Solve education recruitment crisis by growing Multi Academy Trusts, calls IRIS Software Group

New research reveals MATs and SATs’ staff recruitment challenges could be solved by growing Trusts


25 April 2023: Expanding Multi Academy Trusts (MAT) over the coming years is a key lever education leaders should pull to solve the major issues around finding and retaining leadership and support staff, according to new research from IRIS Software Group (IRIS).


Surveying over 250 trust and school leaders, the IRIS Education Leaders’ Survey reveals the majority of MATs are looking to grow to stay financially stable, realise economies of scale and mitigate challenges with recruitment and retention. However, the results also highlight there is little appetite in the state sector to move to academies, showcasing the clear barrier stunting the growth and overall health of the sector.


The strain of the current economic climate is showing in the UK, with a recent wave of strikes across different industries, and teachers striking over pay and conditions. This perfect storm is placing education leadership under severe pressure, with a National Foundation for Education Research report finding teacher vacancies were 93% higher in the academic year up to February 2023 than the same point pre-pandemic. In London, the situation is so dire, the number of new trainees applying for postgraduate teaching courses has dropped by 11% in the last year, according to Department for Education figures.


The report reveals half (50%) of all MAT leaders are struggling to recruit critical support staff across their Trusts. One MAT CFO commented, “Teaching Assistant salaries are not competitive – you can get paid the same working on a till [at a supermarket] with less stress and responsibility.”


Simon Freeman, MD of Education at IRIS Software Group, comments, “Undoubtedly, the external economic environment has exacerbated the current staff recruitment and retention crisis. Yet MAT leaders unanimously told us they aspire to grow. There are economies of scale to be found through sharing resources and staff, but these are only properly realised at around ten schools, so with the median trust size being five, many trusts are in the range of needing to grow to become more financially stable. As such, we will likely enter an era of MAT consolidation, where we will see fewer new MATs form and existing MATs merge to become larger.”


The study further reveals MAT leaders see filling (49%) and holding on to (34%) academy principals as a real struggle. The overwhelming majority (99%) of MAT leaders also found it harder to recruit teachers in 2022, and 78% said they found it harder to retain staff. Nearly half of MAT leaders (48%) are worried about salary expectations and the impact on staff retention, with a third (33%) citing it as a recruitment barrier.


Positively, the vast majority (93%) of MAT leadership surveyed said they plan to grow in the next three years. The clear opportunities provided to strengthen financial positions in the uncertain economic environment is a major factor in this decision, as it the ability to create economies of scale by centralising key enabling functions such as finance, HR, operations and IT to support growth across the trust.


Lord Jim Knight, Member of the House of Lords and former UK minister for schools, digital and employment comments on the results, “Put simply, more people are leaving teaching than are joining the profession as trainees. This is especially acute in secondary schools and subjects like maths and physics. This constrains the ability of schools to improve, as high quality is defined by good teaching.


“Less testing, more human inspection and accountability with a more balanced curriculum would all help rebuild trust in the teaching profession. A trusted profession with more empowerment is more likely to remain connected to the intrinsic vocation of teaching.”


Further information about how MATs and schools are navigating the economic uncertainty is available in IRIS’ Education Leaders’ report.