Academies boss: Maintained-school headteachers have more freedom than those in academy chains

The leader of the country’s largest academy chain has said that headteachers of maintained schools have more freedom and autonomy than their peers at schools in multi-academy trusts.

Ian Comfort, who runs the Academies Enterprise Trust, said heads had to “give up their sovereignty” when their school joined a multi-academy trust.

Heads at maintained schools had greater freedoms in important areas such as teachers’ pay and pupil numbers, and were subject to less external scrutiny, he added.

“A headteacher that joins a multi academy trust really has given up a lot of direct control over their own school,” he told TES.

Mr Comfort, whose chain includes 77 academies, said: “When you become part of a multi-academy trust…you haven’t got the control where you can decide on levels of pay, for example, because you’ll get an equal pay claim in from another school within the group.”

He said that whereas a maintained school could increase its pupil numbers without consultation, academies needed the permission of the Education Funding Agency.

In addition to Ofsted inspections, Mr Comfort said, schools in multi-academy trusts had visits from Department for Education advisers and from the trust itself. “You end up with even more people coming in [and] looking at what you’re doing,” he added.

Mr Comfort said, however, that being part of a multi-academy trust brought “huge benefits”.

“You’ve got the ability to work across the group [and] gain expertise from across the group,” he told TES. “You can share resources and, if the trust is run correctly, there are huge benefits of working together and collaborating.

“But to get something you always give something up. I think they [maintained schools and those in multi-academy trusts] are just different. I don’t say one is better than the other.”

Speaking at the Education Reform Summit in London last week, Mr Comfort said the government might struggle to significantly increase the number of academies because it would need to “find a lot more sponsors”.

“Alongside sponsors must come [the question], what is the optimum size?” he said.

“It’s often said that we are too large to be an academy group. I don’t agree with that…but if we’re too large, you’re going to have to get a lot more sponsors out…That’s an issue.”

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