Thousands of smaller schools ‘financially not viable’ is the incredibly enticing headline of Hannah Richardson’s recent BBC article.
But if the headline is beautiful in its construction, the article itself makes for ugly reading.
The Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) says one-form entry primaries and secondaries with 600 pupils or fewer will “fall off a cliff” financially. If this dim view of the immediate future was realised this would mean many thousands of schools face financial ruin.
In the article, The Institute of Fiscal Studies outlines the real-terms cuts that schools have faced. The ACSL are quick to jump on this bandwagon that seems to be rolling at an unrelenting pace to illustrate what they say is a funding shortfall.
80% of Stone’s customers are in the education sector. Undoubtedly, the schools that we deal with have been trying to do more with less for many years now. But the picture is evolving, and there’s one dimension that’s not really been explored yet. A dimension that needs to be understood to draw any meaningful conclusions regarding small schools’ ability to survive: academy trusts.
It’s been a giant political hot potato since the Academies Act 2010 drastically accelerated the academies movement past David Blunkett and Tony Blair’s initial vision dreamed up 10 years earlier. Government departments, academies, non-departmental government bodies, charities, teachers and anyone else with the ability to communicate have been more than happy to throw around research and opinion like it’s going out of fashion.
Regardless of your view on academies, most would acknowledge they’re here to stay in some form. And while the Government backed down on proposals to force all schools to become academies, there’s still a strong undercurrent of influence pointing in the direction of MATs away from local government.
What impact does the MATs movement have on a small school’s ability to survive? Does this differ depending on how many schools are within the MAT? When a school joins a MAT, does their financial health improve or decline? Can economies of scale be achieved by MATs? These are all questions that haven’t been explored in a true research context. We’ve all read the headlines about schools being in financial ruin, and there’s certainly been more than a few occassions where those schools have been part of a multi academy trust. But underneath the headlines, stripping out all of the political undercurrent and individual agendas aside, what is the overall state of the nation when it comes to Academy Trusts? We thought it was time that someone found out.
We wanted to answer these questions and more regarding the economics of unification. We have a saying internally at Stone – ‘stick to the knitting’. Thorough, academic-grade research of the quality you would see in a peer reviewed journal isn’t what we do. And after all, we’re a commercial business operating in this space. We knew we needed to partner with an independent organisation that could help us get to the bottom of this. A collective of people who understood education and who also had a thirst for telling the story of what actually happens to a school that joins a MAT once the years of planning, legal work and stakeholder engagement has long since settled down.
It was a very short list for us to choose from. After some initial conversations, a clear front runner emerged and it soon become clear that there was a single partner we felt could do this project justice. One organisation to deliver a clear picture to schools that are considering which path towards academisation they might take: the Education Policy Institute.
The Education Policy Institute is an independent, impartial and evidence-based research institute. They’re big on social equity and definitely see the end point being high quality educational outcomes for all, regardless of who you are and where you come from. It will be interesting to work with this type of organisation on this type of project and bring some clarity on the economics of unification.
We started work on the research project 4 months ago. The research design purposefully crunched the numerous datasets available from the Government and also used focus groups and in-depth interviews to gain more intricate insights from MATS themselves about the complexity of the economic picture pre and post academisation.
EPI will be launching the research study at BETT. Attendees can receive a copy:
- When they visit the Stone stand (E240) in digital format.
- When they register to attend the launch event held as part of the School Leaders Summit in both hard copy and digital format.
- By booking to slot to meet with Stone’s MAT team (who’ll be based in the Microsoft Partner Village) in both hard copy and digital format.
Regardless of how schools engage with the content, what matters to us is that schools have meaningful information that can be used to guide the strategic choices they make regarding their future direction. Getting that decision right could end up being a matter of survival.