Why are we so obsessed with MATS?

As usual it’s great to see the MIS Market Moves stats from Joshua Perry, he provides some excellent analysis of where the UK MIS market stands at present. Although Joshua wrote a piece in 2019 on how MATs affect the market, there’s a few points that have cropped up over the past year and I’d like to offer my perspective on them.

MATs are always an exciting prospect for MIS Suppliers, the concept of a single deal for multiple schools is a clear positive, but it also comes with potential growth as MATs are often keen to expand, taking on more schools and migrating to their MIS of choice.

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Rapid Growth

From the 1st of May 2019 until today, 1273 schools have joined Multi Academy Trusts, making it over 8000 schools in total. During the same period, only a handful of new Trusts have been formed. On average, that’s just under one new school per MAT during a time of mass upheaval and change.

If we look forward to 2021, many schools will find themselves extremely stretched, both in terms of finances and resources thanks to a combination of reduced budgets (in real terms), increased staffing/property costs and now the COVID/Brexit cocktail which will have a significant impact on both factors. Could this force more schools to consider joining a MAT? The chance to share resources and economies of scale when it comes to contracts could be the final push they need.

The MIS Market

When we look at the MIS market, it’s clear that SIMS are fighting a losing battle when it comes to MATs as their solution struggles to meet the dynamism of their rivals. Unless things change rapidly under new ownership, I think we can expect their market share to continue falling, especially so with MATs.

As Joshua Perry’s Large MAT graphic demonstrates, the key players at the sharp end of the market are Bromcom (20%), Pupil Asset (12%) and Arbor (10%). Each solution offers a slightly different take on what they believe MATs are looking for.

What’s interesting is how this big-ticket functionality is trickling down to the smaller MATs. Where MIS suppliers are developing enticing tools to catch the big fish, the software they produce becomes a better prospect for smaller trusts. A few years ago, it was the norm to collate and analyse data manually. Now, we expect suppliers to produce a fully fledged solution which will carry out both tasks with ease, providing insight along the way.

What are Large MATs looking for?

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With Large MATs, Bromcom have a clear lead in terms of Cloud-MIS and I expect that’s due in part to their MAT-wide analysis platform that can benchmark against shared data, along with their smart toolsets for managing MIS settings centrally. In addition, I have a hunch that their ‘One-Stop-Shop’ approach could also carry significant weight.

Some experts argue that an MIS should provide solid core functionality and allow third parties (Best-of-breed) to fill in the rest. There are certainly instances where this can work well, but when you consider a MAT, the case for a ‘One-Stop-Shop’ is arguably greater. I imagine the prospect of all data being centralised for easy analysis and simplified implementation, control and training is a suitable carrot for many MATs. Best-of-Breed sounds great on paper but it does rely on everything working well together and for a school to do a lot of homework, something that many do not necessarily have the time to do. Something Edtech writer and blogger Pete Atherton was keen to point out in his piece on MIS Bolt-ons.

In many ways, SIMS ended up adopting a Best-of-Breed model and I’d argue that was out of necessity over choice. Some Schools are feeling the hangover of this approach and for them, the all-encompassing solution is a great prospect.

The Primary/Secondary Divide

One challenge facing MATs of mixed phase, is to find a solution that suits all their schools. Whilst many MATs will tender with a potential of splitting schools between multiple suppliers, it’s very rare for this to be the final result. Depending on the structure of the MAT, they may lean more towards either a Secondary or Primary focus when procuring an MIS. You would expect a Primary Solution to have more sway due to the significant number of Primaries vs Secondaries. However, this is often not the case, with Secondary schools taking the lead in strategic direction for the MAT.

This may be another reason why Bromcom has a greater market share of the larger MATs as their MIS is the most popular Cloud-MIS for both Secondary and All-Through schools across the board. Their Secondary product is one of the most mature on the market and that’s being reflected in school adoption. You’ll see how this translates in the Market share by Pupils, with Bromcom moving up to third, just behind an ailing RM who are seemingly down year on year.

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Both Arbor and Bromcom are victims of their own successes in this respect, with Arbor trying to convince Secondary schools that they aren’t just a Primary School product and Bromcom vice versa. Secondary functionality is a tough nut to crack though so Arbor may have a long road ahead on this front.

We’ve seen many MIS Suppliers try to make the leap from Primary to Secondary functionality in the past and there’s a significant amount of work involved. On more than one occasion, there’s been a supplier claiming to have Secondary functionality when the reality fell short. Over the past 10 years a good number of MIS suppliers opted to steer away from secondary schools, Scholarpack for instance made it a USP.

Tasked with producing an MIS from scratch, I’d definitely go down the route of starting with Primary as it’s far less complex to build and maintain. Trying to keep up with the DFE changes alone has held back a fair few in the past. With this in mind, we’ll have to see how the Secondary market develops in the coming years. The MAT market has forced a lot of suppliers to start producing a solution for Secondary schools otherwise they risk losing large contracts.

The Trickle-Down effect

So how will this affect the majority of schools that operate outside of Trusts? Well firstly, having more choice in the market is a great thing. The erosion of SIMS’ grip on the market means the competitors have more revenues to put towards developing even better products.

Having a Large MAT on your roster certainly provides a certain cachet to your products. These organisations invest heavily into their procurement processes and are signalling their preference based on extensive research. When an individual school is looking for a new MIS, this could easily be something that influences the short list.

Next up is the ecosystem that support schools. Support teams across the country were predominantly exclusive to SIMS until very recently. We’re starting to see a big shift in what teams are offering, with some promising to support a whole range of MIS, while others are choosing just one recommended alternative.

When a single school ends your support services due to a change in MIS, this can be offset. When an entire MAT shifts, taking a significant number of schools with it, a support team needs to reposition. As teams take on support for new systems, they need to increase the number of schools on the software to make it viable. Thus, encouraging schools to consider their options and creating more movement in the market.

As it stands, 27% of UK schools are already controlled by MATs and we may see an upswing in the coming years as a direct response to schools adapting to how the pandemic affects schooling and the availability of staff, a factor which could be further impacted by Brexit. Suppliers that already have reputable products and a good market share for larger MATs will be in high demand as the smaller ones scale up. Bromcom, Pupil Asset and Arbor are well placed for this takeover and I’m sure they’ll be adopting many new schools through existing relationships over the coming years.