Minister tells small MATs: 'Team up to grow'

31st October 2017 at 18:11
Schools minister tells academy leaders the 'sweet spot' for MATs is between 12 and 20 schools

Small academy trusts should "seriously think" about teaming up to create larger multi-academy trusts, the minister for the schools system has said. 

Lord Agnew, the former chair of the Inspiration Trust MAT, told academy leaders that expanding would bring "collective firepower", and suggested they should aim for a "sweet spot" of between 12 and 20 schools.

Addressing the North Academies Conference today in one of his first speaking engagement since being appointed a Department for Education minister last month, Lord Agnew said: "In your region, there are 66 MATs of two or fewer schools and 86 standalone academy trusts.

"I want to encourage any of you here today to think seriously about teaming up to create bigger MATs. I speak as someone who has gone from one school to 14 and I can say, without hesitation, that the collective firepower of a bigger group makes a huge difference."

He continued: "I believe the sweet spot is perhaps somewhere between 12 and 20 schools, or something like 5,000 to 10,000 pupils.

"I know this means a certain loss of autonomy but I am certain it is the way to strengthen educational provision.

"Using my own experience again, by doing this [Inspiration Trust] have created a full-time director of music, six specialist subject leads who we have used to develop our own curriculum, and we have extended the school by three hours per week. I don’t believe these things would have been possible as a small trust."

Lord Agnew also urged academy leaders to "consider putting good local MAT CEOs or chairs onto your own boards".

"This is something I did with my trust. I managed to persuade Cathie Paine, deputy CEO of Reach2, and David Earnshaw, chair of Outwood Grange, to join us."

"They gave us a really hard time, which was just what we needed," he added.

Lord Agnew's comments follow a recent Tes investigation, which raised concerns about the government's approach to regulating academy trust growth.

His recommendation that smaller trusts should look to grow appears to conflict with the findings of an academic study revealed by Tes last year, which found that small MATs of two to three schools, rather than large chains, have a positive impact on pupil outcomes.

According to the DfE's annual report and accounts for the academy sector, published last week, the number of schools in a trust with only one academy was 2,137 in 2015-16, and the average number of academies in a MAT was five.

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