The Growth of Academies
It has been over twenty years since academies were first introduced into the national education system by the then-Labour Government. The original purpose of academies was to seek to address under-performing schools. Since then, over time and with the substantial backing of all governing political parties, the number and remit of academies has increased substantially.
Close to 80% of secondary schools in England are now academies, whereas the percentage of primary schools is approximately half of that figure. The majority of schools that are part of an academy trust remain as either single school academies or multi-academy trusts containing less than ten schools. The average size of multi-academy trusts is slowly increasing and now the average size of a trust is seven schools. There are, however, significantly larger trusts containing as many as 75 schools so in reality most trusts will be below that average size.
Under the White Paper published by the Government earlier this year, the stated desire is for all schools to be part of “strong” trusts by 2030. The Government has outlined that it would envisage that such trusts will have at least ten schools within them. Noticeably, since 2018 the number of schools within trusts containing between ten and nineteen schools has more than doubled and this trend is likely to continue over the coming years.
If the Government’s plans are to come to fruition, this will result in changes to the governance of most schools within our local area. This will be as a consequence of schools joining an academy trust for the first time or becoming part of a larger multi-academy trust through merger of smaller trusts or the continued expansion of larger trusts.
It is not, however, solely down to Government plans that these changes are likely to come about. The economies of scale dictate that larger trusts can make substantial efficiencies within their operations compared to smaller or single school trusts. At a time when finances are being squeezed and there is pressure on the Government to reduce taxation (and logically spending) many smaller trusts may well find making ends meet an increasingly challenging task coupled with maintaining (or improving) standards of learning. Such economic realities are likely to result in schools considering their options, whether through choice or necessity.
The need for schools to have expert guidance in place to navigate these choppy waters is evident. Our specialist education sector team at Whitehead Monckton advises schools and multi-academy trusts on matters including academisation and academy mergers, governance, property law and employment law. We also have established relationships with other leading sector-specialist professional firms including accountants to ensure that our clients get specialist, coordinated strategic advice at all times.