Why are small rural primary schools in England underrepresented in Multi-Academy Trusts?

  • Paul Richardson

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Education (EdD)


The focus of this research is to understand why small rural primary schools in England are underrepresented in multi-academy trusts (MATs). Successive Governments, since the passing of the Academies Act (2010), have aimed to achieve full academisation of all schools in England through the establishment of a ‘trust’ based school system. Small rural primary schools were significantly underrepresented as only 27% were an academy. Using frame analysis, this thesis revealed the ‘master frame’ that underpinned Governmental literature on small rural primary schools, depicted this group as a ‘problem group’ for the Government to achieve its aim of full academisation. These schools in England were also seen as ‘vulnerable’ and ‘at risk’ with MATs considered the preferred policy solution to support them.

Drawing on primary data through online interviews with a sample of headteachers from small rural primary schools based in Southwest England, the findings of this study revealed how MAT expansion policies had contributed towards their schools’ vulnerability due to the dissolution of pre-existing informal networks between primary schools locally. There was further pressure to achieve high assessment results and successful Ofsted inspections so their school could continue to survive. The participants also provided ‘counter-frames’ which
included a culture of fear perpetuated by Ofsted, which contributed towards a sense of threat regarding their collective identity as an institution. The participants placed significant importance in retaining their institutional autonomy, to ensure they could select a MAT that recognised and respected the crucial role of the school within their community.
Date of Award27 Mar 2024
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Bath
SupervisorMichael Fertig (Supervisor) & Denise Mifsud (Supervisor)


  • small rural primary schools
  • multi-academy trust

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