What is a Multi-Academy Trust?
A MAT is one academy trust which governs a group of schools through a single set of members and directors. Each school will continue to have an advisory body which the MAT can choose to constitute as a local governing body to which it certain functions can be delegated. The MAT will ultimately be accountable and responsible for the performance of schools in the chain.
Funding to the schools within the MAT continues to be allocated on an individual academy basis. Funding is governed through a master funding agreement between the Secretary of State and the MAT and a supplemental agreement between the Secretary of State and each school within the MAT. Having a single trust governing all schools results in there only being one employer for all staff which allows the moving of resources through schools in the chain. Some MATs operate so that, to the extent that this is permitted through the funding agreement, some of the individual school’s budget is combined and used to fund shared services such as contracts. This helps the chain to achieve economies of scale and can be particularly beneficial for primary schools.
Why would a school want to convert as part of a multi-academy trust?
A MAT, as a single legal entity, allows schools to achieve strong collaboration and to use this collaboration and accountability to drive up school standards. Where there are underperforming schools in the chain, representation on the trust can ensure there is sufficient challenge and support to turn those schools around. The MAT can also agree to delegate as much or as little power down to the advisory bodies or local governing bodies of the schools involved, which again allows each MAT to define where power should sit according to the circumstances of the schools involved.
Having the MAT as employer of staff also allows flexibility around sharing resources to meet the needs of the individual schools involved. It can help build better staff development across the chain by providing scope for academies to develop their staff with exchange schemes and provide more job opportunities and shared professional development. The MAT can also provide a clear, consistent strategy and vision across a group of schools working together. MATs can often negotiate contracts and services that achieve much better value for money than if each school was to negotiate individually.
Academies need to produce accounts that comply with the Companies Act. How are these different from current DfE returns through their local authority, and can you say a bit more about them?
The accounts are completely different from schools’ consistent financial reporting (CFR) returns and need to follow charities and company law requirements. The accounts are normally for an accounting period ending at 31 August. They can be completed by the school bursar but the school may need to buy in expertise if there is insufficient experience of doing such accounts.
The software requirements really depend on the volume of transactions, and professional advice should be sought. Academies’ accounts have to be audited by an external auditor appointed and paid for by the academy; this audit takes place in the autumn term each year.
What kind of financial records would we expect academies to have?
Academies have to keep full financial records that comply with companies and charity law. The academies’ Financial Handbook, which the Education Funding Agency (EFA) is currently reviewing, and which has references to the type of records existing academies are required to keep. We expect a similar level of financial accountability for all academies, including those that have converted from maintained schools.
Can the school alter teachers' pay and conditions?
When a school converts from a local authority (LA) maintained school to a new academy, staff are entitled to transfer under the same employment terms and conditions. Once open, the academy trust may consult with staff and their union representatives on changes to these terms and conditions, for example to enable the academy to operate over different term times or change the length of the school day.
Will academies be free from the Ofsted inspection regime?
The Secretary of State has announced that schools previously judged outstanding will no longer be subject to routine school inspection. However, that does not necessarily mean that they will never be inspected. The performance of all schools will continue to be monitored and if there are signs of deterioration or other factors are a cause for concern, these could trigger an inspection. Further details will be available in due course.
Other than outstanding schools which convert to academies, we expect that other academies will continue to be inspected in the normal way, except where they have already undergone a full inspection and have been judged outstanding.
What does the Synaptic Trust aspire to do?
We are a learning community which creates chances for dreamers, idea makers and innovators to connect, thrive and outperform. We empower our children to use their skills as divergent thinkers, responsible role models and leaders to carve out their own futures, and become extraordinary citizens. We are passionate that all schools in our family are free to follow their own destinies based on the needs and aspirations of their investors.
Our uniqueness and different strengths ensures that our communities grow and prosper and that we have opportunities to support and learn from each other as we create futures for all.
Does the Synaptic Trust work with other schools?
Yes it does. The support has included a range of strategies and models in order to secure improvement.