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Becoming a Multi Academy Trust (MAT)

As of 15th October 2014, there were 4,200 open Academies. The pace of conversion seems to have grown in momentum with the Department for Education’s (Dfe’s) drive to reform our school system continuing apace.

The majority of the early convertors tended to be standalone Academies where the pupil numbers, organisational structure, governance and finances made it sensible for the setting to convert. There were, however, a number of schools with established links and relationships that came together under the umbrella of a multi academy trust (MAT).

It appears that the current state of affairs is that there are still many schools that could be deemed to be appropriate to convert to academy status but have, for a number of reasons decided not to, or rather perhaps to defer the decision. However, the Dfe, in their own words are ‘continuing to encourage primary and secondary schools to become academies’.

In particular where a school, due to its relative lack of pupil numbers, governance or performance, may not have taken active steps to convert, the Dfe are encouraging collaboration and ‘strong academies to work with weaker schools to raise standards’ and ‘matching under-performing schools to the sponsors with the strongest track record in raising standards’.

The scenario we now find is that established well performing academies or multi academy trusts are being ‘encouraged’ to consider sponsoring a potential school convertor. For the school looking to convert and take advantage of the new found freedoms offered by academisation, being part of a multi academy trust along with the sponsorship status and backing might be an attractive proposition. For the established academy, being approved or selected as a potential sponsor could be regarded as commendable recognition of a settings educational performance and operational management.

Whether you are considering being a sponsor academy or becoming or developing a multi academy trust, there are a number of things that need to be considered:

• What are the upsides of being a part of or creating a multi academy trust? Is their synergy to be gained?
• How robust is existing governance? Will there be a need to seek new trustees or governors to fill key roles or to address any skills gaps?
• What shape will the new governance model take?
• What legal advice will you need to take to create or change the current legal entity?
• How will the transitional and structural change impact on the current setting, including teaching staff – roles and responsibilities, in the short and medium term?
• What changes will need to be made to the financial reporting and management systems, include accounting software and banking consideration roles and responsibilities?
• What is the time scale for any proposed changes and who will lead on the work on a day to day basis?
• What will be the true cost of creating a MAT or developing a MAT and what assistance will you receive to meet these costs?
• What is the basis of the decision? Is it truly based on sound ‘business’ and ‘educational’ practice or is it an ego trip or sense of being caught up in the trend or euphoria of being acclaimed worthy of being a sponsor academy or a trail blazing trust?

Whilst most of the answers to these questions lie with the Governors, experience shows that there is a great deal of benefit to be gained, as in the early days of conversions, from seeking the advice and support of specialist education accountants, along with their counterparts in the legal profession. As such partners from within our Academies team are pleased to attend meetings to consider the broader financial and reporting aspects.

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