Is your MAT governance structure scalable?

This blog is a transcript of a talk from our MAT Conference given by Sarah Pittam, Director at SLG Consulting. Sarah combines top-tier business consulting and education experience and explains below how different governance structures and processes can scale effectively as your MAT grows

We’ve talked about a number of stages of the MAT growth scale today. I’m going to focus on the governance aspect of that growth scale.

  1. The type of governance required depends on the size of your trust 

  • In the early phases, you’re likely to have a board that is dominated by legacy membership. You will have inherited the boards of your founding schools, and there will be many people who will assume that they should automatically graduate to the MAT board. This is a problem, as these people simply may not have the skills that your Trust board requires

  • As you grow, you must create financial stability, steady state governance, and effectively evolve the quality of your governance.  Quality of governance is about three main things:

    • The quality of processes

    • The quality of structures

    • The most important thing is the behaviours and skills that the individuals on your board are going to bring

    • Structures and processes aren’t that hard. It’s the people and how they behave and equip themselves in the role that really makes the difference between good, bad and outstanding governance 

  • Once you reach regional trust size/stage, you need to ensure that your governance model works at scale. You need to have future-proofed it with the right people, the right processes, the right subcommittees, the right board-paper format, with a collection of people on your board who have the right skills, who are strategic thinkers, who work well together, and who all sit as front-benchers

2. It’s a totally different ball game from LA maintained governance 

  • This is quite difficult sometimes to make others realise, but it is something that you have to communicate to your members. There will always be an initial perception gap between you and your legacy members. After all, they’ve been on the board for 5 years and from their point of view, everything is going well. You need to try and explain to them that they were at the wheel of a ford fiesta, and now you’re driving a Ferrari. It’s a difficult question, but you need to find a way to have that conversation 

  • The lack of independence that comes when people graduate from a governing body/LGB straight to the Trust’s board is a problem. People often think that they are representing the interests of their school, but that’s just incorrect. The same applies to parents - I’d really advise against having parents on the Trust’s board. It is rare, and it’s rare for a good reason 

  • There will always be a culture challenge. People will say, ‘we’ve always done it like this, why do we have to do something else? The Local Authority used to do it all for us!’. What they don’t realise is that the LA-maintained context is so different from the MAT context because the reporting compliance requirements are so much greater 

3. Recruiting the Chair & your board

  • Recruiting the Chair is really difficult in any size MAT, whether it’s a 2, 5, 10, 20, or a 50 school MAT. Don’t underestimate this! It’s particularly hard if you’ve got turnaround challenges, because much more time is required, and very difficult if you’re in a high growth phase. The Chair really is in the hot seat. He or she is not paid, and they might be spending a day a week or even more on this. It is difficult to find a top quality Chair, but hang in there; don’t just hope for the best. You should be very picky!

  • So what should you look for in a Chair? You need someone with a social mission. The vast majority of governors & trustees do and it’s an absolute prerequisite. It’s a necessary but not sufficient condition however; they must also bring something to the party. It should be an identifiable, generic and transferable skill set - e.g. if you’re looking for a growth manager, you must look for someone who has experience in managing growth in an organisation moving from £10 to £20 million turnover (if those are the sort of numbers you’re talking about) 

  • You should populate your board with people who understand the form and the function of governance. Ask the basic question: what are the objectives of this board? Fewer than 50% of people know what the answer to that question is. Try to find people who have had internal governance experience previously, as they’re more likely to understand the form, function and objectives of governance. It is not just something to put on your CV. It’s to support and challenge, to hold to account, to form strategy, and to act as a custodian of public funds and public policy. These are responsibilities that need to be taken seriously 

A board structure that scales is the easy part…it’s working out the right scheme of delegation for your trust that is much more difficult. We’ll be posting the second half of Sarah’s talk next week, so keep an eye on the blog for updates!

Recommended reading:
6 Phases of MAT growth part 1 (and the crises that follow!)
6 phases of MAT growth part 2: by MAT characteristic 
How and when to scale systems within your MAT