MAT Moves: School group trends 2020/21

MAT Moves: School group trends 2020/21

Every month, we track of the size and shape of the wide reaching and rapid changes underway across the education system as academies and, in particular, academy groups become the pre-eminent force in the sector. This December we take a look back at 2020/21 and assess the impact that COVID has had on growth, movement and mergers within the academies space over the past 12 months.

Before we begin

Let’s start with a simple one: which Trust is largest?

No prizes on offer for this one we’re afraid.

Whether we mean by pupils or schools, the answer is the same. United Learning with 53,925 pupils at 75 schools.

Ok, how about the second largest? Or who makes up the Top 10? The Top 25? How have they changed over time? Or who’s growing the quickest?

Definitely trickier. And prizes may have to be available.

The Department for Education does make this data available via Getting Information about Schools, but those who have spent a few hours with their hands on it will attest to it being the data equivalent of scraping the burnt bits off a round of toast - it’s time consuming and messy.

Every month via this newsletter, our Twitter feed (here) and our linkedIn (here) we are going to post updates from the continuous analysis that we are running on those datasets, giving you a sense of the shape and direction of the system. There’s a lot happening so we can’t cover it all, but we’ll aim to give you insights on what is happening at the group level (growth, mergers etc.) and at the system level (distributions, scale etc.).

Graph of the 10 largest multi-academy trusts by pupil number's

Whatever your stance on school groups, we now know that they’re not only here to stay, but that they are set to become the pre-eminent force in the sector over the next ten years: increasing numbers of schools will academise joining the 39% of schools (representing 52% of pupils) that already have, and more of those schools will form into, or join with Multi-Academy groups.

Wherever you sit within the sector, it might be useful for you to have an outline of how those changes are playing out.

Caveat # 1

We’re mostly going to cover questions of size, shape and direction via these updates. This is (of course) not because school groups that are large, or changing size, are inherently good or bad. No MAT leader that we have sat down with has ever suggested that their size or shape has offered them immunity from the challenges that come with running schools, though many have said the opposite.

We're focusing on MAT growth because a) we’re in the midst of a period of change for the system, b) Habitude’s typical MAT customer is going through some type of transformation at the moment, or is making sense of their size and c) there is less written about than this other facets of the sector.

Caveat # 2

We’re working with data collected from GIAS and we will publish, we are sure, errors and inconsistencies based on the data within those sets. Our apologies upfront for these. In that spirit you should take what you read here as indicative as opposed to gospel.

If you work for a MAT or school it's always a good idea to keep GIAS up-to-date and if you spot an error in our analysis then you should definitely login and check for accuracy.


Finally, suggestions are very welcome. If there are particular aspects of the sector that you would like us to point our analytics tools at, if we can do it, we will.

MAT Moves

This month we have been taking a scan across the year just past: September 2020 through to September 2021.

Scene setting

In England - total - we have 8,911,853 pupils going to 24,413 schools.
  • Most pupils go to an academy. Most schools are not one.
  • 36% of these schools have academy status and 53% of all pupils attend an academy. Why more pupils than schools? Academies are skewed towards Secondary schools which, typically are larger than (more than 3 times larger than) a typical primary.

Standalone academies are becoming rarer...
  • Single academy trusts are becoming less common whilst multi-academy trusts are becoming more. 88% of academies now sit as part of a multi-academy trust - this has moved +2% in the past 12 months.
  • And 44,334 pupils fewer are attending single academy trust schools whilst multi-academy groups added 99,910.
...whilst academy school groups become more prevalent...
  • Overall this past year MATs have increased their school footprint by 10% and their pupil footprint by 5%.
… and a bit larger.
  • The sector average for group size is now 6 schools per MAT, up from 5.6 last September 2020.

Where has this year's growth come from?

More than ⅓ of MATs expanded during 2020/21
  • More than one third of existing trusts added schools to their groups this past year: that's 545 trusts adding 841 schools.
  • The overwhelming majority of these - 427 - brought a single school to the group. As shown below, trusts that added one, two, three or four schools into their group accounted for the overwhelming majority of growth.

Graph of Trust growth from 2020-2021

Diocese governed Trusts grow fastest
  • The four largest moves (in # schools) came from: The Bishop Bewick Catholic Education Trust (+25), The Bishop Wilkinson Catholic Education Trust (+18), The Bishop Chadwick Catholic Education Trust (+13) and The Bishop Hogarth Catholic Education Trust (+11).
New trusts emerge and single school trusts expand
  • 32 trusts made the leap from one school to several. Mostly (for 28 trusts) this was through the addition of a second school.
  • Three trusts added two schools.
  • Emmaus Catholic Academy Trust in Salford brought in three.
  • 2020-21 saw 24 brand new trusts incorporated. They brought 72 schools into the space with them.

Highest growth Trusts measured by % growth 2020-2021

The largest MATs

Large school groups, a significant minority
  • England's Top 50 school groups (by pupil #'s) are collectively large.
  • Between them this September they welcomed back over 800,000 pupils. That said, seeing them in the context of the whole, that equates to 9% of all pupils at 6% of all schools. If you, like we do, work with some large MATs it's useful to keep that in mind: this top 50 are large, they're influential, but there's a lot more schools and pupils out there.
Graph of the top 50 multi-academy trusts by pupils and schools

Will growth equate to future size?
  • As you would expect, the rates of growth (schools p/year average) amongst the largest trusts outstrips those seen at smaller. The 20 largest (shown below) have averaged 4.3 new schools per year since opening / taking on their first.
  • By comparison, the 80 - 100th largest trusts have opened / taken on schools at a rate of 2.2 per year.
  • Notably high rates included Delta, Reach2, AET, Kemnal and Astrea inside the 20 largest and Hamwic Education Trust, The Enquire Learning Trust, Academy Transformation Trust and L.E.A.D. Academy Trust from outside.

Graph demonstrating 20 of Englands largest Trusts

That's it for December. We'll be back in January with updates from the 2021/22 so far.

If you have any suggestions or feedback we would love to hear from you - drop us an email at or message us on Twitter at @habitudehq

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