9 May 2023

The Changing Landscape for Academy Trusts

By: Hayley Mintern

The 2010 Academies Act allowed state-funded schools to convert to academy status, meaning they would no longer be under the control of the local authority and would instead be run by an academy trust.

With the government’s continued encouragement, the number of academy trusts has grown significantly in the last decade, and they are now a prominent feature of the UK’s education landscape. This growth has forced academy trusts to adapt to an increasing demand for their services as well as navigating the changing priorities of government.

In the early years of the academy programme, most academy trusts were relatively small, often comprising just a few schools. But in recent years, there has been a trend towards the formation of larger trusts, with some now overseeing dozens or even hundreds of schools.

This trend towards larger academy trusts has been driven, in part, by government policy, with ministers arguing that larger trusts are better placed to drive up standards and provide effective support to schools. However, it has also been driven by the recognition among some academy leaders that larger trusts can be more efficient and effective and allow greater investment for staff development and support services.

Another significant change in the landscape of academy trusts has been the increasing focus on school improvement. In the beginning, much of the focus was on the benefits of greater autonomy for schools, with trusts seen primarily as a means for achieving this. Over the years, there has been a growing recognition that academy trusts have a key role to play in driving up standards and improving outcomes for pupils.

This has led to a shift in the way that academy trusts are evaluated, with greater emphasis placed on their track record of improving schools and the quality of the support they provide to schools in need of improvement. It has also led to the development of new models of support, such as multi-academy trusts (MATs) that specialise in school improvement and work closely with schools to identify and address areas for further development.

At the same time, there has been an awareness that academy trusts must be accountable and transparent in their operations. This has led to increased scrutiny of academy trust finances and governance arrangements, with the government introducing a range of measures to improve transparency and accountability, such as the requirement for trusts to publish annual reports and accounts.

Academy trust pay scales are a controversial issue, as there are differing views on the appropriate level of compensation for schools. It could be argued that those professionals operating at trust level oversee a lager number of schools which requires significant expertise and responsibility, and therefore, higher salaries are necessary to attract and retain top talent. However, does that have a negative impact on smaller trusts who are also trying to attract  top talent and is this putting them at a disadvantage? The current market is certainly something we haven’t seen before and the war on talent is driving pay scales across all roles in schools and trusts.

The transformation of academy trusts reflects the ongoing evolution of the education system. As the demand for greater school autonomy and improved outcomes for pupils continues to grow, academy trusts will need to adapt and evolve in order to meet these challenges and deliver high-quality education for all.

Hayley has supported the education sector for the last ten years, providing executive search and interim and consultancy solutions to Independent Schools, Academy Trusts, FE Colleges, and Universities. Her speciality is understanding the education sector and connecting talent that is passionate about providing high quality inclusive education.

If you are interested in or considering a role in an independent school, you can contact Hayley via LinkedIn or email at hayley.mintern@andersonquigley.com.