‘Not a race’ for all schools to join MATs, says Herrington

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Dominic Herrington’s comments come amid predictions that all schools will be transitioning by 2030, and warnings of resistance from existing and independent schools.

Dominic Herrington’s comments come amid predictions that all schools will be transitioning by 2030, and warnings of resistance from existing and independent schools.

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A senior official insisted the trust campaign between multiple state academies is “not a race,” as new figures reveal the average MAT has more than six schools.

“Each school should ideally be part of a multi-academic trust at the right time,” Dominic Herrington, who oversees the Academy system in his capacity as Commissioner for National Schools, said at the Education Forum conference in Westminster today on the future of schools.

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But he added, “It’s not a race for all schools to join the multi-academy trusts. There is no hard target or legislation.”

He added that only coercion will be used as is the case now for failing schools.

Leora Crudas, CEO of the School Trusts Association, still predicted at the conference that all schools would be in trusts within a decade.

Noting that more than half of the pupils are now in trusts after a decade-long batch, she said in an earlier session at the conference, “I don’t think we can get stuck indefinitely with a two-tier system.”

Herrington provided new numbers showing that 79 percent of candidates are now academies or free schools, and 38 percent are primaries.

He said the shift is no longer seen as “such a big change”, and often takes place “in an unremarkable, quiet and reasonable manner” without making headlines. He highlighted the benefits of cooperation, “represented” by the funds’ response to the pandemic.

Multi-academic trusts are also growing in size, with the average being 6.2 schools, compared to 4.8 in 2018.

But Herrington added: “We don’t have a magic number here – MAT quality is more important than numbers.”

It comes after Education Minister Nadim al-Zahawi ruled out “arbitrary deadlines” for the shift last month, and praised some schools that had been preserved.

Some interpreted Zahawi’s comments as a softening of the position on his predecessor Gavin Williamson, who revived the MAT agenda with a speech and a series of new policies earlier this year.

One council even cited the apparent change to loosen plans to academic all remaining schools being maintained.

Speeches by other speakers at the World Economic Forum event indicated that many schools and boards are unlikely to voluntarily make the leap anytime soon.

Hannah Clare, Chair of the Children, Youth and Skills Committee at Brighton and Hove Council, highlighted the strong community campaign against the forced transformation of Molescombe Primary School, which went into effect today.

She claimed that “ideology” and government support were the only reason for the shift.

Robin Bevan, principal of Southend Boys’ High School and former president of NEU, said the vast majority of individual academy trusts would also be “resistant” or “have reasons to question” about joining the MATs.

He argued that many value their freedoms, and rather than pay for economies of scale, MATs “sometimes end up spending more money on management and leadership.”

Emma Knights, chief executive of the National Governance Association, argued that it is “counterproductive to take an ethical high” while many schools have already thought about their future. A study by the NGA earlier this year found that 24 percent of SATs decided not to join MATs within the past year.

She added that many boards of directors do not represent structural change.

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