The 4 MAT personality types

In this presentation about scaling your Trust and my last blog, I highlighted how the central team need to decide on the right balance between a MAT’s desire for alignment and a school’s desire for autonomy, as this will define their systems, processes and, ultimately, culture.

Looking at the diagram below, you can see the 4 different personality types I suggest, and the culture that each one generally has as a result.

How Alignment and Autonomy Influence Culture

MAT matrix.png

Authoritative MAT

Often seen in MATs with a high proportion of turnaround schools who have weak operational processes that need replacing. These MATs have a large central team to help ensure a high degree of alignment with the MAT, and deploy a largely non-negotiable, tried-and-tested set of systems and processes within each school, leaving little variation. 

  • Advantages: highly centralised process is cost effective, goals are clearly defined & measurable, MAT has the capacity to intervene where necessary and takeover the school
  • Disadvantages: morale of school staff can suffer due to lack of autonomy; allows for little variation in process even when a school ‘earns’ their autonomy

Assistant MAT

Often seen in MATs with high performing schools and strong headteachers/leadership teams. These MATs have defined, clear goals agreed with their teams and a certain set of core non-negotiable systems and data that they have aligned schools around, leaving peripheral systems and processes at individual schools’ discretion. The central team is relatively small and nimble, able to respond in a timely manner and help schools where they need extra capacity or assistance

  • Advantages: the MAT can scale sustainably, whilst ensuring that this isn’t at the expense of school autonomy and morale. Standardisation is around core data, process and systems, with autonomy given to people in how they use these systems
  • Disadvantages: Where the boundaries of alignment are vague or poorly defined it can lead to ambiguity and confusion between the MAT and schools. This needs constant discussion as dialogue changes. Often not suitable for turnaround schools who can require systemic change led from the top

Entrepreneurial MAT

Often seen in local, start-up MATs with high performing schools and leadership; people know and trust each other. There is typically only a small topslice, so the central team are small, usually having a dual-role split between an individual academy and the MAT central team. Systems and processes are non-standardised, and schools have wide discretion over how they manage themselves. Data collection is manual and light, often using excel, meaning little central oversight.

  • Advantages: keeps things nimble whilst the MAT is growing, with the minimum viable process and procedure. Gives room for experimentation as the MAT finds out what works and what doesn’t
  • Disadvantages: hard to scale this model beyond a small MAT, as once you reach ~5 schools the central team is overstretched, and managing diverse systems, processes and data means the MAT has poor oversight

Micromanaging MAT

This sounds bad, but it’s sometimes necessary. In challenging start-up MATs taking on turnaround schools there is no budget or large central team to roll-out a set of tried and tested systems and processes. The MAT has to take a hands-on approach, often with staff seconded from the lead school into the poorer performing schools. It can feel quite full-on for the schools, but here the entrepreneurial approach may not be viable!

  • Advantages: the MAT is very close to the source of the problems in the school, and can fix them quickly
  • Disadvantages: stressful for both the MAT team and the schools. Processes are very manual, often staff require a lot of chasing. Not sustainable as a strategy to onboard or maintain more than a handful of schools

I should say that the framework above is intentionally simplistic - you can’t easily define culture or put schools and MATs in a box. MATs often behave differently with different schools, and there are many more dimensions to culture. But frameworks are useful as they stimulate debate, so where do you sit and how do you plan to scale? My next blog provides some more detail on this. Watch this space.