Government must accelerate academies programme, warns former adviser

  • The growth of academies and multi-academy trusts has changed the face of English schools for the better
  • From only 203 in May 2010, academies now make up more than 10,000 of the country’s 22,000 state schools
  • The growth in ‘multi-academy trusts’ (MATs) has allowed leaders to push up quality and standards for children across multiple schools at once, by allowing resources and expertise to be pooled
  • Last year, the Government said they wanted all state schools to be in a strong academy trust by 2030. But this has since been watered down to an ambition ‘over time’.
  • A new report from the Centre for Policy Studies argues that there is still scope in this parliament to boost the number of schools in strong trusts, particularly faith schools, and bring the benefits of academisation to thousands of extra pupils

The Department for Education should speed up the conversion of maintained schools into academies, for example by allowing groups of schools to join multi-academy trusts (MATs), according to a new report from the Centre for Policy Studies.

‘Passing the Test: The Future of the Academies Programme’ is the first paper from CPS Head of Education Mark Lehain, a former special adviser at the Department for Education and founding principal of Bedford Free School. It sets out the benefits of academisation and MATs, including effective governance and leadership that makes an impact across a whole group of schools.

The report also makes a series of recommendations to smooth the transition to academies and facilitate batch academisation. The moves would mean more schools, teachers, parents and children will benefit from a system which has been proved to benefit pupils. 

The report’s recommendations are tied to three key principles:

  1. Smoothing the conversion process
    • The Government should conduct a ‘Domesday Book’ exercise across the state sector to provide clarity on schools’ assets and legal position
    • The system should allow and promote a new process for batch academisation of schools, to make it easier and cheaper for schools to work in partnership and join trusts together
    • Ministers must support the sector to develop and publish interoperability standards for school information and pupil data systems, to enable more efficient and secure data sharing and transfers
  2. Better and easier MATchmaking
    • Ministers should define a common set of information and metrics that all trusts must publish, to enable schools to better choose which trust to join.
    • Ministers should increase the funding available to support schools joining or forming strong trusts, and promote merger activity between trusts.
    • The Department for Education should fund an independent MATchmaking service to help school-to-MAT and MAT-to-MAT tie-ups.
  3. Working with willing participants
    • The Church of England and Catholic Church both plan to academise their remaining maintained schools. This should be supported and encouraged by ministers.
    • The Government should choose a small number of local authorities to be pilots for full academisation and take on the new role this entails. This would reduce costs for those ‘orphan councils’ who only have a handful of non-academy schools, and have to spend a disproportionate amount of time and money maintaining the associated bureaucracy.

Mark Lehain, CPS Head of Education and author of ‘Passing the Test’, said:

‘The academies programme has transformed the face of education in England but progress has slowed. We cannot allow a lack of ambition and drive to mean some schools fall behind. 

‘This report sets out the benefits of academisation as well as a number of ideas to help accelerate the rollout of academies across England. Allowing schools to join multi-academy trusts at the same time for example would reduce cost and the administrative challenges of transition, as well as ensuring more schools, teachers, parents and of course children benefit from pooling resources and sharing best practice.’



  • Mark Lehain is Head of Education at the Centre for Policy Studies.
  • ‘Passing the Test: The future of the academies programme’ is available to download here
  • Mark Lehain is available for interview. For further information and media requests, please contact Emma Revell on 07931 698246 and [email protected] or Josh Coupland on 07912 485655 and [email protected].
  • The Centre for Policy Studies is one of the oldest and most influential think tanks in Westminster. With a focus on taxation, economic growth, business, welfare, education, housing and green growth, its goal is to develop policies that widen enterprise, ownership and opportunity


Date Added: Friday 30th June 2023