By Nicola West Jones, head of market research at The Key
Back in 2019, The Key conducted some research, alongside Forum Strategy, to look into the growth of trusts. We found that over half of trusts (54%) were actively looking for or in the process of acquiring schools, or merging with another trust, in order to grow.
We ran another survey in January 2021 (unpublished but presented to Forum members at roundtable events in spring 2021), and learned that, even in what turned out to be the middle of the pandemic, 64% still had advanced plans to grow over the next 18 months (up to July 2022). What’s more, 59% felt that it was either ‘likely’ or ‘very likely’ that these growth plans would come to fruition, despite the disruption still being caused by Covid-19. However, respondents were yet to know about the Delta strain of COVID-19, let alone the Omicron one, so we can forgive the unfounded optimism here. With the benefit of hindsight, we now know that between 2020 and 2021, there was only a 2.5% increase in academies, from 9,399 to 9,636, with the average MAT size growing only from 6.8 schools in 2020 to 7.5 in 2021.
Fast forward to February 2022, and we recently issued a further survey to trust leaders, to see how their growth plans had changed, as we tentatively edge towards a ‘post-pandemic’ era. This revealed that 78% of trusts are planning to grow in the next 12 months. In terms of their current approaches to growth, 39% of those surveyed said their trust is actively looking for partner schools, 26% are in a trust that’s in the process of acquiring new schools and 21% are in a trust that would take the opportunity to grow ‘if the right schools came along’. Only 4% of respondents said their trust is planning to merge with another trust.
The Key are commercial partners to Forum Strategy as part of a ‘paid-for partnership’ they have with us. In selecting our partners, we also do so with strong reference to their expertise in their field and commitment to Forum Strategy’s values and ethos.
 P.19, Kreston Academies Benchmark Report, 2022