Schools minister Lord Nash has predicted that in five or six years' time academisation will start to become the only viable approach – but he said that he supports a "mixed economy" of academies and local authority schools for now.
Facing MPs at the education select committee today, he also predicted that massive multi-academy trusts (MATs), running hundreds of schools across large swathes of the country, could possibly be formed in the next couple of decades.
Here’s what we learned from the session:
1. The rise of massive MATs
Asked whether, in the future, MATs could emerge resembling local authorities in their size, Lord Nash said it was possible that “in 20 years' time we could have a MAT with hundreds of schools in it”.
That would be a big step-up for the biggest players currently in the system. At the moment the largest academy chain in the country, Academies Enterprise Trust, has 67 schools under its control.
The minister said that a MAT running hundreds of schools by the 2030s was “unlikely", but “it could be done”.
2. 'Mixed economy' of academies and local authority schools in the short term…
Lord Nash said that following its decision to scrap the Education for All Bill, which would have forced schools to become academies in "underperforming local authorities", the government had “settled in a very good place” on academisation.
He admitted that the government had sent out some “mixed messages” on the issue, but said it would now be pursuing a “consensual approach apart from those schools which are inadequate”.
The minister said we would have a “mixed economy” of academies and local authority maintained schools for the next few years.
3. But the academisation ‘tipping point’ will come in the next five to six years
However, those opposed to academisation should not breathe a sigh of relief.
Lord Nash said that while we would have a mixed system “for a while”, the trend towards a 100 per cent system of academies operated by MATs was “clear” because “more and more schools will see the advantages of working together in these groups”.
Asked to predict a date for this, he said a “tipping point” would be reached in the next “five or six years” when it would become clear that it was no longer possible to run a “dual system”.
4. And MAT chief executives are worth it
Lord Nash defended the high remuneration of some MAT chief executives.
“People should not underestimate what a tough job this is,” he said.
The minister added that education needed to find a way of getting its “top leaders… to paint on a broader canvas”, running more schools.
However, he recognised that the relationship between average and top pay was “important”, and said MAT boards would be written to if pay settlements were inappropriate.