The rise and rise of multi-academy trusts – latest DfE data

Last week the DfE released the latest statistics on the numbers and size of multi-academy trusts in response to a Freedom of Information request that I submitted at the beginning of August.

At the end of July 2015 there were 846 multi academy trusts in England. To put this in perspective there were 391 MATs in March 2011. So that is a pretty rapid rate of growth.

However, the overall numbers only tell a small part of the story. The chart below shows the number of MATs by size of MATs. Two hundred and twelve MATS consist of just one academy – a nearly tenfold increase on the 2011 number. The response from many would be to say, ‘How can they be a multi-academy trust if they only have one academy – that is a contradiction in terms?’ That would be to misunderstand what is going on. Many if not most of these singleton MATs are signaling their intention to grow – a good number of them will have been approved to be academy sponsors (as of July 2015 the number of approved sponsors had grown to 739 and increasingly it is schools that are swelling the sponsor ranks). In other words these academies have established a MAT structure because their intention is to work in partnership with other schools.

Number of multi-academy trusts by number of academies in the trust

Photos Library 2

The rise in the number of MATs that comprise two to five academies – up from 224 to 517 since 2011 – reflects the Department’s change of strategy half way through the last Parliament. Instead of investing in a few large MATs the gameplan has been to encourage a lot of smaller academy groups.

Many of the smaller MATs that were fledgling trusts in 2011 have now grown to have between six and 20 academies. Most of the 105 MATs in this category fall under one of three headings:

  • Long-established MATs such as the Cabot Learning Federation, Leigh Academies Trust or Outwood Grange Academies Trust that have chosen to grow at a slower and, some would argue, more sustainable, rate;
  • Newer academy groups such as the Northern Education Trust, The Wakefield City Academies Trust, Creative Education Academies Trust, Enquire Learning Trust or The Glyn Learning Foundation. Some of these MATs have grown quite quickly as groups of schools have converted together and in other cases the relatively rapid growth reflects the entrepreneurial nature of the MAT Board or CEO; and
  • Diocesan Trusts – this group probably represents the largest and fastest growth in the MAT sector. The form that diocesan trusts take varies enormously and this is an area which would benefit from more in-depth research.

There are 12 MATs that have 21 or more academies – though the number rises to 13 if you include REACH2 which technically is currently a series of MATs working within a wider trust framework but in reality is an integrated organisation. The 13 largest MATs and the number of academies in each of them are as follows:

  • *E-ACT – 23
  • Greenwood Academies Trust – 27
  • *Ormiston Academies Trust – 27
  • *ARK Schools – 31
  • The David Ross Education Trust – 34
  • *The Harris Federation – 35
  • Plymouth CAST – 35
  • REACH2 – 39
  • *Kemnal Academies Trust – 41
  • *United Learning Trust – 42
  • *Oasis Community Learning – 44
  • *School Partnership Trust Academies – 46
  • *Academies Enterprise Trust – 61

The nine MATs marked with an asterisk constituted the largest MATs when I led a study of academy chains back in 2011/12.

The final figure that is worth highlighting is the total number of academies that are part of a MAT – 3,044. That represents around 15 per cent of all secondary, primary and special schools and, even more significantly, nearly two-thirds, of all academies.

So, some illuminating data from the DfE. What we now need is for the Department to get on and finalise the arrangements for publishing performance data for MATs. The consultation on this took place just before the election. If proposals are not forthcoming soon perhaps another Freedom of Information request might be the order of the day!

You can find the data released by the DfE as part of my FoI request at


5 thoughts on “The rise and rise of multi-academy trusts – latest DfE data

  1. Hello Robert – i would be interested to know if there is an optimum size for a MAT – that is where school improvement is quantifiable?

    • Only just seen this. No we don’t have any evidence on optimum size. DFE meant to be conducting research and Sir David Carter the Schools Commissioner is talking about number of pupils rather than number of schools as the key determinant. That is one relevant factor but in my view it all depends on how you manage scale and structure leadership and your school improvement model. WOrking through clusters is key and having a considered balance between what you do in the school, the cluster and at MAT level.

      Like so much else with MATs the whole thing is a gigantic experiment.

      • Thanks Robert. As you say an experiment with children and young people the winners or the losers!

  2. Hi Robert. Do you know if the latest statistics on numbers and sizes of MATs are readily available or do they have to be requested? Many thanks

    • I think you can get the latest stats via DfE’s Edubase website – though you will have to apply for login to be able to extract data you want. I got the info via FoI but they might now just refer you to Edubase.

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