A look at the practical changes of transitioning to a MAT

The process of transitioning to a MAT is one that involves changes in management, governance and financial decision-making. Where exactly should school business managers begin and how can they make the process as painless as possible? Eversheds Sutherland (LLP) attempt to solve the puzzle with timely advice

The legal process of moving to MAT status is quite straightforward. However, the practical changes that are required make this more of a challenge than many within the academy will realise and responsibility for those changes usually rests with the school business manager. So, here are our top tips to ensure a smooth and effective transition:

Ensure that trustees, members and senior leaders understand the change in governance structures when becoming a MAT.

MAT boards have responsibility for all the academies within the MAT – not just your existing academy. Invoking a skills’ audit will establish whether MAT trustees have the appropriate competencies for this wider role and ensure the success of the MAT being established. Inevitably, some changes will need to be made to the composition of the board to reflect a MAT structure – e.g. MAT boards are unlikely to have parent trustees or principals on them.

We recommend training for those within the MAT on the new MAT structure and those schools joining the MAT

MATs are required to have a Local Governing Body (LG) or Advisory Body (AB) for each academy within the MAT, thus ensuring a local school focus. Staff and parent representatives will sit on the LGB/AB.

A MAT will also need a CEO or executive head as the executive lead for all academy operations. Early identification of an experienced individual to take up this role is key.

We recommend training for those within the MAT on the new MAT structure and those schools joining the MAT so that they fully understand the legal framework that they are joining and what roles/responsibilities they will have within it.

Devise an effective committee structure with clear roles and authorities

LGBs/ABs are committees of the board of trustees. The trustees determine their composition and put in place schemes of delegation for each LGB/AB, setting the level of delegated decision-making they each have in relation to their respective academies – this may differ between academies.

Trustees should start thinking at an early stage what form their schemes of delegation should take, remembering that there is a requirement that they are published

Having a trustee on each LGB/AB will ensure appropriate oversight and lines of communication between these two bodies. Identifying and appointing an effective chair is essential, as is a MAT-wide code of conduct so MAT members, trustees and LGB/AB governors sign up to the same principles and standards of conduct.

Committees of the board (other than LGB/ABs) – e.g. finance, resources, curriculum – can be established to perform their functions across all academies, reporting into the board. Again, having clear terms of reference and schemes of delegation is key to their effectiveness. In a large MAT, consider using committees on a geographical or key stage cluster basis to reduce the number of committees and committee meetings.

Trustees should start thinking at an early stage what form their schemes of delegation should take, remembering that there is a requirement that they are published. The greater clarity and detail there is about the level of decision-making (especially re. financial decisions) the more effective they will be. Consider adopting a traffic light system of decision-making.

Use of standard reporting templates to streamline information flows

To reduce the length, and increase the effectiveness, of MAT trustee meetings, MATs should design reporting templates for LGBs/ABs/other board committees and senior management to complete and submit on a periodic basis ahead of trustee meetings.  These reporting templates should illicit key information about each academy/business function in a succinct manner making it easier for trustees to interpret academy/business data and identify problem areas/issues for discussion. Such templates will also enable consistent and targeted reporting back up to the board.

One of the key benefits of being in a MAT is the opportunity for centralising back office functions, costs and buying services on a larger scale (and, hopefully, with a larger discount)

Greater purchasing power

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One of the key benefits of being in a MAT is the opportunity for centralising back office functions, costs and buying services on a larger scale (and, hopefully, with a larger discount). Early due diligence on each of the academies joining the MAT to identify their key supply arrangements, supply costs and contract periods will enable trustees/business managers to ascertain where cost savings can be made and when might be an appropriate time to procure MAT-wide supplies.

Having a central purchasing function can be a more effective way of buying-in services by allowing skilled individuals to run the process on behalf of the MAT academies, reducing the amount of time spent on multiple procurements and ensuring that the MAT takes a standard approach to risk, liability and contract terms.

By identifying functions which all academies need, e.g. finance, HR administration, estates management, LGB clerking etc., MATs can design models for centralising these functions to avoid duplication of effort and cost

Once you have a MAT-wide contract with a supplier it will be easier to negotiate the inclusion of more schools as they join the trust. For growing MATs, try negotiating a sliding scale of discounts with suppliers – as the number of academies enjoying the services increases, the price per academy should reduce.

Centralisation of business functions and costs

By identifying functions which all academies need, e.g. finance, HR administration, estates management, LGB clerking etc., MATs can design models for centralising these functions to avoid duplication of effort and cost. Identify the best location/people from across the MAT to provide these central functions and put policies in place to ensure consistent delivery/procurement across all academies within the MAT.

Applying a top slice to each academy’s general annual grant funding to meet these central costs is permitted under the MAT’s funding agreement but academy principals need to agree to a top slice model and the level of the top slice has to be proportionate to the level of services actually being received by each academy. Keeping any top slice model under regular review will help to ensure it remains effective and affordable and that resources aren’t wasted on obsolete or unnecessary supplies which academies no longer have need for.

It’s possible that the combined level of commercial/trading activity is significant enough to warrant establishing a trading subsidiary

Merge academy trading activities

Understand what commercial or trading activities each academy within the MAT is undertaking, e.g. CPD training delivery, sports facilities hire. It’s possible that the combined level of commercial/trading activity is significant enough to warrant establishing a trading subsidiary; this can be more tax-effective and mitigate the risk of these commercial trading activities for the MAT. Bringing in a dedicated professional to run these commercial activities could maximise profits from the activities which can then be gift-aided to the MAT.

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