The Sutton Trust has responded to the Education Committee inquiry on the role of Multi Academy Trusts (MATs), drawing on our own research into academies in Chain Effects 2014 and 2015 as well as on the government’s latest proposals to make every school an academy as set out in the white paper Educational Excellence Everywhere.

The key points in our response are as follows (the full response may be found by clicking the PDF on the right):

  • The expectation that every school should become an academy is not surprising given the direction of recent policy, but this is still a huge step away from the original purpose of academies – tackling failure in schools serving poorer pupils. The principal role of MATs was to address educational disadvantage, and this should continue to be their first purpose.
  • Our evidence suggests a mixed picture on the extent to which academy chains are meeting this goal. The best academy chains are having a transformational impact on pupils’ life chances, but others have seriously underperformed and have expanded too rapidly. If all schools are to become academies, it is absolutely essential that the MATs supporting them are far more robustly held to account for their educational impact than at present.
  • Ofsted has done more to inspect academy chains recently using existing powers but these inspections should be formalised, with a specific remit to inspect how they support the teaching, leadership and educational services within their schools. MATs should seek out successful practice and reflect on what their own chain could learn from it. Regional School Commissioners should only allow MATs to expand when they have a track record of success in bringing about improvement in their existing academies.
  • We find that highly performing chains are those with a long experience of running sponsored schools, a strong management ethos and clear set of policies for monitoring and evaluation and performance management. Crucially, we also find that highly performing chains are those that have expanded in line with their capacity, often at a slower pace than those chains experiencing difficulties. This has implications for the government’s conversion target, which will place pressure on chains to rapidly expand.
  • The Government should reconsider its expectation that all schools become academies by 2022, and allow schools to convert if and when they wish to do so. This will allow more time to create greater capacity in the system to provide the hundreds of new leaders required for MATs to transform outcomes for the disadvantaged. If we don’t get this right disadvantaged pupils will be the biggest losers of this significant change.
  • School autonomy and accountability are features of a great education system, as long as this fosters great teaching. All our evidence tells us that it is the quality of teaching that has the most substantial impact on pupil outcomes, especially for the disadvantaged, regardless of school type or setting; developing teachers and raising the quality of teaching should be the priority.

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