In 2016 the Guardian ran a story where the process of joining a multi-academy trust (MAT) was likened to a ‘marriage without the possibility of divorce’.
MATs that are well governed do not feel this way, using (lessening financial) resources in a constructive way to strengthen and expand themselves and developing their academies. Unfortunately, some MATs find expansion challenging and the individual academies suffer.
In the current economic climate, the government has taken steps to offer funding to incentivise academy sponsorship and MAT development and improvement through formal initiatives. However, the joining process may still be daunting to any school or trust, regardless of size or experience.
A flexible relationship
Towards the end of last year the national schools inspector, Sir David Carter, hinted at a possible offer where schools could join a MAT (or single trust) as an ‘associate member’. Associate member schools would have a more flexible arrangement with a MAT – they would be able to access shared resources and leadership, but wouldn’t have to relinquish their legal independence.
The arrangement between the school and MAT would be different depending on the context. In some cases, the school would pay into the MAT’s central funds via a “top-slicing arrangement”. In other cases membership may be free, especially if the school can support other schools in the MAT.
Whatever the arrangement, the school has the right to leave the MAT at any point. It was made clear that this policy does not replace the MAT model and would likely only be allowed for short periods of time, with a view to the school formally joining the MAT later.
Avoiding rough patches
Should this initiative materialise it could offer schools a softer option to discover each other and explore a working relationship. As a MAT seeking to minimise risk, it is always prudent to conduct thorough due diligence coupled with good strategic planning. However, implementing a strategic plan within a new environment can lead to challenges and rough patches. Associate membership could be the training wheels to prevent wobbles and ensure steady progress is made.
While this proposal may be speculative, we feel that it could offer great benefits to the education sector. Watch this space.