, a MAT by 2030 in a Schools White Paper published in March this year.

And its Schools Bill, which followed, includes plans to create new powers to regulate MATs as part of its plan to move to an entirely trust-led state school system.

However, the legislation faced difficulties last year amid concerns from peers that the government was attempting to establish too much control over the running of schools.

As a result, the DfE announced that it was withdrawing some of the controversial aspects of its plans.

Emma Knights, the chief executive of the National Governance Association, has said that the government has more to do to persuade SAT leaders to move to MATs.

She said: ”Our data shows that while the inclination to explore the option of becoming part of a MAT is increasing among SATs, this is happening slowly.  

“Despite the evidence published by the DfE alongside the White Paper, it’s clear there is still much work to do for the government to convince many SATs, and indeed many schools not yet part of a MAT, that this is the right way forward for the future of their school and pupils.

“While by no means uniform in their views and experiences, in our leadership forum for SATs last term, still the thing that came across the most was: give us more conclusive evidence on the benefits to pupils and how the MAT structure aids this.” 

You’ve reached your limit of free articles this month

Register for free to read more

You can read two more articles on Tes for free this month if you register using the button below.

Alternatively, you can subscribe for just £1 per month for the next three months and get:

  • Unlimited access to all Tes magazine content
  • Exclusive subscriber-only articles 
  • Email newsletters

Already registered? Log in

You’ve reached your limit of free articles this month

Subscribe to read more

You can subscribe for just £1 per month for the next three months and get:

  • Unlimited access to all Tes magazine content
  • Exclusive subscriber-only articles 
  • Email newsletters

This is 0 of 1

Now only £1 a month for 3 months

Subscribe for just £1 per month for the next 3 months to get unlimited access to all Tes magazine content. Or register to get 2 articles free per month.

Already registered? Log in

This is 0 of 1

Now only £1 a month for 3 months

Subscribe for just £1 per month for the next 3 months to get unlimited access to all Tes magazine content.

topics in this article