A leadership development charity, Ambition School Leadership, commissioned the Education Policy Institute to look for links between the characteristics of MATs and their outcomes.
The EPI looked at the size, school phases, school types, pupil characteristics, geographical spread and rate of growth at 402 MATs. This is just more than half the total number of MATs, according to recent figures.
It looked at how well MATs performed in five areas: pupil progress at key stages 2 and 4, improvement in value-added over time, outcomes for disadvantaged pupils, whether schools are rated “inadequate”, and financial sustainability.
The research identified 19 trusts that were high performing in one or more of these areas, including four trusts that demonstrated high-performance across three of the areas.
The four trusts were Outwood Grange, Harris Federation, Ark Schools and the Diocese of Westminster Academy Trust.
A further nine trusts demonstrated high performance in two of the three areas: The Kemnal Academies Trust, the First Federation, Oasis, AET, The Priory Federation of Academies, St Barnabas Catholic Academy Trust, South Nottingham Academy Trust, Aspirations Academies Trust and Inspiration Trust.
The research found that “no one structural feature was consistently linked to sustainable growth”.
And there was no clear relationship between pupil progress at KS2 or KS4 and the geographical isolation of schools.
But the researchers did note that “none of the 19 high-performing trusts have schools with high levels of isolation”, meaning none had schools that were further than an hour from any other school in their trust.
They also found that there was “some evidence that trusts with a mix of phases are more likely to show improvements in performance at KS2 and KS4 than those working in a single phase”. However, the analysis was unable to explain why this might be.
There was “mixed evidence” about the connection between growth and performance. Trusts that had grown more rapidly were more likely to show improvements at KS2, which the researchers said could reflect them taking on schools requiring improvement.
However, their current KS2 performance was mixed, with rapidly growing trusts more likely to be above average on writing progress but below average for reading.
James Toop, chief executive of Ambition School Leadership, said the research showed "there is no unique formula for creating a high performing multi-academy trust.”
The report is the first in a three-phase research programme, with parts two and three due for release next year.
Mr Toop said Ambition School Leadership would next be “testing the hypothesis that the most important thing for creating a sustainable MAT is the coherence between the organisation’s vision, strategy and operating model”.
Commenting on the research, Nick Brook, deputy general secretary of the NAHT headteachers’ union, said: “One size does not fit all for schools and neither will it for MATs.
“The research reaches the inescapable conclusion that leadership matters. Relationships matter. Local understanding matters.”