The Education Select Committee recently published its report into MATs and it doesn’t make easy reading for the government! The report is based on a huge body of evidence drawn from many sources within education and is highly critical of the performance and accountability of MATs.
Having looked at much of the evidence given to the inquiry, it is clear that in addition to the robust arguments contained in the report, there are many other issues that did not make it into the final report. Examples include:
- Exclusion of pupils with additional needs (mentioned in the NAHT’s written submission to the inquiry, among others);
- Reduced (rather than increased) autonomy in the classroom within MATs;
- Narrowing of the curriculum. These latter topics were covered in the oral evidence given by educational academics and is now the subject of an investigation by Ofsted.
The report also fails to point out that most of the characteristics of the best performing MATs could be achieved under other models. It is disappointing that it works on the assumption that the educational model has to be based on academies, despite the lack of empirical evidence to support this model. We believe this to be on account of the terms of reference of the inquiry, which were drawn up at the time that government policy was for 100% academisation. The points raised in the report, as well as government U-turns on policy, only serve to underline that the schools should not rush to convert to academies, rather they may be able to ‘weather the storm’.
Given the many risks involved in joining a multi-academy trust, we would like the schools to explain why they believe this to be the best way of formalising their existing collaboration and to hold an open and democratic consultation.
- Begin with publication of a consultation document. This should be easily accessible, full and balanced and include impact assessments of academy conversion for all stakeholder groups and evidence-based consideration of the effectiveness of the other school collaboration models.
- Provide opportunities for consultees to hear the pros and the cons of academy conversion in an open forum (i.e. public meetings in each of the schools as well as joint meetings across the schools) with speakers for and against.
- Include a ballot of parents and staff, and take account only of those that respond (i.e. non responses should not be assumed to be for or against).
- Consult the whole school and broader community including staff, parents, pupils, prospective parents and other community members.
- Ensure maximum engagement in the process by publishing full details of the consultation process at the outset, using a variety of methods to contact consultees and of ways for consultees to participate.
- Allow reasonable time for responses: a consultation period of no less than six weeks, excluding school holidays.