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Welcome to a Multi Academy Trust

By Gillian Allcroft, Deputy Chief Executive of the National Governance Association and author of Welcome to a Multi Academy Trust

At the Academies Show on 22nd November we will have just published the second edition of our induction handbook specifically written for those on the trustee board of multi academy trusts (MATs). The first edition sold out in a couple of months with some trusts buying it for all their trustees, new and not so new.

This is in recognition of the fact that governing at trustee level in a MAT – is different. It’s more complex, governing an entity which covers multiple sites and in some case multiple regions makes life harder. How do trustees of such organisations ensure that they have a sufficient handle on what is going on to assure themselves everything is heading in the right direction?
The guide document draws on governance practice from across sectors using the expertise NGA has developed over many years and more recently our extensive work on MAT governance.
Trustees come from all walks of life and experience. Some will come from trusteeship in other sectors and know little about how the state funded education sector. For these folk we have a chapter which sets out the basics of curriculum, assessment, admissions and attendance and another which focuses on the key education bodies you will have dealings with.

Many of those becoming MAT trustees may have experience of governing in maintained schools, but not of being charity trustees and company directors. The starting point of the guide sets out what might be considered the ‘boring’ legal stuff – but is in fact crucially important to your role. MATs are charitable companies limited by guarantee and although they are exempt charities, that simply means exempt from direct regulation by the Charity Commission, not exempt from charity law. This may require a change of emphasis for some – a clear understanding that you are a charity whose charitable objects are the provision of education, as opposed to an education institution which just happens to be a charity. You will also now be a company director again that comes with specific legislative responsibilities.
In both cases there is a clear legal requirement to act in the best interests of the organisation – and mitigate or avoid any conflicts of interest.

Other chapters consider how to structure governance in your MAT – no there isn’t a single right answer – but there is good practice you can follow to make sure your structure is the right one for your organisation. And that is the vital factor, you are one organisation – not a school improvement board overseeing lots of individual projects. You need to have a clear vision and shared ethos and culture. Those at academy level need to understand how they fit and indeed how they can influence and have their voices heard. The Scheme of Delegation (SoD) isn’t just a fancy piece of paper, it needs to really set out who is responsible for making what decisions in the organisation.

Finally, the document considers growth – not from the perspective of being a prerequisite for success, but in terms of the factors you need to consider before committing to expansion. What impact will it have on the children and young people already in your MAT?
The guide is designed to be what it says, an induction handbook for new trustees, not everything you need to know to run a MAT – although it will provide some useful pointers.
So if you want the second edition of Welcome to a MAT hot of the press come to NGA’s stand D47 at the Academies Show.

Gillian Allcroft, Deputy Chief Executive of the National Governance Association

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