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Multi academy trust solutions - briefing note

14 October 2013

The education landscape continues to evolve rapidly – the combination of the Government’s reforms, including the autonomy agenda and amendments to the Ofsted framework, is placing greater emphasis on school to school collaboration in all its varieties.

Whilst collaboration is not new to schools, the range of matters they have to collaborate on and the importance of collaboration to the success of their learning community have changed significantly. Schools must therefore be 'intelligent browsers' and be highly selective about potential partnership structures if they are to secure the best possible outcomes for their children and young people.

In the light of this many schools and academies are looking to explore how they can work together under the academy programme. They may be existing academies or schools looking to convert together or join with an existing academy.

Groups vary in size and composition; they can be formalised to strengthen resources and staffing as a shared trust or can involved informal arrangements for support and the sharing of best practice. There is no ‘one-size fits all’ model and therefore there is flexibility to meet local need and tailor arrangements accordingly.

Choosing the right option

We would recommend a three stage process to identify the best option for your learning community:

1. Use this resource to provide you with a broad familiarity with the models available and what is possible. We can also help by providing briefings to groups of governors if you wish.

2. Go back to your cluster or proposed partners and consider exactly what you are looking to achieve by collaborating. It is essential before you choose a model you are clear on your collective strategic aims; What is your fundamental objective? Are there any non-negotiables? Perhaps the group includes voluntary aided or voluntary controlled schools; are there any Diocesan requirements as to models available? Will the DfE’s policy requirements impact on what model is available to you?

3. You can then revisit the models to identify the one which in principle seems to best meet your needs. At that stage you may also want to obtain expert our advice to help you develop your proposed model in detail.

This briefing sets out a brief overview of the three main models recognised by the DfE; each model can be adapted to best support your education vision.

The multi-academy trust (MAT)

One academy trust whose board is ultimately responsible for running two or more academies. The academy trust has a master funding agreement with a supplemental funding agreement for each academy. The MAT may include primary and secondary schools, which may chose to convert at different times.


Key features

  • a MAT is a group of academies with one legal entity
  • it has three levels of governance – Members, Board of Directors and Local Governing Bodies
  • the Board of Directors has ultimate responsibility for running each academy and will deal with the strategic running of the MAT
  • the Board then typically delegates day-to-day running of each academy to a local governing body (LGB). The level of delegation can be different for each academy
  • funding is allocated on an individual academy basis
  • single employer, shared buying and sharing resources within the group

Practical considerations

  • MAT model most likely to be appropriate where there is an existing relationship and level of trust between schools
  • DfE likely to require this structure for schools where they identify a need for substantial improvement and require schools to receive significant amounts of support
  • approach is suitable for schools that want to collaborate at all levels through the organisation
  • concerns can arise regarding feelings of loss of autonomy
  • balancing loss of autonomy with the benefits of support and sharing of resources is key

The umbrella trust (UT)

Each academy has its own academy trust and these are connected through a shared 'umbrella trust'. This approach can be similar to a group of trust schools which share the same trust. The role given by the founding schools to the 'umbrella trust' can differ significantly between umbrella trusts.

Key features

  • each academy in the UT will have its own academy trust ('AT'). Separate legal entities, with two levels of governance members and governors
  • each AT has its own governing body and enters into its own funding arrangements
  • all academies within the group will be linked by an overarching UT – which will also have is own separate legal entity
  • the UT does not have direct management of the academies, the UT will usually have right to appoint governors
  • each Academy is responsible for their own governance and performance, subject to the arrangements under this model
  • many UT’s have a partnership Agreement which sets out how the UT and ATs within the group will work together

Practical considerations

  • allows VA and VC schools to collaborate with other schools
  • this model is attractive to schools who wish to retain independence and have a directly accountable governing body
  • the Academies under the UT can benefit from shared collaboration and procurement of services
  • geographically close schools which already share a joint vision and support may find this model attractive to formalise those arrangements
  • school need to consider the arrangement to ensure they are comfortable with the balance between accountability for school improvement across academies within the UT and power to take action

Collaborative partnership (CP)

This is the loosest form of academy collaboration. These arrangements are similar to a maintained school’s formal partnerships, where each academy trust signs up to a collaboration agreement that sets out how the academies will work together and how joint activities are funded.

Key features

  • each academy is completely separate (separate Academy Trust) and only linked together to the extent set out in the Collaboration Agreement
  • loosest group of working models and can be as light touch or as formalised as required. Collaboration agreement can be very simple or more refined, depending on your circumstances
  • flexibility in the model to allow the schools involved to decide when, where and how they implement collaboration ideas or plans
  • CPs may have joint committees to look at strategic issues
  • examples of collaboration include: mentoring of SLT, sharing facilities, loaning staff, sharing staff

Practical considerations

  • unlike MAT or UT models a CP can very easily involve all types of school
  • it is a way of collaborating without changes in control, Collaboration Agreement can be tailored to your need
  • likely to be appropriate where schools can convert on their own but want to establish a more formal partnership for the first time
  • a potential pitfall is that there in not a strong enough bond to deal with difficult situations within the partnership


Unlike a MAT this is less likely to foster effective collaboration at governor level but doesn’t mean this cannot be enhanced by a well written partnership agreement conclusion

Deciding which of these structures is right for you will depend on a range of factors and in particular on two key factors:

  • the performance of schools within the proposed group – the greater level of improvement the DfE determine is required will limit the choice of model the DfE will accept
  • your educational vision and reasons for going as a group and the nature of your relationship with your partners.
It is important that you don’t let 'the tail wag the dog' and that you make the available structures work for you to achieve your vision.

Whatever model you decide upon, remember that accountability for standards and performance rests with the Board which signs the funding agreement. The Board signing the agreement should make sure that they have the financial and governance mechanisms in place to deliver on their obligations under the Funding Agreement as well as the capability to raise standards.

You will probably have a lot of questions about your position and whether there are any DfE or Diocesan policy requirements will impact on what you want to do. These are all things we have dealt with before and are happy to discuss with you and your potential group.

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