Strong multi-academy academy trusts (MATs) share common characteristics, says Chief HMI Sir Michael Wilshaw in his latest monthly commentary which reviewed seven MATs.
Sir Michael listed eight qualities. One of these is specific to MATs: a cautious approach to taking on more academies. One refers to a clear framework of governance within a MAT. Governance of MATs is different from governance in non-academies or stand-alone academies so no comparison can be made.
Five qualities are not exclusive to MATs: they are present in all good or better schools and were identified by Ofsted in 2012:
1 Strong leadership
2 A challenging curriculum
3 A commitment to high-quality education and high quality teaching
4 Professional development
5 Formative assessment which identifies problems
Sir Michael’s commentary praises ‘high priority’ given by the MATs to ‘initial teacher training’ (ITT). This was not in Ofsted’s 2012 list – ITT has changed since 2012. But ITT isn’t confined to MATs. High-quality ITT is also found in SCITT partnerships and universities.
Later in his report, Sir Michael said another ‘notable feature’ of the seven MATs was their transitional arrangements. This also appeared in Ofsted’s 2012 list.
Another common trait among the seven MATs was the willingness to collaborate. Again, this is not confined to MATs: local authority school improvement is available to all area schools including struggling academies and free schools if required.
Collaboration between schools is not new. The London Challenge brokered support between schools and was crucial for its success. Even earlier, the Technical and Vocational Educational Initiative, which ran from the 80s to the late 90s, had small clusters of schools working together to improve generic work-related education under the umbrella of area consortiums and the Careers Service.
It’s pleasing to note that when MATs are successful they show the same characteristics as successful non-academies. It would perhaps be more cost-effective to encourage these characteristics in all schools instead of spending money on academy conversion, academy transfers and, potentially, extending the divisive policy of selection.
A disturbing aspect of Sir Michael’s report was his praise of two MATs which replaced local governing bodies with regional boards overseeing clusters of academies. Academy conversion was sold as giving autonomy to schools. But academies in chains which abolish local governance have little freedom - individual academies become mere branches of a chain.
Sir Michael said the seven academy chains ‘resisted the temptation to expand too quickly and spread themselves too thinly’. It’s odd, then, that rapidly-expanding REAch2 is mentioned. By the end of 2012, REAch2 was connected to nine academies. Now it has 55 spread between the South East, East Anglia and the Midlands. Just 20 of these have been inspected: three are Outstanding (but one refers to a predecessor school), ten are Good, six Require Improvement and one is Inadequate. Monitoring of the latter (March 2016) said REAch2 had given support but hadn’t met its own deadline for meeting Governors. This doesn’t bode well for a MAT which has just been given permission to take on 22 new free schools