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Leaving a multi-academy trust
Can schools choose to leave a multi-academy trust (MAT)? We relay guidance from the Education and Skills Funding Agency, Department for Education and two of our associate education experts on leaving a MAT. This article also looks at whether a MAT can remove a school from the trust.
Schools choosing to leave a MAT: guidance
A school leader asked us whether an academy can leave a multi-academy trust (MAT) and join a different trust.
Advice from the DfE
Each case would be considered on an individual basis
A member of the academy conversion team at the Department for Education (DfE) explained that this would be possible. However, he explained that the process of leaving a MAT may be expensive and each case would be considered on an individual basis. There is no guarantee that the academy would be able to leave the MAT.
He said that the academy would need to contact the Education Skills and Funding Agency (ESFA) and its regional schools commissioner (RSC) about leaving the MAT.
Advice from the ESFA
A representative from the ESFA confirmed that it is possible for a school to leave a MAT, although there is no official guidance on the process for doing so.
We were told in June 2016 that, typically, the school would need to write a business case explaining why it wants to leave the MAT. This should be sent to the academy’s regional ESFA caseworker, who will assess the business case and discuss it with the academy.
The caseworker will then make representations to the secretary of state, who will decide whether to allow the academy to leave the funding agreement it signed with the MAT.
The ESFA is an executive agency of the DfE. You can contact the ESFA through the DfE, using the link above.
Details of what a business case should include are outlined on pages 17-18 of guidance from the DfE on making significant changes to an academy. Pages 15-16 of the guidance set out who should be consulted about the proposed change.
What to do after leaving a MAT
A representative from the ESFA explained that if an academy leaves a MAT it can join another one. The academy would need to go through the same joining process as a standalone academy, and would be expected to explain its new MAT preferences to the ESFA.
In another article from The Key, we set out the process for joining an existing MAT:
The representative from the ESFA added that it is possible that the academy could form a single-academy trust. However, the ESFA is more likely to consider proposals if an academy is hoping to join another MAT. He added:
For the academy to become a single-academy trust it would need to show exceptional evidence of its strengths with regard to finance and governance.
Academies leaving MATs: expert advice
We asked two of our associate education experts, Keith Clover and Joe Nutt, for advice on academies leaving MATs.
Risk-assess the process of leaving a MAT
The academy should consider the impact of leaving the trust on its pupils and its staff
Joe said that before an academy starts to write a business case for leaving a MAT it should conduct a thorough risk assessment process. The academy should consider the effects of leaving the trust on its pupils and its staff.
He said it would be beneficial for the school to include independent parties with business and managerial experience in the risk assessment process.
Consider the reasons for leaving
Joe also said that the reason for leaving must be very strong. Leaving a trust should only be a result of a serious breakdown in the working relationship between the school and the trust. He said that while each application would be considered on a case-by-case basis, it would be unlikely that a school could leave a trust if, for example, an academy felt the MAT had changed its principles.
He added that the school would need to be able to demonstrate clearly:
- The efforts that the academy has made to make the relationship with the MAT work
- Why the academy was unable to work as part of the MAT any longer
Another article has a series of questions that a school can ask when conducting due diligence when joining a MAT.
The impact of joining a new MAT
Joe said that when a MAT conducts due diligence on a joining academy it would want clear information about why it had left a previous MAT. He said that this could have an impact on whether the academy can find a new MAT which is appropriate to its needs.
He added that the school should carefully consider the motivations of any new MAT that it may join, and conduct due diligence activities to make sure that it is appropriate.
Procedures for leaving a trust may be included in the articles of association
Keith said that an academy wishing to leave a MAT should check its MAT’s articles of association and memorandum of understanding, as they may include rules and procedures for leaving.
The articles might set out a required notice period, or they could require that the academy leaves only at the end of the financial year.
Leaving a MAT and whistle-blowing against the MAT
A school leader asked us how their school could both leave and whistle-blow against its MAT. We asked the representative from the academy conversion team at the DfE whether the process for leaving a MAT would change if a school is whistle-blowing against the MAT.
He said that because both processes involve contacting the ESFA, the school should first follow the ESFA's whistle-blowing procedure (assuming it has already followed the procedure set out in the MAT's complaints or whistle-blowing policy). The ESFA will then contact the school to discuss the situation and advise on the options for carrying it forward into the case for leaving the MAT.
The ESFA's process for whistle-blowing and examples of whistle-blowing policies from various types of school are set out in another article from The Key:
Removing a school from a MAT
We asked the DfE about the procedure for a MAT removing a school from its trust. A representative of the academies team told us that the secretary of state would need to give approval for this to happen.
The secretary of state would need to give approval [to remove a school from a MAT]
She said there is no set process to follow and decisions will be made on a case-by-case basis. The MAT should contact the ESFA in the first instance to begin a dialogue.
'Strong reasons' required for a school to be removed from a MAT
The DfE representative also explained that removing a school from a MAT would be difficult because a MAT’s funding agreement covers all schools in the trust. There are no separate agreements between the DfE and each school in the MAT. When the funding agreement is signed, the MAT accepts certain obligations towards all schools in the trust, and these cannot be easily rescinded.
She explained that the MAT would have to give very strong and compelling reasons as to why a school should be removed. The trust could, for example, argue that it cannot support the school in improving.
If the MAT makes a convincing case, the secretary of state may decide to find another sponsor for the school.
Joe Nutt is an education consultant. He has completed strategic reviews of multi-academy trusts and has worked as a school improvement partner in a free school.
Keith Clover is a National Leader of Governance. He chairs an interim executive board and is an academy consultant for a diocese.
Another article from The Key examines some of the perceived benefits and disadvantages of MATs:
This article was updated in response to a question from the headteacher of a large urban primary school in the east of England.
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