Some schools plan to continue with academy conversion during the COVID-19 crisis. This is despite the current lockdown meaning schools are closed to most pupils.
A 2018 report by researchers at the University College London (UCL) Institute of Education found there was no positive impact on the attainment and progress scores of pupils in MATs when compared to equivalent non-MAT schools. Pupils in larger MATs (those with 16-plus schools) did worse, particularly in secondary schools.
An Education Policy Institute (EPI) report published in 2018 compared school performance and pupil improvement at every trust and local authority (LA) in England at both key stages 2 and 4. It revealed that academy chains are “disproportionately represented” among the worst performing groups of primary schools, with 12 making it into the bottom 20.
A separate EPI report from 2017 found that “academies do not provide an automatic solution to school improvement” and that “there is significant variation in performance at both different types of academies and multi-academy trusts”. It concluded that “there is no real change to the primary school test scores of incoming pupils once the schools become converter academies”.
Schools that remain within the LA are more likely to retain a Good or Outstanding rating from Ofsted than those that become academies.
A report commissioned by the Local Government Association found that 90 per cent of schools that stayed with their council (9,400) kept their Good or Outstanding grades, compared with 81 per cent (2,275) that became academies. It also found good schools that converted to academies were more likely to lose their strong Ofsted grade.
Prior to the 2016 legislation forcing Inadequate-rated maintained schools to convert to academy status, a larger proportion of schools that remained with their LA (more than 75 per cent) improved to Good or Outstanding compared with sponsor-led academies (59 per cent).
Research by the Sutton Trust has found that two thirds of academy chains perform below average for disadvantaged pupils. It also concluded that too many chain sponsors, despite several years in charge of their schools, continued to struggle to improve the outcomes of their most disadvantaged students.
Two thirds of head teachers believe that inequalities between schools are becoming wider as a result of current government policy, including the academy programme.
A school cannot decide to leave a MAT voluntarily, either to re-join the LA or join another MAT. But if the MAT trust collapses, walks away or is forced to give up the school by the Government, it will be transferred to a new trust, and parents and staff will have no say on which MAT this is.
The proportion of academies that are forced to move trust every year is increasing: from 0.5 per cent of all open academies in 2013/14, to 3.6 per cent in 2018/19, when a total of 307 academies changed trusts.
Joining a small MAT now does not mean your school won’t end up as part of a larger MAT: the trend is towards consolidation into bigger MATs – at least 190 trusts were given approval to merge in the 18 months from 31 August 2017.
A House of Commons Public Accounts Committee report, Academy accounts and performance, January 2019, states: “Parents and local people have to fight to obtain even basic information about their children’s schools, and academy trusts do not do enough to communicate and explain decisions that affect the schools they are responsible for and how they are spending public money.”
When a school joins a MAT it ceases to exist as a legal entity – the MAT board now decides which powers, if any, it delegates to local governing bodies.
There is no requirement for MATs to include parent representatives on the ‘local’ governing bodies of each academy, in fact some MATs have even abolished local bodies altogether.
A 2019 study published in the British Journal of Sociology Education confirmed that academies are more likely than other schools to employ teachers who are unqualified and that the percentage of teachers without qualified teacher status (QTS) in academies is rising compared with LA schools.
It also found that academies are exacerbating the tendency for schools with pupils from poorer backgrounds to hire more teachers without QTS.
Academies lose automatic support from the LA. Special educational needs, school improvement, and speech and language therapy services could all be lost, with no guarantee a MAT could offer the same support.
LAs can secure economies of scale where services are supported by many local schools. Without these economies of scale, academies may well be worse off as they need to purchase services that were previously supplied by LAs – and this can cost schools more.
Academies are also outside the scope of financial help that LAs can provide, such as help to get through temporary funding shortfalls. Academies must bear redundancy costs themselves, whereas LAs can share the burden of these costs among schools.
Despite the funding crisis in schools, there is a growing layer of MAT leaders and chief executives being paid six figure salaries.The number of academy trusts paying at least one person a salary of £150,000 rose from 121 in 2015/16 to 146 in 2017/18. Trusts with staff paid between £100,000 and £150,000 also rose, up from 941 in 2015/16 (30.1 per cent) to 988 in 2017/18 (32.4 per cent).
Meanwhile teachers in academies earn up to five per cent less than their counterparts in LA maintained schools.
A MAT may promise that pay and conditions will not change, but there is no legal barrier to that happening following academy conversion. New staff joining an academy will not get the same terms and conditions as those who transferred when the school converted.
Staff who move to academies can lose their built-up entitlement to maternity pay. Staff who later return to LA employment will have lost many rights.