People Power

Six ways to develop and retain educators in multi-academy trusts

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Date published 11 June 2019

Last updated 21 March 2024

At Ambition Institute we believe that England’s education system has the potential to be the best in the world. But to get there, we know it’s got to be the best place in the world to be a teacher or school leader.

We’ve got some work to do to achieve this. The Department for Education’s Recruitment and Retention Strategy posed some solutions, which have been widely – and warmly – welcomed by the sector.

In this report, we have sought to take these further with a specific focus on the role of academy trusts.

44% of the school workforce works in an academy, and over 50% of children are educated in one. This makes the academy sector, including academy trusts, a significant employer in the education system.

This places trusts in the driving seat for putting the reforms emerging from the Recruitment and Retention Strategy into practice – and pushing them further to make sure that teachers and leaders keep getting better.

In this report we have explored how trusts can do just that.

The report

1. The story to date
A comprehensive literature review of the research into trust workforce development so far.

2. The structure of the school workforce
A zoomed out, quantitative analysis of the English education system, and the role trusts play within it.

3. Six suggested actions
A qualitative analysis of trusts that are doing workforce development well, identifying six suggested actions that trusts can take to develop and retain staff.

Download the report here.



The structure of the school workforce

There appear to be systematic differences in the experiences of teachers and middle leaders within the different types of academy trusts:

  • System leader trusts have a relatively high number of new entrants to the teaching workforce
  • The number of teachers and middle leaders exiting the state-funded sector each year is higher in large academy trusts than elsewhere
  • Large trusts also have much higher rates of promotion from classroom teacher to middle leadership
  • Both teachers and middle leaders tend to achieve promotions younger in large academy trusts than elsewhere

To find out more, click here.

We do not know exactly what is driving this higher turnover, but we do know that the education sector as a whole could benefit from these trusts – as with all schools and school groups – improving their retention of teachers with potential to be effective.

Trusts have an increasingly important role in developing, and retaining, new teachers: helping them to establish themselves as part of the school workforce and supporting them to stay in the profession.

In the next part of our research we set out to uncover how to do it.

Six suggested actions

We identified 10 trusts with strong workforce outcomes and asked them to tell us about the activities and pathways that they put in place to develop, progress and retain staff:

Through qualitative analysis of our interviews we have uncovered six ways trusts can improve their development offer to teachers and leaders, increasing progression and retention rates in the process.

  1. Support upward progression
  2. Develop specialist expertise
  3. Prioritise your working culture
  4. Create an attractive development offer
  5. Reduce barriers to development
  6. Manage talent

Find out more about these six suggested actions by downloading the report.

We have a strand called Talent Management that embraces recruitment, retention, development and succession planning.

- (Established trust, Yorkshire & the Humber)

One trust culture

Throughout all of our interviews one message came through again and again: underpinning the success of all the strategies outlined was the development of a “one trust” culture where staff saw themselves as working as part of a wider team across the school group, rather than solely as staff of individual schools.

We spent six years saying we're all one school, all one trust, we're all the trust's staff.

- (Established trust, East Midlands)

Empowering your people

All schools are different, and trusts operate in complex contexts. External and structural factors brought challenges for all the trusts we interviewed. Yet they all reported that they had been able to improve their workforce.

This suggests any trust, regardless of its context, should be able to learn something from the six suggested actions highlighted in this research.

Download the report to find out how.


The conclusions we draw from this research make us optimistic about the future of the school system. As the proportion of MATs in the system grows, so does their influence over the sector’s workforce.

Trusts – with support from the education sector at large – can now lead efforts to improve retention and progression in the education sector as a whole, not just their own group.

1. The MAT system now has an even greater role in nurturing their next generation of educators.

2. MATs and other education providers alike need to learn from the good practice highlighted in this report to establish better structures for progression and development.

3. Leaders from across the education sector have the potential to manage their workforce to also contribute to the wider system, in order to build a sustainable workforce for the future.

Read the full report

Download the full report to find out more about the six ways trusts can improve their development offer to teachers and leaders.

Learn more