Pupils on a school staircase

The NEU case against academisation

Myths about academisation and the facts that inform our opposition to the process.

Academisation is driving down staff pay, terms and conditions, alienating communities and has caused the fragmentation of the education system.

Despite this, the Government wants to see every school in England in a multi-academy trust (MAT) or in the process of joining one by 2030.

Myths about academisation:

Joining a MAT improves academic attainment

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”.

Academisation boosts Ofsted grades

The DfE has cited the Ofsted performance of academies to justify its aim of getting all schools into MATs by 2030 - announced in the Schools White Paper in March 2022.

However, NEU analysis of Ofsted ratings, found that schools who join MATs are actually less likely to improve their Ofsted rating and are, in fact, more likely to see a regression in their next Ofsted assessment.

Comparing like with like the NEU analysis found:

  • Maintained (LA) primary schools which were previously outstanding are much more likely to retain that status when re-inspected, compared with any other form of governance.
  • 30% of outstanding LA primary schools maintain that status, whereas only 7% of outstanding MAT primary schools do so.
  • Primary schools that were previously rated as good or better are much more likely to fall to less than good at their next inspection if they are in a MAT or if they join a MAT between inspections. Schools which are re-brokered between inspections fare worst of all.

The Office for Statistics Regulation (OSR) agreed with the NEU’s complaint about the Government’s evidence, accepting that the NEU's report showed that the DfE evidence was misleading:

Academy trusts offer more financial support and security

The Government claims that MATs can achieve better economies of scale compared to local authority schools, enabling them to spend more on pupils or staff. However, the only systematic study of MAT finances actually shows the opposite. It found that academies spend more on back-office costs and less on teacher salaries and educational support than maintained schools.

Local authorities can secure economies of scale where services are supported by many local schools and can provide financial assistance, such as help to get through temporary funding shortfalls. This means that, for example, academies must bear redundancy costs themselves, whereas LAs can share the burden of these costs among schools.

Facts about academisation:

Joining a MAT is irreversible and offers no protection from a future transfer to another MAT

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.

Every year hundreds of academies are forced to move trusts, in a process known as “re-brokering” which involves DfE officials deciding on which MATs schools are transferred to.

Joining a local MAT now does not mean your school won’t end up as part of a national chain or larger MAT. The trend is towards consolidation into bigger MATs and the Government has said that it expects MATs to consist of at least ten schools or 7,500 pupils.

MATs are less accountable to parents and the community

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 House of Commons Public Accounts Committee report, Academy accounts and performance, January 2019, stated: “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 – instead the MAT board has the authority to decide which powers, if any, to delegate to local governing bodies. Furthermore, ultimate power in an academy trusts rests with its members (usually no more than four) who are the equivalent of shareholders in a commercial company. Members have the power to appoint and remove all serving trustees and change the trust’s articles of association.

Pupils in academies are more likely to be taught by an unqualified teacher

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.

Becoming an academy risks losing vital support

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.

Teacher pay is worse in academies, but MAT CEO pay is soaring

DfE data for 2021/22 shows that, on average, classroom teachers in both primary and secondary academies earned more than £1,300 less than their maintained school counterparts.

There is a growing layer of MAT leaders and chief executives being paid six figure salaries. In 2021-22, as teachers and heads faced a pay freeze, the average MAT CEO or headteacher was paid 10 per cent more than the previous year and more than half of the country’s largest MATs increased the salaries of their top earners.

A comparison of MAT and local authority finances for 2021-22 found that the largest MATs are spending eight times more per pupil on salaries of £130,000 and above than are England’s largest local authorities.

Academies undermine staff terms and conditions

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 may not get the same terms and conditions as those who transferred when the school converted. While those staff who transferred have a legal right to maintain their pay and conditions on transfer, the pay and conditions for new joiners can be whatever the MAT determines.

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, such as continuity of service, which is important for calculating sick pay.

Girl at forced academy protest

Campaigning against academisation

The NEU is opposed to the academisation of our schools, whether through forced or voluntary conversion.

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