Last reviewed on 14 June 2022
School types: All · School phases: All
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Find out what questions you can ask when you're considering joining a multi-academy trust (MAT) so you can make sure there’s been a process of due diligence.

Our thanks to our associate education experts, Brendan Hollyer, Bill Dennison, David New and Fred Birkett, for their help with this article.

Asking questions is one piece of the puzzle when deciding whether to join a MAT. Be clear on what the pros and cons are to being in a MAT by reading our article.

Questions to ask

Use the questions below as a springboard to ask your own questions about the MAT you’re looking to join. Please note that this list isn't exhaustive. 

You can ask these questions in your governing board or committee meetings. For example, it might be appropriate to ask/discuss these questions with:

  • Your headteacher
  • The leaders of the MAT you’re considering joining
  • Schools within the MAT
  • The chair of trustees of the MAT

Support during coronavirus

  • How did the MAT support its schools during school closure as a result of the coronavirus pandemic?
    • For example, was there additional IT, risk management or health and safety support?
  • How did the MAT support its schools:
    • Financially
    • Emotionally
    • Practically
  • Has the MAT changed the way it works in response to coronavirus?

Potential sources of evidence:

  • Trust-wide questionnaires
  • Staff/parent/pupil surveys
  • Initiatives put in place
  • Trust/school improvement plans

MAT and local governing body (LGB) structure and responsibilities

  • What is the MAT’s governance structure?
  • Will there be an LGB for each school in the MAT? Or will there be a single board of trustees for the MAT with representatives from each school?
  • How are LGBs constituted? Do they have their own committees?
  • What is the typical level of delegation to a LGB in the MAT? Can we see an example scheme of delegation?
  • How will our roles and responsibilities change on becoming an LGB?
  • What does the scheme of delegation say and how is it implemented?
    • E.g. it might say the LGB will be consulted on the appointment of a headteacher, so be sure to ask what this means. For example, will you be responsible for the advert, and will you be a member of the appointment panel?
  • What are the envisaged powers of our own governing body in relation to:
    • Numbers and categories of governors, terms of membership
    • Appointment of staff
    • Staff pay and appraisal
    • Financial decision-making
    • Establishment of service level agreements
  • As a board consider: how do we feel about losing/gaining areas of responsibility?
  • Who appoints the headteacher?
  • To whom is the headteacher directly accountable – our governing body, the MAT board, an executive headteacher appointed by the MAT board?
  • Who organises and conducts our headteacher’s performance management process?
  • What would our responsibilities be as employers?
  • What would our responsibilities be for the site, facilities and furnishing?
  • How might we change the make-up of the governing body?
  • Can academies in the MAT show evidence of strong governance from the MAT trustees, such as:
    • Challenge
    • Support
    • Involvement
  • How does the structure of the MAT support academies:
    • Academically
    • Financially
    • With pastoral/safeguarding issues

Potential sources of evidence:

  • Trust scheme of delegation
  • LGB terms of reference
  • Minutes of meetings (e.g. trustee, LGB or committee meetings)
  • Link governor reports

Finance

  • How does funding work in the MAT?
  • What financial efficiencies have schools achieved by being part of the MAT?
  • Does the MAT have centralised services and functions that help to reduce costs? What does this look like?
  • Does the MAT support schools to generate income?
  • What percentage of our annual budget will be taken (or ‘top-sliced’) by the MAT?
  • Who will decide this figure? Will it be the same every year?
  • Who will determine how it is used to provide HR, premises expenditure and any other support services?
  • Who will determine our own internal budget and how it is distributed?
  • In an emergency, who will decide how much of our budget needs to be re-distributed to another school in the MAT that is experiencing financial difficulty?
  • What’s the MAT’s policy on the financial reserves held by a joining school? Will the school be able to retain any reserves it holds from the past?
  • Have any schools in the MAT had to set a budget deficit in the past five years?
  • Have any academies in the MAT had to make staff reductions in the past five years to balance the budget?
  • Do any academies in the MAT have a private finance initiative (PFI) agreement on the buildings/assets of the school/academy? If so:
    • What are these?
    • How do they impact the finances of the MAT?
    • What is the duration of the agreement?
  • What are the MAT’s budget out-turn projections for this financial year?
  • Do any academies in the MAT have additional income streams e.g. lettings, foundations etc., which enable the MAT to balance the budget?

Potential sources of evidence:

  • Budget statements for the current year and past five years
  • Staffing lists/structures for the past five years
  • PFI agreement – if in place
  • Forward planning budget projections

Get up-to-speed with everything you need to know about academy finance in our resource hub.

MAT performance and pupil achievement

  • What evidence can the MAT show of raising performance in the academies of the MAT?
  • Have any academies in the MAT moved Ofsted grades in the past five years?
  • What are the pupil groups supported by the academies in the MAT? Do they match up with the pupil groups in this academy?
    • For example, if your school has a high proportion of pupils with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND), but other academies in the MAT have very low levels, you may want to dig deeper into how the trust would support your school's pupils
  • How will accountability for pupils’ achievement and progress be arranged in the MAT?
  • How will good practice in teaching and learning be shared?
  • How will data (such as performance data) be shared across the schools?

Potential sources of evidence:

  • Ofsted reports
  • Analyse School Performance (ASP) reports. Find out how to analyse data using ASP if you're a primary or secondary school

Collaboration, sharing staff and continuing professional development (CPD)

  • How does the MAT encourage trust-wide communication?
  • How will the MAT ensure that collaboration results in the schools being stronger than if separate?
  • Does the MAT encourage the sharing of staff across the MAT? How does this work in practice?
  • Does the MAT have trust-wide CPD? How will this support the staff in our school?
  • How does the MAT facilitate trust-wide collaboration for staff and governors?

Potential sources of evidence:

  • Trust development days and CPD workshops
  • Trust-wide working parties/project groups

MAT values, school improvement and expansion

  • Do the MAT’s vision and values align with the school’s?
  • What is the vision for the future of the MAT and does it align with the school’s own vision?
  • How will the trust be held accountable for our school’s performance?
  • What support can our school expect in terms of school improvement?
  • How does the MAT support school improvement
  • Are there any potential reputational issues which the MAT is aware of?
  • If one school in the MAT you’re considering joining has a bad reputation, ask:
    • How did/does the MAT support that school?
    • How did you ensure that this result wasn’t detrimental to other schools? For example, how did you make sure that resources continued to be shared equally in the MAT and not ploughed into one school at the expense of all others?
  • Who determines individual membership of the MAT?
  • If MAT members are likely to pursue an expansion policy, how will that influence the answers to the previous questions?
  • How will the MAT ensure its vision and values are compatible with those of the potential partner?

Potential sources of evidence:

  • Vision document of the MAT
  • Articles of association
  • Academy/trust website
  • References from the various academies in the MAT
  • Internet search

Curriculum and centralisation

  • Are the school's curriculums in the trust centralised?
    • If they are, ask: how does this work in practice? In what time-frame would our school be expected to centralise?
    • If they aren’t, ask: is the trust considering/moving to become more centralised in the future? How will the MAT consult the LGBs?
  • What freedoms would our school have in nuancing a centralised curriculum?
  • How centralised is the MAT in general?
  • Will our school be expected to centralise all areas? E.g. will our school only have centralised IT support, or will our school also be expected to follow the same intervention programmes and use the same catering suppliers as other schools?

Potential sources of evidence:

  • Vision document of the MAT
  • References from the various academies in the MAT

School identity

  • How will the MAT ensure that our school remains unique?
  • How do schools in the MAT maintain their individual identities?
  • How will our relationship with other local schools change?

Potential sources of evidence:

  • References from the various academies in the MAT

Legal agreements

  • Are there any complaints/appeals currently pending from:
    • Academies
    • Headteachers or other senior staff
    • Governors/trustees
  • Are there any current partnerships or legal agreements that the MAT has which might be affected by this partnership, such as a faith status or association with another MAT?
  • What major contracts does the MAT have with services/suppliers, e.g. cleaning, grounds maintenance, catering? When are these due for renewal?

Potential sources of evidence:

  • Contract agreements

Other

As a board consider:
  • What are our concerns?
  • What do we feel comfortable or uncomfortable with?
  • How do we feel about losing/gaining areas of responsibility?

Download our questions to ask

Download our questions below so you can have them handy during a governing board meeting.

Sources

Brendan Hollyer is the vice-chair of governors at a primary school and an all-through special school. He has been a national leader of governance since 2014 and provides training and support to schools in the south east. Brendan has also worked as the director of conversions and governance for a multi-academy trust.

Bill Dennison is a national leader of governance. He is currently chair of governors of a large secondary school and a governor of a large sponsor-led secondary academy. He was previously head of the education department at a Russell Group university.

David New, an education consultant, was the headteacher of a large secondary school for 9 years. He has particular expertise in lettings, staffing, academy conversion and the secondary curriculum.

Fred Birkett is an experienced teacher and education consultant. He has been a governor for 20 years in primary and secondary schools and a chair of governors for half that time. He is a national leader of governance.