The government is keen to encourage more schools to join multi academy trusts (MATs) with the promise of more efficient admin arrangements, the sharing of best practice and a rise in the standard of weaker schools.
However, former head of Ofsted Michael Wilshaw, compared MATs tothe US supermarket chain Walmart, accusing them of being more interested in rapid expansion than quality.
Emma Knights, Chief Executive of the National Governors Association has also warned of the dangers of rushing into joining a MAT without the necessary due diligence, saying: “The financial implications are much tougher once you become an academy. Governors will repent if they buy into a trust that is flashy and makes a lot of promises but doesn’t deliver.”
BJ Chong, a Partner with Palmers, explained: “Prospective governors and head teachers need to have a thorough understanding of the MAT they are planning to join along with any potential issues which may make for a less than harmonious partnership. Equally MATs should have their own criteria to ensure that a collaboration will be mutually beneficial.
“Due diligence can be a lengthy process but it is important to ensure that each party is fully aware of the implications of a joint allegiance, so that there are no unpleasant surprises further along the line.”
Emma Knights continued: “Once they’re in, schools cease to exist as their own legal entities. I get called weekly by primary head teachers who joined a secondary trust, asking how they can get out because they’re being dragged down. I have to say ‘you can’t’.”
She also warned: “A lot of small and medium-sized Mats have felt under pressure from regional schools commissioners to take on underperforming schools when they should have said no.”
BJ Chong added: “Due diligence is an incredibly important process and gives both parties an opportunity to really work out ‘what’s in it for us?’
“There needs to be a net added value as a result of working together – be that in terms of actual financial savings such as reduced operating costs, or in a stronger educational partnership which will benefit the communities served by the MAT.”
For help and advice on all aspects of due diligence, please contact us.