Free article: Joining or setting up a multi-academy trust

Published: Saturday, 18 June 2016

Tony Stephens, of the Co-operative Academies Trust, looks at what is the best type of multi-academy trust for a school to join or establish.


  • Schools should try to join a multi-academy trust that has a proven record of academy improvement.
  • The aim of a trust should be to support its academies to improve and develop, and this should be reflected in the budgets it sets.
  • The success of a trust should be measured by the quality of its academies, as reflected in pupil outcomes and Ofsted reports.
  • A trust should have high-quality strategic leadership, sound corporate governance, skilled data management, and able finance and HR directors.

In the white paper Education Excellence Everywhere, setting out the government’s five-year strategy for education, multi-academy trusts (MATs) are favoured over local authority (LA) schools in terms of school improvement.

Schools wishing to join a MAT should look for one that is highly successful in academy improvement, where the necessary leadership and organisation are already in place, and for which improvement is the key aim.

What a successful trust looks like

A successful trust will understand from the start that it only exists to help its academies improve and develop, with the ultimate aim of helping them improve the life chances of their pupils. This will be reflected in the budgets it sets. Its success as a trust will be measured by the quality of its academies, as reflected in their outcomes, pupil destinations, Ofsted reports and surveys of stakeholder views. At the same time, staff will be treated with respect, sharing the vision of the sponsor and academy and given every opportunity for professional development.

The trust will have high-quality strategic leadership, sound corporate governance, skilled data management and able finance and HR directors. But it also has to have an academy improvement strategy implemented through colleagues with proven and varied track records as both practitioners and advisors. Most trusts are not big enough to employ centrally a full range of subject consultants. What is important is that the trust has built up a team of consultants who will commit a proportion of their time each year to the trust. They will get to know the needs of its academies and provide continuity. Above all, they will have demonstrated that they are outstanding advisors and facilitators; there is no place for the average.

Every academy aims to be the best it can, regardless of setting or circumstances; nothing else will be acceptable to the trust. There will be some principles and processes common to all the trust’s academies (e.g. basic values, data systems, curriculum principles, finance systems, support services, and so on), driven through by an independent trust board.

At the same time, each academy will be able to develop and grow in the way it believes best suits its pupils and community, and which reflects the leadership style of the headteacher and the aspirations of the governing body.

The trust will support each academy, but the type and intensity of support and intervention will be proportionate to the degree of the academy’s success. The aim is always, where possible, to monitor and challenge ideas, and to support while not trying to take over. If an academy is less effective, then intervention by the trust is more intense. Even then, though, the aim is to help the senior leadership team (SLT) to build sustainable capacity for improvement so they are then able to move the academy forward themselves.

The trust will enable the sharing of good practice between academies. It will make available national and international best practice, to support continuous professional development for academy staff in a way that meets identified needs and provides for innovation and transformation. The ultimate aim is to enhance teaching and learning and standards of attainment.

How the trust supports its academies

The trust will provide external support for its academies and work within each one to:

  • organise continuous professional development (CPD)
  • gain feedback from CPD participants
  • develop close links with universities
  • enable staff to deliver CPD
  • share good practice across academies
  • work inside academies
  • provide a best practice website
  • support leadership and management
  • support governing bodies
  • organise conferences
  • make use of new technology.

Organising CPD

The trust should organise CPD events and conferences for its academies, after full consultation with headteachers. They will be led by the very best practitioners.

Gaining feedback from CPD participants

Feedback from participants in CPD organised by the trust should be recorded carefully and monitored later in the year to assess impact.

Developing close links with universities

Trusts should develop close links with local universities. This will open the doors for school staff to work with higher education staff and to pursue qualifications and accreditation with a particular emphasis on research.

Enabling staff to deliver CPD

Staff should be given the opportunity to deliver CPD and coaching in a range of formats and to receive accreditation for this.

Sharing good practice across academies

The trust should arrange a programme of joint meetings and/or workshops for specific staff from all its academies, nationally or regionally, where good practice can be discussed and shared. This may include:

  • SENCOs
  • heads of specific subjects
  • SLT members with similar responsibilities
  • pastoral managers
  • e-learning coordinators
  • finance managers
  • heads of sixth form
  • teaching assistants
  • learning mentors, and so on.

This will enable ideas to be shared and allow professional relationships to develop between staff from the different academies. This will lead to a range of future joint activities and/or regular communication, including joint projects, moderation, exchanges, secondments and, above all, sharing schemes of learning and resources via Dropbox-type technology.

Working inside academies

The trust should have staff working in its academies monitoring, providing support, leading in-house CPD and facilitating focused or whole-academy reviews.

Providing a best practice website

The trust should provide a continuously updated best practice website which allows its academies to communicate interactively, to access the latest educational news and to view the best school improvement documentation and ideas. This will include information about national and international best practice. It will also allow publication and continuous identification of specific, verified best practice of all types in each academy, supplemented by the production of helpful case studies.

Supporting leadership and management

The trust should facilitate high-quality leadership and management training for both senior and middle leaders, including the induction and mentoring of new principals and other key staff. There will be specific events organised for NQTs and for Initial Teacher Training (ITT) students. There will be a termly headteachers’ forum and an annual conference.

Support governing bodies

Successful trusts will provide all possible support for governing bodies and individual governors, including a programme of high-quality training events.

Organising conferences

The trust should organise conferences and a range of joint projects and celebration events for pupils from its academies. There are clear educational advantages for pupils coming together from different academies and communities and having the chance to work together.

Making use of new technology

Trusts should make use of new technologies to enable staff from its academies to communicate online and through ICT-based communications systems and VLEs, thus avoiding expensive and time-consuming travel.

Further information


Use the following item in the Toolkit to put the ideas in the article into practice:

About the author

Tony Stephens is Academy Improvement Manager, Co-operative Academies Trust. Tony had four successful secondary headships over 20 years. His monthly Academy and School News Updates are read by tens of thousands of colleagues, who also have access to his free website with over 1100 educational documents, To contact Tony, email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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