New report reveals multi-academy trust growth stifled by pandemic

25th February 2021

The ninth annual Kreston Academies Benchmark Report published last month has revealed that the growth of multi-academy trusts (MATs) was stifled by the Covid-19 pandemic during 2020.

According to the report, growth has fallen from three percentage points down from 10.8% in 2019 down to just 7.8% in 2020.

The report also paints a complex picture in terms of trust finances. Less pupils have been in school due to lockdown; resulting in fewer maintenance costs. reduced property costs and savings to utility bills – as well as a 70% reduction in supply teaching across all surveyed schools.

However, many of these savings will need to be invested in technology and other resources to enhance the sector’s remote learning capabilities in the coming year, with 85% of trusts planning enhanced funding for IT in the future.

Lesley Kendrew, academies partner at BHP, said: “There’s no doubt that 2020 has been a year like no other, and it’s been no small feat that the education sector has met the impact of Coronavirus with immense resilience, whilst also managing unprecedented challenges facing exams, free school meals, deep cleans and other operational areas.

“This report demonstrates that if you dig a little deeper, the immense cost transforming teaching methods with new technology so students can continue their studies is likely to have an impact which will be felt for years to come.”

Leora Cruddas, chief executive of the Confederation of School Trusts, said: “Although the financial picture is reported to be relatively strong, the impact of Covid-related costs cannot be assessed in a single financial year. The education, social and economic impacts of the pandemic will affect children and families for some time yet. This will undoubtedly impact on school and trust budgets.”

The survey also found that although the adoption of GAG pooling across MATs, a practice championed by the government where funds are collated from all schools in a trust and distributed centrally according to need, has more than doubled since the previous year – from 5.2% in 2019 to 11% in 2020 – the vast majority have not made the move.

Philip Allsop, academies partner at BHP, said: “The sector as a whole is still slow to utilize GAG pooling, with many trusts yet to adopt the use of it. Centralised funding is another option to weather the additional costs many schools have encountered as MATs emerge from the current crisis.”

Almost 14% of schools surveyed also revealed plans to employ cover teachers directly once pupils return to the classroom, rather than relying on agency staff, presumably to cut costs and help counter the financial impact of the pandemic.

Philip added: “Supply teaching is an expensive problem that can cost some academies tens of thousands of pounds. It’s not unsurprising that schools are looking to rethink their approach to managing staff internally to limit the financial impact of investing in new technology-focused teaching methods.”

The findings paint an overall positive financial picture for the sector with results across all MATs reportedly moving from a £196K surplus in 2018/19 to a £221K surplus in 2019/20. Over the same period, primary school results have shifted from a £12K surplus to a £25K surplus.

Secondary schools saw the most significant increase with the average in-year surplus raised by around £130K, to £147K, due to additional savings generated by secondary schools generally being closed for the longest periods during the pandemic.

Mike Jackson, academies partner at BHP, said: “The report indicates trusts have done a remarkable job balancing the needs of students, stakeholders and their budgets during a global pandemic, which is why there are many surpluses across the sector.

“But we must also consider that restrictions resulting from the pandemic are likely to put a financial strain on trusts for many months to come, and even when the situation improves, an increased reliance on technology means the way in which education is delivered will likely never return to how it once was.”

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