The evolving academies sector: eight key factors for success


By Kerry Ace, Finance & Policy Manager (Corporate Governance), CIPFA

Academies are experiencing turbulent times. They are balancing tight finances with pressures to deliver improved educational outcomes. At the same time, many academy trusts are looking at ways to reposition themselves, for example by expanding and taking on other schools or merging in order to address current and future challenges.

In looking at options, academy trusts must always ensure that a proposed change is in the best interests of children and young people. What are the key factors for ensuring a successful outcome? 

A clear vision

It is essential that academy trusts are clear about the vision for the proposed, or expanded, multi-academy trust (MAT) and how it fits with their objectives. Outcomes focusing on pupils should be defined and agreed. A clear strategy setting out how those outcomes will be achieved will also be required. 

Strong leadership and good governance 

Senior staff leading the proposed restructure or expansion will need to ensure that requirements set out by the Department for Education are adhered to and that there is the capacity to manage and implement changes. 

Legal advice regarding the proposed structure for the MAT may be required. This should be considered early in the timetable. How the proposed change will affect the governing documents of the trust should also be considered well in advance. Appropriate training should be provided for trustees and local governing body members to ensure that they understand how the governance structure has changed and the requirements of their new role. 

The right partner – a compatible ethos and values

It is essential that the right partners are sought. Being in close proximity makes it easier to share teaching resources, facilities and build on strengths. However, shared values and a similar approach to learning will help ensure that the new MAT can operate effectively. 

Wide ranging due diligence

The due diligence process should identify material issues – financial, educational and otherwise – which the partner should be aware of. 

Effective communication 

Clear and consistent communication with all stakeholders is crucial, and this includes staff, parents, learners, trustees and the wider community. Decision makers will require clear recommendations regarding the way forward and decisions should be clearly recorded.

Efficient planning for change

Following formal approval for the change, a clear project plan should be established, setting out a timeline for deliverables, and adhered to. 

Risks associated with the change need to be identified and managed effectively. Business and support systems will need to be carefully planned and developed ensuring that they focus on the needs of the new MAT and its information requirements. 

Detailed consideration of funding

Any funding mechanism implications will need to be considered. Arrangements for managing any top-sliced elements or cost shares should be agreed in advance.

Regular post-merger review

Finally, it is good practice for the trustees to consider the impact of the change at regular intervals to ensure that the defined outcomes have been achieved or are proceeding satisfactorily.

Discover more

  • Find out more about the latest changes in financial best practice for academies and hear from Alyson Gerner of the Educational Funding Agency at the CIPFA Academies Conference, 1 November 2016, London.