In light of the government’s ‘Opportunity for All’ white paper published in March 2022, your school may be planning to join (or form) a multi-academy trust (MAT). With a system consisting of several schools under the leadership of one regulatory approach able to oversee and manage each school’s finances, employees and curriculum, there are clear benefits to being part of a MAT, including: economies of scale, collaboration between schools within the trust, staff development opportunities and the sharing of resources, expertise and knowledge.
When choosing a suitable MAT, be that joining an existing academy chain or setting up a new trust, your school will need to consider carefully whether you share a common vision with other MAT partners, and whether there is broad compatibility across cultures and values. Bearing in mind that when you join a MAT, your own governing body will become subservient to the trust, you will want to be very clear on the governance structure of the MAT.
It is recommended that a working group be set up to explore available options and avenues. The working group should assess the strengths and weaknesses of the trust and associated schools, to determine the benefits, as well as any disadvantages, that joining the trust would present. How will your school retain its identity in the MAT? Compromises will need to be made, and you should consider and determine which are the non-negotiables for your school. Key issues to consider are leadership and governance, as well as operating systems such as finance. Spending time with all MAT partners is recommended, so as to gain a better understanding of each academy.
It is important that a proper due diligence process is completed, and this will invariably present several operational and legal challenges. You will therefore want to ensure you appoint a trusted solicitor for clear, expert legal advice and support at the beginning of, and throughout the project. This will ensure your best interests are served and all risks and liabilities are understood. Due diligence is a process which should be carried out before any formal decisions are taken and should include mechanisms for feedback and reporting, as well as a checklist featuring all major areas for consideration.
When planning the due diligence process, a tailored project plan should be prepared to ensure clear and effective communication covering key dates, activities and deadlines, avenues for feedback and decision-making processes.
Areas that may typically need to be explored include, briefly, the following:
- Finance: income and expenditure profiles, historic budget positions and future forecasts.
- Governance and management: existing governance and leadership structures, board (and sub-committee) meeting minutes and papers, leadership succession plan.
- Employment and organisational: school demographics, current roles and job descriptions, HR contracts and pastoral policies, TUPE transfers, pension liabilities, energy consumption, health and safety, IT and software.
- Educational performance: Ofsted reports, educational provision, curriculum design, pupil numbers/capacity (current and future and ratios to staff), the educational performance of each organisation/academy within the MAT.
- Legal: a thorough review of all legal contracts including suppliers, leases and insurance policies.
At the end of the due diligence process, a decision can then be taken whether to join the MAT based on all the information and analysis presented in the due diligence report. The findings will highlight any risks and issues, and identify whether these can be resolved.
Whitehead Monckton has the legal expertise and know-how to guide you through the due diligence process. If you require further legal assistance, please contact us today.