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Analysis of the DfE Implementation Plan

PAG Staff2022, Policy

Analysis of the DfE Implementation Plan


Following the release of the white and green papers, the DfE has released their implementation plan, outlining the next steps towards the ambitions set out by each of those papers. To recap, one of the main headlines from the white paper was that the government is aiming for all schools to be part of a strong multi-academy trust, or in the process of joining one, by 2030. They also outlined aims to improve outcomes in English and Maths, increase attendance, and develop SEND provision across the country.

The implementation plan builds on these ambitions set out by the white paper and green paper establishing two clear priorities for the first phase of implementation: the 55 Education Investment Areas (EIAs) and pilot projects for LA-established MATs.

Education Investment Areas

The Education Investment Areas were first set out in the Levelling Up white paper, released in February 2022. 55 EIAs were identified based on local authorities with low attainment at KS2 and KS4, existing Opportunity Areas, or other areas in need of additional education support. In addition to this, 24 Priority Investment Areas were also identified.

These areas have already been the focus of additional funding through the current round of Trust Capacity Funding, which placed priority on applications from trusts looking to take on schools in these areas. Whilst the current round closes on the 30th of June, the implementation plan sets out plans to announce a new fund in the summer of 2022, which will likely continue to focus on these areas. The implementation plan also looks to build on this by offering a local needs funding pot of £40 million to Priority Investment Areas, providing a Levelling Up Premium for eligible teachers in priority subjects, and working with local partners to agree upon area wide priorities for support both financially and more generally.

The implementation plan develops on this further, putting forward a strategy for developing an area-based approach to commissioning that focuses on strategic trust growth. As part of this, the DfE has announced plans to release a prospectus for each EIA in Autumn 2022 based on a series of initial strategic planning meeting due to take place over the summer. Each prospectus will set out regional priorities and scope for trust growth in the area. Following this, existing trusts and school groups will be invited to make proposals based on the priorities outlined.

Additionally, the 55 EIAs will be the focus of new measures surrounding Ofsted judgements that fall below good and initial deployment of new intervention powers, with the DfE looking to roll out a number of these strategies nationwide in the academic year 2023/24. This suggests that many of the approaches being taken with the EIAs are akin to a pilot scheme for strategies to be used more widely in the coming years.

LA Established MATs

One of the most contentious proposals from the white paper was that local authorities may now be able to establish their own multi-academy trusts, raising numerous questions about what this could look like.

Over the next academic year, the DfE is proposing to take a ‘test and learn approach’, working with a small number of local authorities where there are low numbers of ‘strong academy trusts’ (this will not be limited to EIAs but may overlap). The implementation plan reiterates characteristics considered to make up a strong trust, as established in the white paper;

“High quality and inclusive education; transformative school improvement to quickly improve standards; effective and robust strategic governance; strong financial management; and trains, recruits, develops and deploys their workforce effectively.”

The expectation that trusts aim for at least 10 schools or 7,500 pupils is also reiterated, though it is stated that Regional Directors will carefully manage the growth of new trusts within a local context. It may be that establishing an LA MAT in an area with several small but strong trusts may in fact undermine local trust growth in the long term.

Ahead of these LA MATs being piloted, the implementation plan gives a clearer insight into what these trusts may look like. Unlike regular MATs there is no limitation on how many LA Associated Persons (LAAPs) may be Members of the trust, as long as at least one Member is independent of any association with the LA. The restrictions at board level, however, will still apply with a cap of 19.9% of trustees being LAAPs. The implementation plan also acknowledges that safeguards should be in place to prevent any conflicts of interest, presumably around projects such as LA presumption competitions, however, does not go into more detail on these safeguards.

Beyond that, it appears that LA MATs will be expected to operate and grow in line with any other MAT, with a continuing focus on trust strength and capacity.

The move to a fully trust led system by 2030 is one of the key principles set out in the white paper however it remains to be seen how significant the role of LA MATs will be in this. The implementation plan sets out the intention to invite LAs to put forward an expression of interest over the next academic year where they have the ‘in-principle agreement’ of local schools to proceed towards a fully trust led system.

The New Regions Group

As has been expected for some time, 2022 will also see a reshuffling of the RSC regions. The implementation plan confirms that this will take place in September, moving from the current eight regions to nine regions in line with the regions used by the rest of Government.

Each region will be headed up by a Regional Director, each supported by an Advisory Board of up to eight members. For most this will likely not be much of a significant shift in terms of the role that the Advisory Boards will continue to play however, in the EIAs and PEIAs there may be more radical changes coming. The implementation plan goes on to outline the role that the new Regions Group will have within the DfE, including its regulatory role and its role in delivering the intentions set out by the white paper.

There are some powers here that will be dependent on the schools bill, which is currently with the House of Lords, and therefore it may be that the Regions Group will be given stronger powers to intervene when trusts are not meeting the expected standards however this remains subject to change.

This first phase of implementation will take place over the academic year 2022/23, alongside the continuation of existing processes for MAT growth, including proposals for conversion and mergers, alongside further anticipated rounds of Trust Capacity Funding.

The implementation plan does go on to provide specific guidance for MATs, LAs and other relevant groups with regards to the roles they can play in facilitating the aims of the white paper, with a specific focus on continued trust growth and the ultimate goal of being part of a fully trust led system. To find out more about this, you can read the full DfE implementation planhere. 

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