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The Arbor Blog

Expert ideas for a better working life at your school or trust

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Amy Underdown - 28 June, 2022

Category : Blog

Should schools in a MAT be close together?

In February 2022, we surveyed 164 MAT leaders about how they were thinking about culture in their trust. One of the interesting things that came out of this debate was the question of whether schools in a MAT should be close together, and how much this had an impact on the sense of community and

In February 2022, we surveyed 164 MAT leaders about how they were thinking about culture in their trust. One of the interesting things that came out of this debate was the question of whether schools in a MAT should be close together, and how much this had an impact on the sense of community and belonging. 

Interestingly, less than 10% of respondents thought that all schools in a MAT had to be in the same area. There were a variety of reasons to justify this response, such as the importance of joint school activities and the equity of treatment from governors who understand the local area. 

On the flip side, 26% of respondents said that it was of no importance that all schools in a MAT were in the same area. This was largely put down to the ability of technology to supplement where face-to-face isn’t possible. One respondent also made the point that geographic distance should not be a barrier to taking on schools that are well-suited to the MAT or are in need of assistance which a MAT further away can offer. 

Ultimately, the middle ground was popular, with 62% of respondents agreeing that they would want at least clusters of their schools to be near each other for practical reasons like sharing teachers and resources. 

schools in a MAT

Despite this fairly mixed response, the reaction changed when we asked our participants to consider the effect of geography on MAT culture, rather than just the logistics or practicalities of running a MAT.  75% of participants actually agreed that culture can be sustained even when schools within a trust are not geographically close, which was generally justified by the notion that, “technology can link schools that are not geographically close.” This marks a definite shift in attitude, as pre-Covid, MAT leaders were much more likely to state that having a smaller geographical footprint helped to maintain a tight culture.

schools in a MAT

In fact, nearly 1 in 3 participants felt that having the same systems was one of the most important factors when thinking about how to work together as one organisation, as summarised by one respondent who added, “divergent technology platforms create a barrier for communications and make it much more challenging to operate as a single organisation.” 88% of our participants agreed that, in an ideal world, all of their schools would share the same Management Information System in order to work better together. 

It’s certainly an interesting take that, while many seemed to agree that nothing beats face-to-face communication, a shared culture could be sustained through technology. 

Hear opinions from MAT leaders

We put this dilemma to Laura Gregory, Director of Education at Bellevue Place Education Trust. Her piece on the MAT distance debate is one of five articles in our ebook for MAT leaders. Creating a Cohesive Trust also includes our other survey results, insights and a discussion guide. You can download your free copy here. 

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Keep up with our other blog and ebook releases on Twitter and LinkedIn.

New to Arbor’s content? Click here for more MAT blogs and case studies. 

Amy Underdown - 14 June, 2022

Category : Blog

Our new ebook for MAT staff!

We’re excited to launch part two of our ebook for MAT staff – click here to download your free copy! In our last book for MAT staff, we explored whether trusts could and should create a shared culture. This is now more relevant than ever, spurred on by the government’s statement that all schools should

We’re excited to launch part two of our ebook for MAT staff – click here to download your free copy!

MAT staff

In our last book for MAT staff, we explored whether trusts could and should create a shared culture. This is now more relevant than ever, spurred on by the government’s statement that all schools should belong to ‘strong’ MATs by 2030. We wanted to take another look at what having a strong and cohesive MAT really means and as part of this, how every school could benefit from being in a trust. 

 

In February 2022, we conducted a survey of 164 MAT leaders and discovered that nearly 1 in 5 respondents did not feel that their trust had a cohesive culture which all their schools felt part of. 

When we asked participants about the factors they felt best contributed to a shared culture, our survey also revealed that MAT leaders were not drawn to surface-level factors, such as having the same uniform or a standardised curriculum. Instead, respondents were more focused on having shared opportunities for staff and students, and shared vision and values. This seems to direct us towards what having a cohesive trust truly means: sharing, not sameness. 

 

Hear from five MAT leaders 

To look further into what it takes to create a cohesive trust, we invited five different MAT leaders to write about what they thought helped build cohesion and resilience in their trusts. 

Our book opens with the importance of communication at Learning For Life Education Trust, and the resulting cross-trust oracy programme. You’ll then hear why Wellspring Academy Trust has committed to 125-year plans for all their schools, and how The Learning For Life Partnership shares best practice both within and beyond their own schools. The fourth piece in our book features interviews with three key trust leaders from across the country, exploring how sharing courses between their schools has benefited their students. This is followed by The Kemnal Academy Trust’s unique approach to trust-wide staff retention and opportunities. Our book closes with a look into moral leadership at Prince Albert Community Trust and how this has helped transform a number of vulnerable schools. 

 

The ebook is free to download for anybody interested in helping their trust work together as one organisation, not many schools. We hope you gain some inspiration on how to make sure that every school, and every student, is benefiting from everything your trust has to offer.

Click here to download your copy. 

 

If you missed the first part of our Cohesive Trust series, you can download it for free here.

To keep up with all our other exciting new content and news, follow us on Twitter and LinkedIn.

 

Amy Underdown - 29 March, 2022

Category : Blog

How to create a shared culture in your Trust

Click here to read our latest ebook, exploring how different trusts are building a shared culture.  The debate around autonomy vs. alignment for schools in Trusts has been animated over the past few years, with some MATs giving their schools independence over their policies and others preferring a more centralised approach. If we accept that

Click here to read our latest ebook, exploring how different trusts are building a shared culture. 

The debate around autonomy vs. alignment for schools in Trusts has been animated over the past few years, with some MATs giving their schools independence over their policies and others preferring a more centralised approach.

If we accept that trusts will always differ on how centralised to be, perhaps the more interesting question becomes: how do you create a trust which works really well together as one organisation, regardless of where you sit on that scale? 

What are the factors which create a successful, shared culture in a MAT? And how do you make sure the academies in your trust benefit from being part of a greater whole? 

The importance of creating a shared culture in a MAT

To get a sense of the national picture, in February 2022 we surveyed 164 trust leaders from around the country. 94% of respondents agreed it’s important all schools in a MAT feel part of the same culture. In fact, many indicated that having a shared culture was fundamental to a MAT’s purpose; one respondent wrote,  ‘I would wonder what ‘the point in being a trust would be if there was no sense of a shared culture.”

Having said this, nearly 1 in 5 respondents said that their trust did not have one cohesive culture which all schools feel part of, with many emphasising that this was an ongoing journey for their MAT. 

One participant put this down to “each school [being] reluctant to take on ideas and processes the other schools use”, whilst another explained that “we have not had time to build a common ethos beyond our founders’ vision which was entrepreneurial.” For some MAT leaders, a shared culture is simply “a difficult thing to achieve when you are a big, mixed-phase MAT across different authorities.”

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What are the foundations for a strong culture?

We asked those who felt they had already achieved a strong culture in their MAT about what they thought were the main factors that had led to this success. 78% of respondents to this question said that having a shared vision and values were the most important, with having clear leadership and shared staff opportunities also proving to be popular choices. One participant explained that, “shared vision and joined-up leadership are a precursor to successfully implementing any other measures.” 

This speaks to a wider trend, where respondents seemed to value structural, trust-level factors over teaching and learning or pupil-driven factors, such as having a standardised curriculum, sharing the same visual identity (e.g. uniforms) and having shared opportunities for pupils across the trust. 

 

What does the future of MAT culture look like?

With nearly 1 in 5 respondents saying they were yet to achieve a shared culture in their trust, we wanted to explore what some MAT leaders felt were the key drivers and best practices when it came to meaningful cultural change. To do this, we’ve compiled leaders’ viewpoints from five MATs across the country and put them together with our survey insights to create our latest ebook for MAT leaders, called Creating a Cohesive Trust. As well as our survey results and a question guide, hear from MAT leaders on how their trusts work together as one organisation, including discussions on:

  • How to make meaningful cultural change in a Trust
  • How far is too far when it comes to distance between schools?
  • Why total honesty is the bedrock for a good MAT culture
  • Prioritising pedagogy over Trust culture
  • How to tailor communication and avoid creating a monoculture

Click here to download the full ebook.

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Want to read more MAT content? Get stuck in with our MAT MIS series, perfect for MAT Central Teams.