'Power struggle' between academy CEOs and heads thwarts chain growth

Academy funding should be given directly to academy chains if MATs are to grow, think tank says

Richard Vaughan

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A “power struggle” between academy chain leaders and their headteachers is thwarting the government’s policy to push more schools to join multi-academy trusts, new research suggests.

The study calls for school funding to be handed directly to MATs rather than individual academies, in a bid to give chains more control.

According to the report, published by the thinktank Reform, just 20 per cent of academy chains have full control of all of their academies’ finances, which is resulting in a “power struggle” between MAT chief executives and their heads.

The report’s authors say the academies programme is in need of “rejuvenation” and that a change in the way funding is allocated should be part of that. 

Giving money directly to trusts, the report states, would mean the CEO and the chain would “more formally be regarded as the employer of all staff in the school, as it already legally is”.

“It would send a clear signal that the chain is responsible for academy financing, and holds ultimate responsibility and accountability for the performance of each individual academy,” the document adds.

“The benefit would be a more efficient allocation of resources across academies within chains, as those chief executives currently inhibited from using financial powers would have explicit and unequivocal authority from government.”

The recommendation is one of several that came from a wide-ranging survey of 66 academy trusts, conducted by Reform.   

The report also finds:

  • Many academy chains are unwilling to take on “struggling schools” due to concerns about schools with poor finances, with small pupil rolls and those in remote areas. This is despite MATs wanting to expand;
  • More than a third of chains have declined requests to take on more schools;
  • Most chains report being too small to achieve financial efficiencies;
  • The right to approve academies should be taken away from the Department of Education and given to an independent body;
  • The government should allow maintained schools and academies to pay local governors;
  • The DfE should create an online sponsor forum to enable academy chains to swap their schools.

The survey found that most chain leaders believe a MAT needs at least 10 schools if it is to achieve financial efficiencies, but the vast majority run between just two and five.  

However, the report notes that the expansion of academy chains is being restricted because of an unwillingness among trust leaders to take on “struggling schools”.

The authors call for the creation of a “struggling school premium”, an additional pot of funding on top of per-pupil funding that will incentivise chains to take on such schools.

Amy Finch, head of education at Reform and co-author of the report, said: “The current system for funding academy chain growth is a mess. The government could do better by pooling the many funding streams it runs into one struggling school premium which, on top of per-pupil funding, would encourage the best chains to take on schools in difficulties.” 

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Richard Vaughan

Richard has been writing about politics, policy and technology in education for nearly five years after joining TES in 2008. He joined TES from the building press having been a reporter and then later news editor at the Architects’ Journal. Before then he studied at Cardiff University’s school of journalism. Richard can be found tweeting at @richardvaughan1

Find me on Twitter @RichardVaughan1

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