Our current engagement with clients tells us that the issue of conversion to academy status and forming or joining a suitable MAT is a very hot topic for many school governing bodies at the present time. We will be publishing a number of informative articles in the coming weeks on this topic.
Many of the schools we are working with at the moment are considering Multi Academy Trust status. Either single academies looking to join a local MAT or, as a group of like-minded schools moving towards collaboratively creating a MAT. However, there still seems to be some caution or misunderstanding in many groups, particularly with regard to the treatment of employment.
The key element is to think through the governance and how the Multi Academy Trust Board will set the agenda. The Trust Board is the responsible body; it is the employer of all the staff and has the accountability to the Secretary of State through the Funding Agreement. The Trust will need to consider the schedule of delegation, the policy framework and contracts and terms and conditions for staff and how these impact on the vision and the operation of the MAT.
There is often a gap between the vision for a MAT and the policies and procedure. For example, schools regularly suggest that work around engagement with families and supporting children entering below age related expectations are two of the issues where collaboration is important and the MAT will provide the resources to do this in partnership. However, a major obstacle to address is whether contracts and flexibility in staffing allow for the introduction of this?
If you are joining or creating a MAT with other schools the Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations (TUPE) is a very important stage especially in relation to change management. This is the stage where you may start the consultation on changing the basis on which you, as the Trust, employ staff. In the past many schools have chosen to convert to an Academy and keep the same policies and contracts merely to avoid complication or extending the timeline for conversion.
If the situation is simple and the MAT will be a couple of schools both using a similar local policy framework and national terms and conditions for staff you may choose to transfer staff under the same framework. Where there are more schools or a mixed MAT with perhaps primary, secondary and possibly a VA school included then the policy framework may well be different.
As the Trust is the employer, Trustees should consider whether it may be helpful to have staff on different contracts or working under different policies even if it is only for a short period of time. It is very difficult to discharge the duties of an employer, with responsibility for managing diversity and equality, when employees are not clear what the procedures are or perceive other people are treated differently. In any event it is good practice to start detailed communication with the schools joining your MAT at a very early stage to understand the incoming schools’ ethos, culture and practices. This may involve a HR audit to understand how well the organisations are aligned.
A critical part of the transfer process is due diligence on the financial, contractual and employee data but, this should not be just about the numbers. The Trust really does need to talk to people and understand the way their new people are working. You can then decide a programme of induction and sharing practice between the schools to harmonise your procedures and processes.
Another area we find is often overlooked is job descriptions. Starting with the senior leaders, Headteacher roles in schools can often be very different from one school to another where perhaps teaching school alliances, executive roles or support to other schools as an NLE or LLE change the amount of time individuals spend on specific tasks. Where you are creating a MAT from several schools you will also find that what a school business manager does in one school is often very different to another. A group of individuals across the MAT may share a common title but the duties, line management responsibilities and pay may be very different. Such a situation raises equality issues which need to be seriously considered.
The issues are not insurmountable but as we have discovered, working with a variety of school groups, it is the Trusts that have considered them early on, used external support and planned their way through them that find the route to success easier to navigate.