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What Are The Most Effective Strategies and Systems to Underpin MAT Growth?

Following the recently released report, The 2030 MAT Growth Challenge: Effective Strategies and Systems, Will Jordan, whose organisation commissioned the report, shares his thoughts on effective approaches to MAT growth.

There is a real challenge facing Multi-Academy Trusts (MATs) in understanding where to go with growth targets set in the Schools White Paper.

Around 12 months ago, the government’s Opportunity for All policy paper proposed reforms to the education system focused on providing an excellent teacher for every child, delivering high standards of curriculum, behaviour and attendance, targeted support for every child that needs it, and a stronger and fairer school system.

The case for a fully trust-led system was made and, as part of this, a requirement was set for all schools to be part of a MAT and for trusts to grow to at least 10 schools or 7,500 pupils by 2030. In terms of the sector’s ability to meet the seven-year timeframe, and also with reports that the ‘deadline’ has been relaxed if not dropped altogether, this desired outcome of the White Paper is currently shrouded in uncertainty.

At the time of writing, however, this is still the broad political direction of travel. So, having convened a range of perspectives from MAT leaders on the growth challenges facing trusts and document how their approaches are working in practice, a new report may help to inform and support discussion around a trust-led system.

The 2030 MAT Growth Challenge: Effective Strategies and Systems, which was published in February 2023, includes the perspectives of those who have already hit the ‘magic’ number of schools/number of pupils set out in the White Paper and smaller MATs who are starting their growth journey. It demonstrates practical strategies for growth, lessons learned on the way, and key advice to schools on assessing their options on which MAT they should join.

As well as reflecting on the findings of the MAT Growth Survey, undertaken last year in 2022, through in-depth interviews MAT leaders were also asked about the government’s definition of a “strong trust” around high quality and inclusive education, school improvement, strategic governance, financial management, and workforce.

‘Financial management’, our area of expertise at IMP Software, subsequently highlighted discussions on centralising functions, GAG pooling and top slice mechanisms as a way of supporting effective and efficient operations in trusts.

Both in the short, medium and long-term, trusts are under more pressure than ever before to adopt smarter MAT finance, and consider the impact of their chosen operating model on their attractiveness to other schools as they seek to grow.

Our position is not to argue for or against centralising functions or pooling in terms of ‘this is the thing everybody should do’. We are not here to point out the right way of doing things. In fact, there is no right answer, and there is no one-size-fits-all approach. What we are here to do is share a combination of insight and experiences from those who are in the thick of it.

What is not in doubt is that centralising and GAG pooling is a trend. Our MAT Growth Survey found that 94% of MATs feel that centralising more of their operations and/or funding could make them more effective. And among those trusts that already GAG pool, 71% say their approach to pooling or centralisation has been either a positive or neutral factor for schools looking to join them. However, as highlighted by the follow-on interviews, there are some very opposing views on these and other issues. The common factor is degrees of ambition to centralise always lie with a trust’s organisational strategy.

Importantly, this report presents a valuable resource for MATs on what they could do and how they could do it – or not do it – in line with knowledge of their own strategic plan, vision and values. But in terms of the White Paper objectives, the baton has now been firmly passed on to trusts. The general direction is set out, only “strong trusts” will dominate, and therefore the sector must now get better at what it does and in explaining the benefits they bring as a MAT.

Will Jordan is Co-Founder of MAT budgeting, forecasting and reporting software provider IMP Software, which commissioned The 2030 MAT Growth Challenge: Effective Strategies and Systems.

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