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‘Sizeable minority’ of academy trust finances ‘vulnerable’

A “sizeable minority” of academy trusts may be vulnerable to funding issues because of falling primary pupil numbers, according to new analysis.

Research by FFT Education Datalab found hundreds of trusts that are either primary-only or have few secondary schools. The analysis suggests that the latter could be in a “vulnerable position” if they lose their secondary schools,

Schools Week reported last month that the 15-school Diocese of Bristol Academies Trust would hand over all of its schools to new trusts after ministers decided to rebroker Deanery School in Swindon, its sole secondary.

It prompted warnings from chief executive Stephen Mitchell that “where you have trusts with a lot of primary schools and a small number of secondaries, their model is based around reliance on the secondary schools’ size… that’s a vulnerability”.

The analysis by Dave Thomson identified 386 primary-only MATs, 78 of which have 10 or more schools.

MATs under ‘increasing pressure’

He identified a further 46 trusts with 10 or more schools overall but “just one or two secondary schools, so [they] could be in a vulnerable position if those schools were to close or leave the trust”.

Since they have fewer schools overall, smaller MATs “are of course much more likely to have just one or two secondary schools than larger MATs”.

But smaller MATs “are already under increasing pressure to expand or merge. While losing a secondary school might place them in a more vulnerable position, arguably so would losing any school.”

Overall, a third of multi-academy trusts were primary only, while 45 per cent were a mix of primary, secondary and other mainstream schools.

Larger MATs are more likely to include a mix of phases or types, but “even so more than a quarter are primary only”.

Thomson said the number, size and composition of MATs is “constantly evolving”.

“Pre-pandemic, there were just over 150 large MATs with 10 or more schools. In the data we used for this piece, there were nearly 300,” he added.

“But this snapshot of their composition shows that a sizeable minority of MATs either consist entirely of primary schools or include just one or two secondary schools. And these MATs may be more vulnerable to funding issues as primary numbers fall.”

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