fighting conversion to MAT - help?

(329 Posts)
Jumpingshipquick Mon 28-Mar-16 10:00:13

My children's school is pushing for conversion to MAT. It's a school considered 'good' with a governing body considered 'effective' by OFSTED, within a local authority that performs well. It's a single form entry school, and has no good reason to convert - it won't give them anything they can't already do. I have my suspicions why, but the argument so far is that it is better to lead rather than be forced. Whilst I don't doubt the good intentions of the people currently running the school, I have serious concerns about the implications of the change of structure. I would really appreciate someone looking over my points to see whether I am right for now.

•My school will legally cease to exist.
•Funding will go to the MAT, not individual schools within the MAT and the Board of Directors is required to make spending decisions based on the MAT priorities, not individual (ex)school priorities.
•The Board of Directors of the MAT can be paid for their roles.
•Teachers are employed by the MAT, not the individual schools (and can therefore be deployed anywhere within the MAT)
•There is no legal requirement to keep the individual school’s board of governors, and as it will have no power beyond what the Board happen to devolve, it will only be a talking shop anyway.
•The MAT will be run by a board of governors, akin to the board of directors in a business. This board will consist purely of co-opted members, no requirement for parent governors, no teachers, not necessary local people. Appointments are neither required to be advertised, nor elected and members can only be removed by the Secretary of State, from London.
•The only form of public scrutiny is the published accounts.
•The only way parents can hold the MAT board to account is via the Regional Schools Commissioner. (There are going to be 8 for the whole country) The RSC will be appointed by the Secretary of State.
•The Secretary of State retains the right to remove, or force schools/ MATs to join other MATs.

Thanks

dlacey Mon 28-Mar-16 12:33:02

I'm a parent and governor at a MAT school. It's a small MAT. The board's reputation lives or dies by the success of their schools so they certainly don't take their responsibilities lightly. Their schools are all doing very well - good or outstanding. We are closely consulted on all the MAT policies.The teachers are all highly motivated.They are paid normal terms and conditions and are all appropriately qualified and good or outstanding practioners, well supported within the MAT.

If your school wants to lead a MAT then do ask questions but don't assume the worst case scenario will always prevail.There are some great MATs and the more that are led by education professionals rather than businesses the better from my point of view.

dlacey Mon 28-Mar-16 12:59:50

The only way parents can hold the MAT board to account is via the Regional Schools Commissioner

No. All schools, maintained and academies, have complaints procedures . Formal complaints are visible to Ofsted.

All schools have the same Ofsted parent questionnaires. The results are visible to all and can affect the outcome of inspections.

All schools are subject to online parental scrutiny and local gossip which affects their reputation.

Parents have a lot of power. And if they have the right skills they will still be welcome as governors even when the compulsory parent governor system changes.

The MAT my school belongs to has confirmed its continued strong commitment to parent governors.

Jumpingshipquick Mon 28-Mar-16 13:18:55

Ok, so the only problem factually you can see so far is that I have missed out the complaints procedure part of parents holding schools to account. Thank you.

I have no reason to doubt the good intentions of people like you who are clearly doing a good job. But there is so little in the ways of checks and balances in the system that relying purely on the good intentions seems quite risky to me. There is nothing to hold mats to their promises on pay and conditions, or parent governors.

dlacey Mon 28-Mar-16 13:34:20

Jumping, I think you need to hold onto the fact that everyone involved in running schools is aiming to make sure they're outstanding, by whatever measure they are held account to by the government of the day.

The government wants an academy system so it can control who runs schools, so the buck stops with them if they're run badly.

urbanfox1337 Mon 28-Mar-16 14:43:47

Just about to finish a stint on the board of an academy in a MAT. Only speaking from my personal experience other MAT's might be different. Just like councils I expect there are good ones and bad ones. If you convert by choice you will have the ability to choose the MAT that suits your schools needs. So I think converting now is a good idea.

My school will legally cease to exist - NO, why would you think that?

Funding will go to the MAT - NO, not in my school we get the money directly and pay the MAT for the services they provide. Works out a lot less than the council top sliced.

The Board of Directors of the MAT can be paid for their roles - Yes some can if they provide services to the school. In the same why a council takes money from the school grant to pay their education department.

Teachers are employed by the MAT - Yes but that doesn't mean they can be deployed anywhere in the MAT, unless that is what they are specifically employed for.

There is no legal requirement to keep the individual school’s board of governors, ... it will only be a talking shop - Can't say about the detailed legality, I am aware that the MAT can dissolve our board only in extreme circumstances ,like corruption or if the school falls off a cliff etc. (in the same way the Dept of Education can) They can appoint new governors if they think there is a skill set missing from the board and so far we have always found a parent with the required skills. Certainly isnt a talking shop, the head runs the school with important decisions agreed/reviewed by the board, the MAT has never overruled us and in practise only provides advice and services that we request, as they are experts we do value their advice.

The MAT will be run by a board of governors, akin to the board of directors in a business - Yes but there are parents from some of the schools on the board, why wouldn't they have, it actually helps them understand each school.

The only form of public scrutiny is the published accounts - The MAT is scrutinised through the schools, every penny leaving to the MAT has to be accounted and justified for. All the schools are Ofsteded and each one is integral to the MAT, I suppose they could inspect the MAT directly but that would be inspecting the same things twice. Our MAT lives and dies on the progress it make in exams and the inspection results. So the pressure on them from parents to deliver is massive.

The only way parents can hold the MAT board to account is via the Regional Schools Commissioner. - Is this any different than saying the only way parents can hold the school to account is via the council?

The Secretary of State retains the right to remove, or force schools/ MATs to join other MATs - I guess they could if the school was consistently failing, isnt this a good thing? Otherwise a school would just get stuck in a spiral of failure.

Class room teachers are all fully qualified and on national teachers pay scales. From a parent and pupil point of view you couldn't tell it was any different from a good council school. From a teachers point of view you would notice the extra direct support the MAT puts in the school, something we never got before from the council before our conversion.

Opps, ended up being longer than I thought, sorry.

Jumpingshipquick Mon 28-Mar-16 23:10:27

Dlacey- 'everyone is in it for the good of the children' I wouldn't argue with most, but 'everyone' seems rather naive. And what's to stop people who are actually in it for the money/ personal gain rather than the good of the children?

Urban - of course the school doesn't exist legally anymore. It is just a part of the MAT, not a legally separate entity.

Funding goes to the MAT and is devolved as is seen fit. Just because in your school they devolve responsibility doesn't mean they have to or necessarily will. And even in your MAT funding arrangements could change in the future. Indeed the responsibility of the MAT is for the MAT as a whole, not the individual ( ex) schools so there could easily be a crisis which requires funding to be diverted.

A MAT is not required to have parent governors, or indeed a board of governors for each site (ie ex- school). Whilst your school sounds like an ideal arrangement for now, there is nothing legally binding to hold it to any of those things, neither parental involvement of any sort, employing qualified teachers, nor keeping those teachers teaching on the same site; as for teaching contracts there will be soon be no LA or government agreed contractual arrangements to abide by- what will be the point in having them?

Your arrangements sound very lovely, but once the budget gets squeezed further things could quite quickly be quite different. (As I have experienced personally)

As for being held to account, I'd rather be going for support to a locally elected council, democratically accountable locally than a faceless bureaucrat put in post by their mate at Whitehall, but then loyalty to democracy does seem to be rather out of fashion these days.

Thank you for taking the time to reply- although it makes me question how well all involved (including me!) understand the whole process. I realise I might seem a bit paranoid or conspiracy theory or whatever. I'm just trying to gauge how reasonable my fears are.

PrettyBrightFireflies Mon 28-Mar-16 23:57:16

op in terms of the legal identity of your school, what do you think will change?

An LA school has delegated authority from the LA, but very few independent legal rights. It doesn't, and can't employ people - the LA does that. It enters into business contracts only as a representative of the LA - legal responsibility lies with the LA. It doesn't own land or buildings (the Governing Board might if it is a Trust, but not the school itself.)

What is it that worries you about the legal responsibilities being delegated to the school by an MAT rather than the LA?

caroldecker Tue 29-Mar-16 00:31:49

Jumping In reality, how many local councils have changed party over the years. the vast majority are fixed y party lines and never changed due to school issues.

prh47bridge Tue 29-Mar-16 00:39:43

My school will legally cease to exist

No. There is a separate funding agreement for each school in the MAT.

Funding will go to the MAT, not individual schools within the MAT and the Board of Directors is required to make spending decisions based on the MAT priorities, not individual (ex)school priorities

No. Each school receives individual funding. It does not go to the MAT for them to devolve as they see fit. The GAG goes to individual schools who will pay some of it to the MAT to fund central functions.

The Board of Directors of the MAT can be paid for their roles

The directors are trustees of the charity. As such they cannot be paid for their roles. They can be paid for providing goods or services for the school but there are controls around that (the controls won't necessarily prevent fraud, but that happens in LA-controlled schools as well). Only a minority of the trustees can be paid in this way.

Teachers are employed by the MAT, not the individual schools (and can therefore be deployed anywhere within the MAT)

Yes, teachers are employed by the MAT but that does not necessarily mean they can be deployed anywhere within the MAT.

There is no legal requirement to keep the individual school’s board of governors, and as it will have no power beyond what the Board happen to devolve, it will only be a talking shop anyway

It is indeed up to the trustees to determine what powers to devolve to the LGB but that does not mean the LGB is only a talking shop.

The MAT will be run by a board of governors, akin to the board of directors in a business. This board will consist purely of co-opted members, no requirement for parent governors, no teachers, not necessary local people. Appointments are neither required to be advertised, nor elected and members can only be removed by the Secretary of State, from London

Your school is run by a board of governors, akin to the board of directors in a business. There must be two elected parent representatives either on the board of the MAT or on each LGB. The other directors are elected by the members of the trust, not co-opted by the directors (although the directors do have the power to co-opt if necessary). The members of the trust can remove directors by resolution. They cannot remove the parent directors - they can only be removed by the parents. A director can also be suspended by the other directors. Directors serve a 4 year term after which they must face re-election. Under some circumstances a trustee can be disqualified.

The only form of public scrutiny is the published accounts

If you are interested in financial scrutiny, yes. Ofsted and the EFA also monitor academy trusts and the Charity Commission can investigate breaches of charity law. The LA also has some involvement, e.g. in monitoring SEN provision.

The only way parents can hold the MAT board to account is via the Regional Schools Commissioner. (There are going to be 8 for the whole country) The RSC will be appointed by the Secretary of State

And Ofsted. The RSCs already exist, by the way.

The Secretary of State retains the right to remove, or force schools/ MATs to join other MATs

Yes but only in limited circumstances such as the school underperforming.

As for being held to account, I'd rather be going for support to a locally elected council, democratically accountable locally than a faceless bureaucrat put in post by their mate at Whitehall, but then loyalty to democracy does seem to be rather out of fashion these days

You may not get anywhere with your locally elected council. Some won't deal with complaints about schools at all. Even if they do, all they can do is review whether or not the school has taken the decision in the correct way. They cannot overrule the school's governors. And if you do complain to the local council about a school you won't be dealing with someone who is democratically accountable. You will be dealing with a faceless bureaucrat who works for the council. You can try complaining to elected councillors but they don't have the power to intervene in the running of schools. All they can really do is raise your concerns with their bureaucrats. Just like the bureaucrats, your local councillors have no power to overrule the governors.

urbanfox1337 Tue 29-Mar-16 00:53:51

I do get the worry Jumpingshipquick but I think you are obsessing about the worst case scenarios. It seems to me that everything you have said could be said about councils and every negative consequence you have voiced could and has also happened at councils.

You can complain to your locally elected mp or councillor but I very much doubt that either has a say over any type of school whatsoever. I imagine councils education departments could be filled with the nepotism you worry about and do you know how much they are paid? Why are you worried about parents on a MAT board but not in the council education department?

Why are you worried about MATs looking after all their schools equally but not the council looking after all their schools equally?

urbanfox1337 Tue 29-Mar-16 01:00:55

Didn't see prh47bridge's message before I posted, (s)he said it better than me. Sorry for the repetition.

Jumpingshipquick Tue 29-Mar-16 03:23:38

I've been trying really hard to prove myself wrong about this, but the MAT is a single legal entity and individual schools are no longer legally distinct. It matters because my school in effect won't exist anymore, and has to rely entirely on the board of the MAT, but with potentially no real power to influence decisions.

Again, from what I have read (solicitors website about conversion) the GAG is allocated to the MAT centrally and then devolved locally. This is deliberately done so the MAT can fulfil their duties to ensure financial stability across the whole chain. An individual school could complain to the SoS if they feel they are being treated unfairly.

I thought the requirement for parent governors had just been removed by Nicky Morgan?

I have not yet found any requirement for directors to have fixed terms, nor for them to be elected, but I might be wrong. I'm finding .gov documents quite weighty to trawl through.

The LGB may well (and presumably in best practice will) still exist, and may well have some power devolved, but this is not required.

I take your points about accountability and problems with the LA, but I still think it's better to be locally managed (and most LA do it well, hence the non issue in elections etc) .

But in answer to why do I care so much? Currently my children go to a good county primary, the chair of governors is always on the school gates, the head is readily available, the teachers are happy, my children are happy. There is an LA representative on the board, there are parent and teacher governors on the board. Why does anything need to change? Other than a dogmatic assumption that private sector practices work better from the government and probably a vanity project from the head (after all, in a county full of single form entry schools, the only way up for him is to get himself an executive head job), I am yet to hear a convincing argument as to why it would be better to form a MAT. I see only risks. And as I have experienced conversion from the inside, I know there is no holding anyone to any promises about pay and conditions, ethos, make up of governing body etc made before conversion.

Fortunately I do have some faith in the current board of governors etc, and I don't think our school will be worst case scenario, but as my children will be there for the next 10 years with no other real option of school if things do go wrong, I feel quite heavily invested in this - these changes will disenfranchise me as a parent.

prh47bridge Tue 29-Mar-16 06:39:08

but the MAT is a single legal entity and individual schools are no longer legally distinct

They are as legally distinct as they are when under LA control.

the GAG is allocated to the MAT centrally and then devolved locally

The GAG is paid per school. What happens then varies. The most common model is that the MAT top slices it but each school still gets its own GAG - the GAG from school A cannot be used to fund school B. What you are describing, I think, is known as GAG pooling. This allows an MAT to amalgamate a proportion of its GAG funding into a single central fund which can be used to meet the running costs of any of the academies within the MAT. This requires the agreement of all schools within the MAT. Very few MATs have gone down this route. Any MAT that does must have regard to the funding needs and allocations of each individual school and must provide a mechanism whereby schools can appeal internally, with the option of taking it to the Secretary of State if they are unhappy after exhausting the internal appeals process.

I have not yet found any requirement for directors to have fixed terms, nor for them to be elected, but I might be wrong

That is a requirement of company law. You can also find it in the model Articles of Association for MATs on the government website.

most LA do it well, hence the non issue in elections

It is a non-issue in elections because voters consider other issues to be more important, plus which many parents don't like to believe that the school their children attend is rubbish. There are councils that have allowed some of their community schools to continue producing poor results for years without taking effective action to turn them round. Even there education is a non-issue in elections. Plus, as urbanfox points out, many councils never change hands just as some parliamentary constituencies never change hands.

CrowyMcCrowFace Tue 29-Mar-16 06:45:05

I agree with you. Google Perry Beeches, OP.

Having said that, once the head & governors have decided on Cackademy conversion, you're screwed. Might as well try to stop the tide from coming in.

I moved. Abroad, in fact.

dlacey Tue 29-Mar-16 07:24:40

I take your points about accountability and problems with the LA, but I still think it's better to be locally managed

What if your local councillors weren't the ones you voted for? You might think differently then.

At its root, mass academisation is about the Conservative Government taking schools out of the control of Labour (or other) councils and Local Authority bureaucrats (of variable quality but all on permanent public sector contracts that can't easily be ended when performance is poor).

If a school performs badly in a MAT the gvt of the day can remove it and give it to another MAT.

If a school performs badly in an LA then under the current system they can remove it and give it to a MAT but that just makes the academy system the equivalent of a dunce's hat. The gvt wants good schools like yours to convert too and to form MATs so they can play their part in helping other schools to improve.

If a good school takes the lead in a MAT they can keep their existing governors in charge of they wish. The Standing Orders of their trust can commit to retaining parent governors and LA representatives if they wish. They can continue to commission public sector services if they wish. But they have more flexibility to change if they wish too.

That's why many good schools have willingly converted to academy status and is presumably why your school is considering doing the same. Yes, there are risks but as in all decisions they need to be weighed against the opportunities and managed appropriately. The school can manage that best if they're in control.

dlacey Tue 29-Mar-16 08:04:17

what's to stop people who are actually in it for the money/ personal gain rather than the good of the children?

If you're meaning people inclined to commit fraud (or even just lax accounting ) then there have been plenty of those in the state system. Good governance is key to preventing it in any structure.

If you mean the edu-businesses and consultants then each needs to be considered on its merits as to whether the service offered is value for money. I don't have a problem with brilliant educators starting businesses to extend their services to others.

EdithWeston Tue 29-Mar-16 09:00:08

"a faceless bureaucrat put in post by their mate at Whitehall"

I hope this was just posting in frustration!

Appointments in central government departments are done by merit, for recruitment, promotion and deployment, and the role of the HR departments cannot be excluded from the process.

But even if you adhere to the view of entrenched corruption in public service appointments, then there is no reason to prefer the LA to have the role, for they are no less likely to have nepotistically appointed staff. And it will be LA bureaucrats performing the roles.

SmallSchoolPrimaryTeacher Tue 29-Mar-16 09:09:22

I think the problem is being clear about the difference between what is legally possible and what most people think others would do. I am a headteacher in a MAT. I have minimal control over my budget (can't determine my staffing structure, hence can't appoint even a lunchtime supervisor without permission from the non-educational directors - the finance director is understandably a control freak as he is the 'responsible person'), my governing body is a talking shop with no power of any sort, and they are talking of getting rid of it as it does not seem very effective!), have to abide by MAT directives on every issue (have to follow MAT policies eg about assessment/uniform/class gerbils, even if something else has been working well in my school) and - most galling of all - I am about to lose my budget carry forward which I have been saving for a project in order to bail out another school which has a deficit. As an experienced head who has run successful schools in the past, it is frustrating to have to go back to needing to get permission for blowing my nose. There is so much nonsense spouted about freeing schools from Local Authority beaurocracy, but I had far more autonomy in the old days - we are merely replacing one structure with another. The new system will get rid of genuinely coasting/bad schools where things are not going well and the LA are not intervening, but there is a danger that perfectly good heads (who enjoyed running their own schools) will be lost, a bit like the Ofsted regime got rid of some excellent (maverick) teachers as well as the bad few.

PrettyBrightFireflies Tue 29-Mar-16 09:36:21

smallschool In LA schools, it is the Governing Board, not the HT, who are responsible for agreeing the staffing structure.

You may not have been held to account for staff appointments you made outside the agreed strategy without their approval - and indeed, may have been poorly supported by a weak GB.
But in neither system should a HT be appointing staff without prior agreement of the governance structure.
It is the GBody of a LA school who are responsible for ensuring financial probity - and effective GBoards have a handle on that in the same way as your Finance Director does.

dlacey Tue 29-Mar-16 09:44:16

there is a danger that perfectly good heads (who enjoyed running their own schools) will be lost

There is also an opportunity for them to initiate and lead MATs of their own to spread their good practice.

I think mass academisation forces everyone out above the parapet where they can choose to be a leader or a follower. It could be unwise to stay in the trenches and miss opportunities to take control.

spanieleyes Tue 29-Mar-16 09:47:54

And being forced above the parapet means you are more likely to be shot!

CrowyMcCrowFace Tue 29-Mar-16 09:57:14

It appears to be forcing quite a lot of teachers out of the UK teaching profession altogether.

Which is not great when coupled with a recruitment crisis. Unless you're perfectly happy to have schools staffed by the untrained & unqualified.

dlacey Tue 29-Mar-16 09:57:38

Yes spanieleyes, but staying in the trench will get you shot too under the all-academy plan because the gvt will put you in a MAT anyway, it just won't be one of your choosing.

CrowyMcCrowFace Tue 29-Mar-16 10:09:31

Assuming this government remains in power long enough to do the forcing, of course.

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