Developing effective governance in Multi Academy Trusts

In May 2019 I attended two NGA events in Birmingham that focused on the development of effective governance in MATs. As chair of your association I wanted to share my learning from these sessions with you all.

The first event on 14th May was the NGA Community MATs Network. Attendees from MATs across the country were given a confidential copy of a summary report of a much larger paper that is to be published in the next few weeks entitled ‘Governing in MATs: past, present and future’. I highly recommend that you look out for this document as I believe that you will find it helpful, interesting and reassuring. The event began with a presentation by Sam Henson, NGA Director of Policy and Information and Tom Fellows, NGA Research Manager, on how NGA has drawn on its experience in supporting members as they negotiate the huge changes that have taken place in governance over recent years. This has included conducting over thirty MAT external reviews of governance, five MAT case studies, two MAT roundtables and years of engagement with policy makers and educationalists. NGA has isolated what it believes to be the underlying concerns with MAT governance and offers practice and policy recommendations to help the sector overcome these challenges. The report demonstrates that getting governance right, learning from those MATs with years of experience to share, and reforming central oversight and accountability, is the key to overcoming critical, but by no means insurmountable, obstacles in the MAT sector.

There was lively discussion in the open forum around the eleven key themes of governing multi academy trusts: past, present and future. These were:

          1.       Right people around the table (including time to chair)

          2.       Organisational identity ethos and vision

          3.       Ethics, behaviour, culture and relationships

          4.       Who does what?

          5.       Community engagement and accountability to stakeholders

          6.       The future of the local tier

          7.       Communication and information management

          8.       Due diligence and risk

          9.       Growth, location and sustainability

         10.   Oversight and holding trusts to account

         11.   System leadership: collaborating and supporting other schools to improve

The day also included a presentation from Liz Holmes, Chair of the Faringdon Academy of schools (the fifth NGA MAT case study) and an interesting session from Andrew Warren, Regional Schools Commissioner for the West Midlands, who led a Chatham House conversation based on the conclusions and questions from the open forum. Andrew was there to listen, respond and take suggestions for improvement back to the DfE.

The day was extremely thought provoking, highlighting the many challenges presented by the major organisational shift of moving from a single and autonomous school to being part of a group. It acknowledged for me the importance of remembering the NGA definition of governance (adapted from the Institute of Governance in Canada): Governance determines who has the power, who makes the decisions, how other players make their voice heard and how account is rendered.

The second event that I attended was a consultancy team meeting (I have worked with this team since its formation in 2013) on 22nd May when colleagues from right across the country involved in facilitating all three of the NGA Development Programmes (Clerks, Chairs and Boards) met to share our learning from delivering these programmes and discuss how to ensure continuing improvement so that we meet the needs of those registering with us. The aim is that those signing up to the programmes can improve knowledge, build confidence and hence have an impact on the effectiveness of governance in their organisation.

I am currently assigned by NGA to work with 6 MATs and it was reassuring to find that we are all identifying similar challenges (as mentioned earlier in this report) and, no matter what stage of development each MAT is at, it is proving really useful to use the board development programme as a focus for reflection and identification of current strengths and any barriers to effective governance. Common themes are: how to manage the workload and time implication for trust chairs, clear differentiation of responsibilities at every level, the need to avoid people trying to fulfil multiple roles at different levels within the same organisation, communication and the need for everyone in the trust to understand that MAT governance cannot operate in the same way as maintained school governance.

There was also acknowledgment amongst our consultancy team of the fact that consultants must be able to follow the basic outline and key components of the programme but use their experience to adapt this to meet the specific needs of each trust. No two are alike. Your honest feedback at the end of the programme will help us to continue developing the programme content, delivery and approach so that it offers the precise support that those serving in governance roles within trusts have the sort of support and advice that they require. (Indeed, your comments and suggestions are welcome at any point of the programme.)

Angela Dunkerley, NLAGB Chair


Since this report was written the NGA report has been published but is renamed. It is called ‘Moving MATs forward: the power of governance’ and is quite a long document but the summary version is extremely useful. This is the link to both reports:

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