What could the new generation of multi-academy trust look like?
Centralisation vs autonomy
Since the start of the academy movement, opinion has been divided on the topic of centralisation. Should MATs centralise their systems for better financial health? Do schools have to sacrifice their freedoms in the process?
And crucially, do MATs have to choose between centralised management or individual school autonomy?
Now that academisation has reached a new maturity, we decided to explore these questions anew in our white paper, Checks and Balance to see if views had changed with the benefit of experience.
Centralisation – a core of expertise
In our interviews we conducted for the white paper, we found that there is still a very strong case for a centralised management model at the heart of a MAT. At a time when the pressure is on to make the most of the resources to hand, having a central team makes a lot of sense.
One of our white paper contributors, Sarah Appleby who is finance director of the River Learning Trust, agrees that there is merit in this centralised approach. “If centralisation of some key tasks saves us time and money, that time and money can be reinvested into teaching pupils and improving outcomes.”
Another advantage is that MATs can consolidate their collective might to achieve cost savings and make their budgets go further, which is what Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Multi-Academy Trust has found to be the case.
“Before we centralised, we had something of a trial run with a couple of large contracts,” explains Daniel Moore, Finance Director of the trust. “These contracts went out to tender as a group and we saw the kind of significant savings we were able to make working closer together.”
But does centralising have to be at the expense of schools’ autonomy?
Autonomy – local hubs of knowledge
It was interesting to see that even those MATs which embraced a centralised approach were acutely aware of the knowledge, experience and capability that exists within their schools. Many school business managers have unrivalled understanding of the inner workings of their school, and this can feed into a central MAT team to add depth and richness to trust-wide decision-making.
Sarah tells us, “We blend the local knowledge that the school has, which is invaluable, with the technical and accounting knowledge of the central school business partner.”
Daniel agrees it’s a wise approach. “You need to find that balance between autonomy for the school and a standardised approach as well.”
So it seems we could be entering a new phase in the evolution of the MAT. One which balances centralisation with autonomy in a blended model – a hybrid, if you like – of the two.