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What makes an effective MAT?

Ambition School Leadership has conducted a three-phase project investigating the characteristics of high-performing multi-academy trusts (MATs).

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Date published 09 November 2017

Last updated 21 March 2024

This summary explores part one of our release of this research: a quantitative analysis of 402 MATs with four or more schools.

Download the research to see the findings in full.

It was designed to identify the trusts that have exhibited sustainable growth and to understand their characteristics. We defined sustainable growth as maintaining or improving performance while increasing in size.

We took a holistic view of each trust, looking at a range of characteristics. With these in mind, we asked the following questions:

  • Which multi-academy trusts are effective?
  • Which characteristics are associated with effectiveness?

Which trusts are effective?

For this analysis, we defined ‘effectiveness’ in terms of:

  • Pupil progress at Key Stage 2 and Key Stage 4
  • Improvement in value-added over time
  • Attainment of disadvantaged pupils compared to non-disadvantaged pupils and all pupils nationally
  • Whether any schools are rated inadequate
  • Whether they have a sustainable central function

What are the characteristics of a high-performing trust?

We identified 69 trusts that were high-performing.

Data relating to the size, phases, school types, pupil characteristics, geographical spread and rate of growth of 402 MATs was used to examine how well MATs performed in terms of pupil outcomes, school improvement, outcomes for disadvantaged pupils, and financial sustainability.

Across these high-performing trusts there is a mix of phases, school types and of sizes. 14 of the trusts have experienced rapid growth.

This suggests that there is not a single structural feature that is conducive to sustainable growth.


Key findings

There are a number of key findings relating to the different structural characteristics of MATs:


There is no clear relationship between pupil progress at Key Stage 2 or 4 and isolation. As smaller trusts are typically more tightly clustered and growing trusts show some evidence of reducing isolation over time, it may be that isolation becomes less common in the system regardless of any link to school performance.

School type

Trusts with more sponsored academies exhibit slightly better improvements over time, in line with the purpose of sponsorship being to improve school performance. Trusts with more converter academies exhibit higher overall pupil premium attainment, in line with the fact that historically these academies had to exhibit good performance in order to convert.

Rate of growth

There is mixed evidence about the connection between growth and performance. Trusts that have grown rapidly are more likely to show good improvements at Key Stage 2, which may reflect them taking on schools requiring improvement. However, their current Key Stage 2 performance is mixed with rapidly growing trusts more likely to be above average for writing progress but below average for reading.

Trusts that have grown rapidly are more likely to have schools rated 'inadequate' and schools with relatively high expenditure. This may reflect the fact that trusts are encouraged to take on lower performing schools as sponsored academies, but could also indicate the trusts have not been able to offer sufficient support to improve these schools.

Phase mix

There is some evidence that trusts with a mix of phases are more likely to show improvements in performance at Key Stage 2 and 4 than those working in a single phase. The analysis did not identify the reason for this pattern and we think this is worth further investigation.


Our research shows there is no consistent combination of characteristics that makes the difference when it comes to running a sustainable multi-academy trust (MAT). Creating an effective MAT is a complex process - no single characteristic is consistently associated with success.

In a separate phase of our research we have conducted in-depth case studies with high-performing MATs at different stages of growth. Bringing together the findings from these strands of research, we have developed the following hypothesis:

It is the coherence of a MAT’s vision, strategy and operations that predicts success.

It takes an effective leader to translate their vision for a MAT into positive pupil outcomes. Research has already shown that effective leaders are at the heart of great schools that transform children’s lives. The final phase of this research will investigate how MAT leaders can create high-performance across schools.

Next steps

This is the first release of our project looking at MAT effectiveness. Look out for the next part in 2018.

We are using the case studies from a concurrent phase of this project to inform our training for executive leaders, Executive Educators.

Download the research to see the findings in full.

This article originally appeared on the website of Ambition School Leadership. In March 2019, the Institute for Teaching merged with Ambition School Leadership to form Ambition Institute.

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