Will missing the sweet spot leave a sour taste?

PAG StaffSchools

MATs set to stay at the top of the Agenda for 2018


The current optimum size for a multi academy trust described by, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for the Schools System, Lord Agnew as the ‘sweet spot’[1] is between 12-20 schools. There are over 2,700 trusts with 10 or fewer schools and 593 ‘empty MATs’, trusts which have formed a MAT but currently have only one school.

Over half of respondents (51.9%) to the 2018 Kreston UK Academies Benchmark Report stated they had plans to extend by at least one school over the next 12 months. This figure shows that there is still an appetite amongst MATs for growth. However, this is at a time of increasing financial pressure on trusts with the number of those with in-year deficits increasing from 42% to 55% in the past year.

This coupled with pressure on the DfE to place a remaining 42/155 academies, which received a directive academy order last year, highlights the need for MATs to expand from the perspective of the DfE, to take on failing academies.

Expansion needs to coincide with a due diligence process. A trust seeking to expand should be confident that it has the financial capacity to take on additional schools. The finances of potential joiner schools need to be scrutinised to ensure that the trust has an estimation of any required investment. This should be a two-way process with the joiner school also conducting due diligence on any trust it is seeking to join. In the cases of academies that have been ‘ordered’ to join a MAT this will not be a choice.

Trusts seeking to expand need to have a clear understanding of their priorities and their capacity. There is potentially a higher risk for smaller trusts seeking to take on more schools than larger trusts but there are certain actions that can minimise this risk. Firstly, the area in which the organisation wishes to operate should be identified, as well as what phase of education the trust’s schools should be. This can then be used to produce a list of ‘prospects’ from which the trust can initiate dialogue and conduct due diligence as necessary.

[1] Schools Week: New academies minister: MAT sweet spot is 12 to 20 schools, November 2017