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Arbor - 13 December, 2018

Category : Blog , Uncategorized

How Dixons Academies Trust took tips from Silicon Valley on structuring their MAT

At our MAT CEO conference on 5th December, Luke Sparkes, Executive Principal of Dixons Academies Trust, gave a thought-provoking presentation that challenged traditional thinking about the structure of MATs. He spoke about how DAT has looked to looked to entertainment giants Spotify and Netflix to develop a model that moves away from a “no-interference” approach to

At our MAT CEO conference on 5th December, Luke Sparkes, Executive Principal of Dixons Academies Trust, gave a thought-provoking presentation that challenged traditional thinking about the structure of MATs. He spoke about how DAT has looked to looked to entertainment giants Spotify and Netflix to develop a model that moves away from a “no-interference” approach to its high-performing schools. We’ve transcribed his presentation below!

 

Leading through aligned autonomy: Introduction

I’ve been asked to share our thinking on the concept of ‘aligned autonomy’ – the optimal balance between consistency and self-determination that can empower agility.

I must start by stressing that aligned autonomy is a process, not a destination, and, as a Trust, we are very much at the start of the process.  This is only the second time we have talked about our ideas externally; we aren’t sure how they will be received, but we hope to disrupt thinking.  

Core principles

At Dixons we have 6 core principles:

    • Values Driven
    • High Expectations
    • Choice and Commitment
    • Highly Professional Staff
    • Relentless Focus on Learning
    • Empowered to Lead

The most important is that we are values-driven.  Every decision we make, every conversation we have, every lesson we plan is absolutely rooted in our values.  

In the last 12 months, we have started to organise our Trust around the concept of aligned autonomy.

A different MAT model

As a growing Trust, we are constantly grappling with our organisational development. The received wisdom from other Trusts includes:

  • School improvement driven by central capacity
  • A model that is clearly defined
  • Around 80% Trust standardisation and 20% open to local innovation
  • Leadership focused on command and control
  • Deployment as directed

At Dixons, our model had developed differently. In particular, as Principals, we’d grown used to having a lot of autonomy.  As a Trust, we talked about the concept of earned autonomy – if a school is performing strongly it should have freedom and the Trust shouldn’t interfere.

However, we started to realise that we were storing up problems for the future, because the Trust had almost become a holding body for a series of largely autonomous units.  

Of course, the strengths and identity of academies should be respected, but the whole point of a Trust is to enable schools to ever more deeply engage with, learn from and support each other. We knew we’d reached a point in our growth that we had to think and act differently.  We needed to develop a different Trust model.

I think Dixons has always had a reputation for being fairly cutting-edge (in some circles) and has learnt quite a bit from industry over the years (not least from Dixons electricals in the early years). When shaping our new model, we looked at how leading organisations across the world (in a range of industries) are managing their growth.  A series of slides from a Netflix presentation – which has described as Silicon Valley’s most important document – really resonated with us:

According to Netflix:

  • Most companies curtail freedom as they get bigger
  • So, why do most companies curtail freedom and become bureaucratic as they grow?
  • The desire for bigger positive impact creates growth
  • But, growth increases complexity
  • And growth also often shrinks talent density
  • As a result, chaos emerges – the business has become too complex to run informally with this talent level
  • Then, process emerges to stop the chaos – no one loves process, but feels good compared to pain of chaos.  “Time to grow up” becomes the mantra
  • But, process-focus drives more talent out

Process brings seductively strong near-term outcomes – a highly successful company or Trust:

  • Leading share in its market
  • Minimal thinking; few mistakes; very efficient; few mavericks; optimised
  • Efficiency trumps flexibility

But then the market shifts, due to technology or competitors; or, in a MAT’s case, due to curriculum or accountability changes. The organisation is unable to adapt quickly and can grind into irrelevance.

And so it seems like there are 3 bad options:

  • Stay creative by staying small, but therefore have less impact
  • Avoid rules as you grow, and suffer chaos
  • Use process as you grow to drive efficient execution of current model, but cripple creativity, flexibility, and ability to thrive when things change

But, there is a fourth option.

We believe that the agile organisation is dawning as the new dominant organisation paradigm. Organisations will no longer be ‘machines’ with top-down hierarchy, but ‘organisms’ with agile leadership.

Dixons Structure

Freedom from hierarchy doesn’t exist anywhere in nature (not least in schools), but no one would argue that all hierarchies are good. With that in mind, we’re trying to design our flatter, less hierarchical organisation as a distributed, interdependent, continually evolving system.

Leadership shows direction and enables action, but “boxes and lines” are less important. An agile organisational culture puts people at the centre, which engages and empowers everyone in the organisation. They can then create value quickly, collaboratively and effectively. Leadership in agile organisations serves the people in the organisation, empowering and developing them. They create space for teams to discover new opportunities and effectively respond to change.

Agile way of working

Agile is not a methodology; it’s a way of behaving, it’s a culture, a mindset. Autonomy of agile teams is a must but it’s not sufficient, as teams also need alignment. This grid is a useful way to explain the relationship between autonomy and alignment:

At one end of the spectrum you have low autonomy and low alignment. This results in a micromanaging organisation and an indifferent culture – there is no higher level purpose, and schools are told to “shut up and follow orders”.

On the other hand, there’s low autonomy and high alignment. This creates an authoritative organisation and a conformist culture, where employees are told which problems need to be solved, but also how to solve them. Arguably, a number of Trusts are taking this approach, but, as those companies are finding, we believe this approach will stifle innovation and drive talent out.

High autonomy and low alignment can result in an entrepreneurial organisation, but leads to a chaotic culture.

The Dixons Story

As a Trust, we were heading towards chaos.  We were starting to see divisions – rather than working for Dixons, staff increasingly talked about working for City, Kings, Trinity or Marchbank. We were autonomous, but starting to sub-optimise, with each school only working for its own success and keeping things to themselves. As a relatively small Trust with some exceptional Principals (who were quick to respond to curriculum changes), we were securing great educational outcomes, but there was confusion, we had limited turnaround support and our central systems were inefficient (some still are).

We realised that to scale agile, we must continue to enable autonomy for our teams, but ensure alignment with the organisation.

Why Aligned (at Dixons)

  • We share the same mission
  • All staff should benefit from our best
  • We all benefit from the brand
  • Staff can be more easily deployed
  • Central services become simpler and more efficient
  • Growth can be better managed
  • No divisions; we don’t sub-optimise

Why Autonomy (at Dixons)

  • Personal accountability is founded on ownership and self-direction
  • If there is no variation, there will be no opportunity for us to learn from different practices
  • Conformity kills innovation
  • Standardisation fails to respond to changing needs
  • Micromanagement breeds indifference
  • Autonomy is the foundation of our success so far

Aligned autonomy will deliver a more agile and less hierarchical organisation:

  • Respect at every level
  • Rules focused on clarity rather than control
  • Needed roles that make sense
  • Pushing power down

Strong backbone vertebrae

A core element of an agile organisation is a fixed and stable backbone that evolves slowly. In order to minimise workload and maximise impact, elements of the backbone must be as efficient and spare as possible. This also allows room for further elaboration and development in response to a leader’s own drivers and context.

Again, I must stress that aligned autonomy is a process, not a destination. A component of the backbone one year may be dropped in another because it outlives its usefulness, or because it is a time for further innovation and testing.

For each element, we have started to create clarity by stating which aspects are aligned across the organisation and which aspects teams have autonomy over:

And so, this fourth option, this new MAT model, is focused on avoiding chaos as you grow with ever more high performance people – not with rules.

The key to this is to increase talent density faster than complexity grows. And with the right people, instead of a culture of process adherence, you can cultivate a culture of creativity and self-discipline, freedom and responsibility. Leadership is about context, not control. Agility means building a structure that allows people to react in real time. In our current age of urgency, we have to take the principles behind agile and use them a little differently. Let’s call them the three “insteads”:

  • Instead of making a decision when you have 90% of the information, make it when you have 70%
  • Instead of imposing decisions from top down, encourage real-time decisions across the organisation decoupled from title or rank
  • Instead of relying on charismatic leaders who get results by force, recognise that leadership can come from anyone, and is earned not appointed

Scaling agile at Dixons

The following models help to show how we have started to scale agile at Dixons:

Each academy (or what agile organisations in industry would describe as a tribe) is made up of squads or departments that are built around end-to-end accountability and share the same long term mission. The Principal is the Academy Lead and is responsible for setting the context and providing the right environment.  The Principal is supported by an EP who acts as an Agile Coach. Together they provide leadership that shows direction and enables action. Senior and middle leadership groups (described as chapters in industry) promote collaboration and cross pollination of ideas across departments.  They are also responsible for developing people.

Finally, we have started to develop cross-cutting teams that act like guilds. These are groups of people from across the organisation who want to share knowledge and practices, innovate and develop new ideas (in all areas – curriculum, support, and operations). Each cross-cutting team has a coordinator and teams can form, dissolve and reform as resources shift and priorities change.  They can also be used to secure alignment. A people-first organisation relies on true work of small, cross cutting teams:

Scaling agile in this way through squads, chapters and guilds will help us to create a talent-driven organisation. At Dixons, we believe talent is king. Talent, even more than strategy, is what creates value. Hierarchy can isolate and bury talent. Flattening the organisation and pushing power down will stimulate personal growth and create speed. Leading a talent-first organisation requires agility. It requires enough ego to be comfortable with making the hardest decisions and enough humility to defer to the brilliance of other people.

It means living with the idea that the talent will determine the direction and strategy of the organisation.

These are the 3 critical moves to unleash talent:

1. Most vital people must be in roles where they can create significant value

2. They must be free from bureaucratic structure

3. They must be afforded the training and opportunities to expand their skills

Conclusion

We believe that the agile organisation is dawning as the new dominant organisational paradigm. Agile groups can thrive in an unpredictable, rapidly changing environment.  They are both stable and dynamic. They focus on customers (or in our case, students), fluidly adapt to environmental changes, and are open, inclusive, and less hierarchical; they evolve continually and embrace uncertainty. An agile organisational culture puts people at the centre. And all of this is only possible through high autonomy – that is a must – but also high alignment. We must continue to enable autonomy for our teams, but ensure alignment with the organisation.

 

Cosima Baring - 12 December, 2018

Category : Blog

7 highlights from Arbor’s MAT CEO conference in Manchester

On 5th December, we held our second MAT CEO conference in Manchester at the Co-Op Academies Trust HQ, organised in partnership with PS Financials. With over 70 MAT leaders in attendance, our speakers delivered a series of thought-provoking talks throughout the day, drawing on their experience of growing their respective trusts sustainably. Image 1: James

On 5th December, we held our second MAT CEO conference in Manchester at the Co-Op Academies Trust HQ, organised in partnership with PS Financials. With over 70 MAT leaders in attendance, our speakers delivered a series of thought-provoking talks throughout the day, drawing on their experience of growing their respective trusts sustainably.

Image 1: James Weatherill giving the opening address at the conference

Arbor’s CEO and a trustee of the Langley Park Trust, James Weatherill, was first on the agenda and began by talking about the importance of MATs in today’s education system & their potential to transform it. He went on to discuss 4 different strategies for centralisation, concluding that the general trend is definitely towards more MAT alignment & standardisation. Click here to see his slides.

Frank Norris, Director of the Co-Op Academies Trust was next with a speech about the Co-Op’s values and the importance of embedding a shared culture into everything you do as a trust. He spoke about the challenges of making sure that every joining school is fully onboard with your values and principles. Frank was joined on stage by Jo Farnworth, Co-Op Co-ordinator at Co-Op Academy Failsworth, who gave some great examples of some of the ways that the Co-Op’s collaborative culture manifests itself in everyday school life. You can read their joint presentation here.

Image 2: Frank Norris discussing the Co-Op’s culture & values

Next on stage was Ofsted’s Regional Director for the North West, Andrew Cook, who delivered one of the first public addresses about the new inspection framework. He highlighted its stronger focus on the importance of curriculum, and Ofsted’s desire to reduce the burden on teacher workloads that inspections have caused in the past. He also explained plans to change the way Ofsted inspects MATs, and described how focused reviews of MATs will now become ‘summary evaluations’. Click here to read the slides from his presentation.

Will Jordan, Education Sector Manager at PS Financials, spoke about how to achieve greater efficiency and control within your MAT back office team, the benefits of financial alignment (see his slides here). He was followed by Chris Kirk, whose presentation entitled “The MAT growth journey: steps and mis-steps”, took the audience through the typical growth phases of a MAT and the potential crises that accompany them. Chris ended by discussing the most common barriers that prevent MATs from making change, including funding, capacity, and resistance from the people within in your trust. You can see his slides here.

The final presentation of the day was delivered by Luke Sparkes, Executive Principal at Dixons Academies Trust. Luke shared DAT’s thinking on the concept of “aligned autonomy”, and how they looked to entertainment giants Spotify and Netflix to develop a model that moves away from a “no-interference” approach to its high-performing schools. Echoing Frank Norris’ earlier talk about culture, Luke stressed the importance of rooting everything you do as a trust in your values. Click here to read his thought-provoking presentation in full.

The last item on the agenda was a frank roundtable discussion between Karen Burns (Victorious Academies Trust), Alex Thomas (Herts for Learning) and Phil Crompton (Trent Academies Group), 3 MAT CEOs of different sized trusts, who gave honest, relatable answers to Chris Kirk’s questions about the barriers they’ve faced as they’ve grown. The discussion created some great debate from members of the audience, so we’ll definitely be repeating this format at our next MAT conference!

Image 3: Chris Kirk chairs our MAT CEO roundtable discussion between Alex Thomas, Karen Burns and Phil Crompton

We’ll be posting transcriptions of our all our speakers’ presentations in full on the blog over the coming weeks, so keep an eye out for updates. Stay tuned for more announcements about our upcoming MAT CEO conferences in the new year – if you’re interested in hosting or speaking at the next one, get in touch at hello@arbor-education.com.

Arbor - 10 December, 2018

Category : Blog

Ofsted’s new framework & focused reviews of MATs

Last week, we bought together over 70 MAT leaders at Arbor’s second MAT CEO conference in Manchester to discuss strategies for scaling your trust sustainably. Andrew Cook, Ofsted’s Regional Director for the North West, delivered one of the first public announcements about Ofsted’s new inspection framework, and talked in detail about its stronger focus on

Last week, we bought together over 70 MAT leaders at Arbor’s second MAT CEO conference in Manchester to discuss strategies for scaling your trust sustainably.

Andrew Cook, Ofsted’s Regional Director for the North West, delivered one of the first public announcements about Ofsted’s new inspection framework, and talked in detail about its stronger focus on the importance of curriculum. He also explained how Ofsted plans to change the way it inspects MATs, and described how focused reviews of MATs will now become ‘summary evaluations’. You can flick through the slides below to read his full presentation, or click here to view in it a separate window.

 

We’ll be posting all the presentations from the conference on our blog over the coming weeks, so keep an eye out for more updates!

Cosima Baring - 30 October, 2018

Category : Blog

Scaling your MAT sustainably: Different ways to centralise to achieve economies of scale

Last April, we held the first in our series of free MAT CEO conferences. Over 100 Executive Leaders representing 72 MATs nationally came to London to network, exchange best practice advice, and listen to our speakers discuss strategies for achieving sustainable growth. We had such a positive response from attendees that we’ve decided to hold

Last April, we held the first in our series of free MAT CEO conferences. Over 100 Executive Leaders representing 72 MATs nationally came to London to network, exchange best practice advice, and listen to our speakers discuss strategies for achieving sustainable growth. We had such a positive response from attendees that we’ve decided to hold a second – this time at the Co-Op Academies HQ in Manchester!

The landscape for MATs in England is constantly evolving, and the debate continues around the best ways for trusts to successfully manage growth, including questions over how much autonomy MATs should afford their schools. Whilst a number of studies have been published by the DfE and other research bodies in an effort to guide new and existing MATs as they grow (including this Expectations for Growth Report from 2016), exchanging and learning from good practice remains an effective way for MATs to navigate this landscape.

With that in mind, the next instalment of Arbor’s free MAT conference series will bring together Executive Leaders from across the country in Manchester to hear other MAT CEO & Senior Leaders from different-sized MATs tell their stories about scaling. Speakers including Luke Sparkes (Dixons Academies Trust), Claire-Marie Cuthbert (The Evolve Trust), Mark Williams (The Co-Op Academies Trust) & Karen Burns (Victorious Academies Trust) will discuss scaling everything from their strategy, operations, central team process & systems to their reporting, governance and culture. Also on the program is a presentation from Ofsted’s Regional Director for the North West, Andrew Cook, who’ll talk about what Ofsted looks for in a MAT’s ability to provide school improvement. We’ll finish with a open, roundtable discussion between Northern MAT CEOs about what has and hasn’t worked for them on their journeys so far.

Click here to see the full agenda and sign up for your FREE ticket!

With over 100 delegates from MATs across the country expected to attend, we’ve left plenty of time between talks (and organised a free buffet lunch!) to allow for networking and conversation between delegates. Guests will leave with a series of relevant, practical and implementable steps to take back to their MATs and help them grow sustainably, as well as new MAT contacts to keep in touch with.

Finally, if you can’t make it, don’t worry! We’ll be publishing all the presentations from the conference on our blog, so keep an eye out and keep checking our Twitter & LinkedIn for updates. In the meantime, why not have a read of the presentation given at our last conference by Dominic Norrish, Group Director of Technology at United Learning, about how and when to scale systems within your MAT?

 

Full programme for the day:

 

09:45 – 10:00: 4 different ways of centralising data & ops across your MAT

James Weatherill, CEO, Arbor Education

 

10:00 – 10:30: How to scale culture across your schools

Mark Williams, Director of Education at Co-op Academies Trust

 

10:30 – 11:00: Ofsted’s new framework & MAT’s capacity for school improvement

Andrew Cook, Regional Director for the North West, Ofsted

 

11:00 – 11:30 : Networking break

 

11:35 – 12:05: How to centralise your back office to help scale

Will Jordan, Education Sector Manager, PS Financials

 

12:10 – 12:40: Improve collaboration within your MAT and across school phases

Claire-Marie Cuthbert, CEO at The Evolve Trust

 

12:40 – 13:40: Lunch

 

13:40 – 14:10: A new model to make your MAT structures more agile & responsive

Luke Sparkes, Executive Principal at Dixons Academies Trust

 

14:10 – 14:50: Roundtable

Phil Crompton, Former CEO at Trent Academies Group

Karen Burns, CEO at Victorious Academies Trust

Chris Kirk, Ex-Partner for Education at PwC, formerly GEMS DfE & Director at CJK Associates

 

14:50 – 15:20: MAT Mergers: what to do right and what to avoid!

Speaker TBC

 

15:20 – 16:00: Networking break

 

Arbor - 6 June, 2018

Category : Blog

5 ways to make sure your MAT governance structure works at scale

This blog is a transcript of the second half of the presentation given by Sarah Pittam at our MAT conference. Drawing on her experience in both top-tier consulting and the education sector, Sarah spoke about MAT governance structures and how to make sure your model works at scale. In this part of her presentation, she

This blog is a transcript of the second half of the presentation given by Sarah Pittam at our MAT conference. Drawing on her experience in both top-tier consulting and the education sector, Sarah spoke about MAT governance structures and how to make sure your model works at scale. In this part of her presentation, she goes on to discuss schemes of delegation, the importance of board papers, and how to make sure LGBs have a meaningful role. Read what she had to say below:

When thinking about your scheme of delegation, you must make sure that:

    • You have proper board papers – that they’re fit for purpose and are answering the right questions
    • The dashboard information is properly presented
    • The non-execs are asking the right questions
    • They’re reading the papers
    • The minutes are reliable
    • There are the right subcommittee structures
  • The other thing that is very important is your scheme of delegation. There are all sorts of templates out there, but you’ll have your own version. It’s an evolving document. Think really carefully about this. This will be driven by your culture and history as a Trust, the nature of the relationship the schools have had before they joined the Trust, and, most critically, how the headteachers feel about the Trust. This is important

How headteachers feel about the loss of autonomy is something that hampers Trust growth all the time. They don’t feel comfortable handing over their autonomy to someone who could potentially undermine the potential of their school, the chances of their children, their school’s next Ofsted judgement, and frankly, their career

  • It’s important to work on evolving this document, getting buy-in from everybody and thinking about:
    • Who gets to make the final decision
    • Who has the right of veto
    • Who has the right of consultation
  • It’s long and it’s tedious, but it’s very important. It may evolve, but try not to be held to ransom by joining schools. In discussions with new school prospects, make sure that both parties share a common understanding, and be as pragmatic as you can

Don’t disempower your LGBs

When things start going well, it’s tempting to want to centralise the power at the center of the MAT. That is a big mistake: if you become too centralised and have all the decision-making power concentrated within the Trust board, you will disempower your Local Governing Bodies and they will feel marginalised. As a result, you’ll lose the best people on your LGB when they spot that all action is happening at the trust board.

You need good people at the LGB level to get into the detail of the academic performance, to codify that information, hold the executive to account on standards and on outcomes at the local level. Try to find a happy medium. Generally speaking, I’ve found that the three big things LGBs feel strongly that they should be involved in are:

    • Setting and approving budgets
    • Appointment of headteachers
    • Performance and management of headteachers

If you can find a way for LGBs to have a meaningful role in the three elements above, give them a reason for being & make them feel empowered, you’ll find it easier to recruit quality people at the LGB level.

If you are a brilliant board, you should be able to answer these questions comprehensively:

  • What is the trust’s strategy?
  • How is the trust going to deliver on that strategy? Is it evidence-based, do you have the people to delivery the strategy?
  • What does the trust need in both governance structures and governance personnel in order to drive that strategy?
  • Where do you and your fellow directors fit into your overall structure and are you and they clear on the roles and responsibilities of the Board, LGBs and Headteachers?
  • How well are you supplied with expertise in the following areas: Finance, HR, Estates and Property, Remuneration, Legals, Change Management/Due Diligence and General Management?
  • How would you assess your performance as a board over the last year?
  • What do you believe you need to do in terms of recruitment to improve the performance of your board?
  • How well do you hold the CEO and his/her senior team to account?

Five final points to leave you with:

To conclude, I’ve rounded up the 5 most important points that you should take away from what I’ve talked about today.

1. Firstly, you must define and drive the strategic direction of the Trust and hold the executive to account. These are the most important objectives of the board

2. Give plenty of consideration to your Scheme of Delegation

3. Don’t allow the board of your growing Trust to be dominated by legacy membership. This can be achieved by having a backbone (by that I mean having the difficult conversations early!)

4. Diversity on your board should be about diversity of thought, analysis & professional experience

5. Finally, be ambitious in terms of calibre of people on your board, even if yours is a smaller trust. Look for senior level experience in medium to large organisations

Chris Kirk - 19 April, 2018

Category : Blog

Why you need an operating model for your MAT (and 6 steps to build one)!

Chris Kirk,  Ex-Partner for Education at PWC and formerly GEMS/DfE,  has written a blog for us which  looks at how using an ‘operating model approach’ can help MATs ensure they’re laser-focused on delivering their vision — The DfE’s 2016 Good Practice guide for MATs remains a useful document 18 months on. It was one of the first

Chris Kirk,  Ex-Partner for Education at PWC and formerly GEMS/DfE,  has written a blog for us which  looks at how using an ‘operating model approach’ can help MATs ensure they’re laser-focused on delivering their vision



The DfE’s 2016 Good Practice guide for MATs remains a useful document 18 months on. It was one of the first times when MATs were urged to consider their ‘operating model’ – advice which was also picked up recently in ASL’s study, ‘Building Trusts’.  However, MAT CEOs often ask me what is really meant by the term. In this blog I offer my take on what one is, why you need it, and how to review and develop it.

An operating model is a single overview of what your MAT does, and how it does it. The different elements, such as your approach to school improvement, are pieces of the jigsaw, and the operating model gives you the picture on the front of the box. In this way, it makes the vital link between your vision, mission and strategy, and the details of individual roles, policies and activities.  It also provides a connection from support services (such as HR or finance) to core educational services. By getting your operating model right, you make sure you spend your time and money on what really matters, aiming always towards better impact in the classroom.

An operating model approach can be applied to all of your capabilities, including:

Educational capabilities – such as the capability to improve schools, deliver quality in the classroom, provide an inclusive education, to engage communities, or to provide students with employability skills and careers guidance
Supporting or ‘back office’ capabilities – such as the capability to manage finances, to support your workforce, to provide technology, to manage your estates or to engage with your communities.

I use the word ‘capabilities’ rather than ‘functions’.  This is because a function implies decisions have been made about reporting lines, but a capability can exist across different parts of the MAT.  For example, the capability to improve schools is likely to be a mix of the quality of leadership, information about performance and how it is analysed for improvement, as well as – potentially – specific teams dedicated solely to school improvement.  Similarly, financial capability may not just be in a central finance team, it may also exist in schools. A capability lets you think about the whole picture, not just one team.

If you want to review and improve your operating model, I recommend the following steps:


1. Before you begin, make sure you are really clear about your strategy and growth plans, as this determines your operating model needs.  
2. Review and understand your ‘current state’, see what needs to change.  A useful exercise is to look at each capability you require and ask:
– What is this capability aiming to achieve?
– Where does it sit?
– What people, systems and processes do we need in order to deliver it?
– How is it managed and governed?  
– How do we know if it’s working well?
If you do this in an open and questioning way, you should be able to identify a number of issues for improvement.  You may find particular issues with one capability; equally you may find some recurring themes, for example that you don’t have the right systems in place across several capabilities, or that your organisational structure is not right.

3. Use a workshop approach to create your ‘Design principles’.  This is a good chance to agree what really matters, and resolves differences of view, e.g about standardization vs autonomy, the balance between efficiency and flexibility, the relative priorities for improvement, what your ‘spans of control’ should be, and what the ideal time distances should be between schools, hubs/ clusters and head office, what your pace and approach to growth will be
4. Identify your ‘Future state’ options, and any major costs of getting there, or of operating it (e.g. if you are centralising finance, what new roles are needed; what happens to current school roles; is a new Finance system required?)
5. Create a ‘Road Map’ for the change – what needs to be done first, what can follow later.  How will you support Principles and back office services as they make the change, and how do you make sure your education and other services don’t suffer while it happens?
6. Use strong change management approaches, as engagement will be the most important factor in getting things right.  Remember that the hardest part is actually implementing it!

People often ask me, how long should I expect such a review to take, and what might it cost.  For a small MAT of 2-5 schools (who are growing more fluidly) you should think in terms of weeks not months for a review; for a system leader MAT a full review might take 3-6 months.  Implementation will of course depend greatly on what is changing, as there could be HR, procurement and contract variations to consider.  A small MAT may be able to undertake this work internally; a larger one may want some external support from a suitable consultancy and potentially other professionals (e.g. legal, HR).  However, I have heard of MATs spending hundreds of thousands just to consider their back office, and personally I think this is a scandalous waste of taxpayer money – I believe any external consulting costs should be a fraction of this!  

If you can review and amend your operating model you should reap a number of rewards, in terms of efficiency, clarity of responsibility, time for innovation and improvement, and the ability to adapt to future change.  Most importantly you can achieve the benefits of collaboration without an ever-increasing cost in terms of staff time. Teacher recruitment and retention is a vital issue, and the right MAT operating model can help it to support excellent teaching whilst reducing unnecessary workload.

Harriet Cheng - 19 April, 2018

Category : Blog

How to scale your MAT sustainably

For a while now, the government has been debating the best way to help MATs grow. On the one hand, Sir David Carter (the National Schools Commissioner) thinks 1,000 new multi-academy trusts will be needed by 2020, comprised of both new MATs forming and many smaller MATs expanding into double figures. On the other hand,

For a while now, the government has been debating the best way to help MATs grow. On the one hand, Sir David Carter (the National Schools Commissioner) thinks 1,000 new multi-academy trusts will be needed by 2020, comprised of both new MATs forming and many smaller MATs expanding into double figures. On the other hand, there are concerns that if MATs grow too quickly it can become harder for them to maintain consistent quality across not only school performance, but financial management, operations, and team processes (especially when they are spread over large regional areas).

This leaves MATs in a tricky place, with some being pressured to grow and take on more schools, whilst others are scaling back to focus on quality of provision. There have been various reports by the Department for Education (such as this one looking at the expansion & performance of MATs), and external bodies like the Education Policy Institute (such as this one on the economic benefits of growing a MAT) to help provide guidance, as well as DfE initiatives like the “Expanding your academy trust” toolkit and the new MAT health checks programme which is being piloted as a method to help MATs achieve “sustainable growth.”

Whilst the debate continues, one of the best ways for MATs to seek guidance remains sharing best practice, advice & guidance with other MAT CEOs and Senior Leaders. With this in mind, we are launching the first in a new series of free MAT conferences this week: “Scaling your MAT Sustainably: Centralisation vs. School Autonomy.”

Together with our partner PS Financials, we’re bringing together education, business and industry leaders to share their own stories about how they’ve scaled their strategy, operations, central team processes, systems, reporting & governance. Our aim is for everyone attending to leave with a series of relevant, practical and implementable steps to take back to their MAT to help them grow sustainably.

Speakers include leaders from the Elliot Foundation, United Learning, and the Mulberry Schools Trust, and there will be plenty of opportunities to network and meet like-minded MATs during the day too.

Click here to sign up for your free ticket: https://scaling-your-MAT.eventbrite.com

Can’t make it? Not to worry! We’ll be sharing recordings of the talks as well as presentations from the speakers on our blog after the conference, so check back here soon. You can also email us at tellmemore@arbor-education.com to let us know if you’d like to attend similar events in future.

Hope to see you there!

Full programme for the day:

Agenda

10.00-10.20: Introduction: How scaling strategies vary by degree of MAT centralisation vs school autonomy

James Weatherill (CEO at Arbor Education)

James will illustrate how scaling strategies vary by the size/complexity of your MAT, as well as the level of autonomy vs centralisation you desire for your schools

10.20-11.00: Strategies for scaling sustainably

Hugh Greenway (CEO at The Elliot Foundation)

Hugh will highlight the pressures and pitfalls to scaling, as well as different strategies to plan for and manage this growth

11.00-11.30: How and when to standardise systems

Dominic Norrish (Group Director of Technology at United Learning)

Dominic will speak about his experience in centralising systems, including when and why you need to standardise and how to manage school expectations

11.45-12.15: Refreshments (biscuits, tea and coffee)

12.15-12.45: Scaling culture and maintaining your sense of identity as you grow

Vanessa Ogden (CEO, Mulberry Schools Trust)

Vanessa Ogden will discuss ways you can maintain a cohesive set of values and identity for the MAT, whilst allowing schools to express their individuality

12.45-1.20: Building out your MAT operating model and central team functions

Chris Kirk (ex Partner for Education PwC, GEMS, DfE)

Chris will explore the 5 different stages of MAT growth, including how this affects your choice of management processes, central team structure and systems choice

1.20-2.10: Lunch

2.10-2.40: Utilisation of analytics and centralisation to drive financial health and efficiency

Will Jordan (Education Sector Manager at PS Financials)

Will demonstrates how you can centralise HR, finance and education reporting at scale, producing dashboards for your staff and board to make quicker, better decisions, without all the manual data drops

2.40-3.10: How to procure effectively to achieve economies of scale

John Leonard (Independent Consultant)

John will walk you through his guide and toolkit for how MATs can procure more effectively to achieve savings, whilst reducing the admin burden of big tenders

3.10-3.50: Governance structures that scale

Sarah Pittam (Consultant, Adviser and Project Manager in Education & Associate of Cambridge Education)

Sarah combines top-tier business consulting and education experience to show how different governance structures and processes can scale effectively as your MAT grows

3.50 – 4.00: Final refreshments

 

Arbor - 19 April, 2018

Category : Blog

How and when to scale systems within your MAT

In our blog “The common barriers to scaling a MAT”, we looked at some of the key areas of debate surrounding the biggest challenge to scaling faced by MATs today (this was also the theme of our first MAT conference in London in April this year). One of the biggest challenges MATs face is getting

In our blog “The common barriers to scaling a MAT”, we looked at some of the key areas of debate surrounding the biggest challenge to scaling faced by MATs today (this was also the theme of our first MAT conference in London in April this year).

One of the biggest challenges MATs face is getting the right infrastructure and systems in place to support growth. We invited Dominic Norrish, Group Director of Technology at United Learning, to speak about his experience of deciding how and when to scale systems within a MAT. We’ve summarised his presentation below.

How to decide when to scale systems within your MAT

Dominic talked about how the degree of MAT centralisation vs. school autonomy at your Trust is one of the biggest challenges to deciding how to scale systems. Exactly where your MAT sits on the scale of full autonomy vs. full centralisation, or at least where people perceive your MAT to be, is the product of your values and culture. The problem this sliding scale creates is to do with the locus of control (the perception of where authority to make a decision sits) between schools and the MAT central team. The locus of control will always be in tension, since both sides have limited views of the others’ reasoning and drivers. This is often what makes it hard to decide how to scale.

To help overcome this, Dominic suggested applying the principle of subsidiarity to all decisions about whether or not to centralise a system. The principle of subsidiarity dictates that if a decision can be taken at a local level, it should be. To determine whether this is true, Dominic suggested asking 3 questions when considering whether a system should be scaled across your MAT:

  • Where is the activity/decision most effectively carried out?
  • What is the educational benefit of a single approach?
  • Are there strong operational or financial benefits?

If the decision is not most effectively carried out by a central team or if there is no benefit to all schools in your MAT adopting the same approach, and if there are no operational benefits, the decision can be local. By contrast, United Learning decided to roll out a single assessment system (Hegarty Maths) across all its schools in 2016 because there was an educational benefit to using the same approach across all schools. Similarly, Dominic said that this principle would suggest that core operational systems, such as Finance, MIS & HR, should be scaled centrally.

When to scale systems within your MAT

When you decide to scale systems comes down to the size and age of your MAT. As the number of schools in your MAT increases, it goes through 4 stages: The Honeymoon Period, The Rubicon of Regret, The Difficult Middle Years, and Converging Needs & Attitudes.

The Honeymoon Period

This is the stage where your MAT has c.2-15+ schools. At this point, appetite for centralisation is high, and the cost/complexity of centralising is relatively low. This is what makes “The Honeymoon Period” a good time to centralise:

  • Your Identity Management solution (e.g. Microsoft 365, Google)
  • Your Management Information System
  • Standards for the classification, collection & storage of pupil data
  • Affordable yet scalable Finance & HR solutions

These are the fundamental systems that should be in place for any young MAT as it grows since the cost of changing them at any point in a MAT’s life is disproportionately high (which is why MATs often put off these changes until it’s too late). Making these requirements clear to schools considering joining the MAT.

The Rubicon of Regret

This is the stage where your MAT has 20-30 schools. “The Rubicon of Regret” as the point at which your MAT has not centralised many (or any!) systems, and now regrets that decision since the cost & complexity of centralisation at this stage is high (but not impossible). This in turn makes the appetite for centralisation low.

Before “crossing the Rubicon”, MATs should centralise:

  • Whole-Trust educational systems (e.g. assessment), because people tend to be really invested in current choices
  • Common solutions for IT hygiene factors, such as firewalls and Anti-Virus software
  • Procurement basics – your MAT should have a leasing partner and preferred suppliers
  • Back office processes – GDPR, SCR, school information

At any time in your MAT’s growth

From 30 schools upwards, the cost and complexity of centralising systems only continues to rise, but so too does the appetite for centralisation as MAT central teams see the value of doing so after the “Difficult Middle Years.”

However at any time in the life of your MAT there should be a really high barrier for prescribing the systems teachers use to teach. United Learning, for instance, have stopped doing this altogether. This is because the likelihood of consensus forming around a single product/approach is extremely low, whilst the cost of changing current products and practice rarely delivers ROI (rolling out the same smart whiteboards as an example – does it matter whether all your schools use the same one?). In this case, it would be far better to support schools in driving their own digital strategies.

Click here to see Dominic’s presentation in full

We’ve now added all the presentations from our conference on scaling culture, strategy, processes, procurement, and governance to the blog. Why not have a read here?

 

Arbor - 19 April, 2018

Category : Blog

The common barriers to scaling a MAT

We brought together 100 MAT leaders to discuss how to ‘scale sustainably’ In April this year we brought together 100 MAT leaders from over 70 organisations to discuss different strategies for scaling their MAT sustainably, with a focus on how these varied by the degree of centralisation vs. autonomy the MAT chooses to give to

We brought together 100 MAT leaders to discuss how to ‘scale sustainably’

In April this year we brought together 100 MAT leaders from over 70 organisations to discuss different strategies for scaling their MAT sustainably, with a focus on how these varied by the degree of centralisation vs. autonomy the MAT chooses to give to schools (click here for the agenda). This generated some great presentations from our speakers from Elliot Foundation, United Learning and others which we’ll write up on this blog over the coming weeks, as well as some lively debate about what challenges senior leaders are having with scaling. We held the conference to highlight emerging good practice beyond the highly centralised model of MAT operations that is highlighted in the press. It’s clear that a one-size-fits-all approach is overly-simplistic, and that strategies and barriers to scaling vary both between different MATs, and within a MAT as it goes through 6 phases of growth.

Scaling strategies vary by MAT culture, size and type of school

The first point that was noted was that a MAT’s scaling challenges varies by the culture and size of the MAT. We’ve written previously about how culture and the degree of MAT centralisation vs. school autonomy is a key driver of how a MAT scales systems, processes and people, and how different strategies may suit different school types. For example a MAT of outstanding schools will often have a different culture and degree of centralisation than a MAT of turnaround schools.

Being deliberate and setting clear early expectations about what you will centralise (systems, processes, roles) and what you will devolve autonomy to heads to decide was seen as essential in helping smooth the scaling process, and get ahead of problems that would be exponentially harder to solve retrospectively as the MAT grew. Most speakers agreed that despite it seeming easier to devolve decisions to schools at the outset, making bold decisions to centralise some aspects and capitalising on early enthusiasm would help in the long run.

Building the infrastructure to scale early on

The mean average number of schools per MAT in the conference was ~5, which as we’re previously written about is exactly the time that MATs should be looking to put in place the infrastructure to help scale, typically involving the centralisation of systems. Most MATs in the room had centralised their finance function early on, and were now looking to capitalise on early momentum to centralise their MIS, assessment and HR functions, as this helps to get a single view of MAT data, improve transparency and audit of process, and provide the foundation for scaling your central team. As we’ve mentioned previously, it’s at ~5 schools (depending on phase) where manual processes and systems cause your team to break. Try to tackle this before it becomes a problem.

Common barriers to scaling, including crossing the ‘catch 22 chasm’ of growth

We polled our audience of 100 about what their greatest barrier to scaling was, shown in the chart below. The biggest response by far was the ‘catch 22’ of scaling – needing funding to scale the central team/impact of the MAT, but requiring scale to access more funding. This was commonly reported by all MAT types and sizes, but most prominently in MATs of 4-15 schools who were struggling for financial viability. These MATs were often entering into a period of unsustainable growth, driven by the imperative to become financially viable – conversation was focused on what MATs could do at this stage to smooth what is always going to be one of the hardest phases of scaling. Recognising this early, and preparing the infrastructure and team was seen as vital, reflected by the fact that centralising roles and systems came in at number 2 and 3 on the list. Setting up clusters and changing operating models was commented on by larger MATs as a challenge (often linked to how to manage these), as well as finding suitable schools to join the MAT. Several MATs were changing their governance model, and debating how far to centralise committees and responsibilities. Perhaps most surprising was the fact that finding the right people came so low down the list of barriers. The pool of talented individuals with experience in scaling impact across schools isn’t vast, and perhaps MATs underestimate this challenge or overestimate their capabilities in this regard.

Barriers to scaling a MAT

 

We will be updating this blog over the coming weeks with presentations from our speakers covering how MATs can effectively scale their culture, strategy, systems, processes, procurement, and governance. For now, click here to see my presentation including some of the points above.

 

Arbor - 11 April, 2018

Category : Blog

The who, what, when, where, why & how of procurement

Independent educational consultant John Leonard recently wrote a blog for us about the most important things that MATs should consider before setting out to procure, including knowing exactly what it is that you want to get from your new system and how procurement can help you achieve economies of scale. Part 1 went over the

Independent educational consultant John Leonard recently wrote a blog for us about the most important things that MATs should consider before setting out to procure, including knowing exactly what it is that you want to get from your new system and how procurement can help you achieve economies of scale. Part 1 went over the reasons why MATs should procure and explained what you need to know beforehand. This second part of the blog will cover the timescale of implementing your new system (when), which sites will this system impact (where) and finally some helpful guidelines and government specifications (how). We’ve transcribed part two of his presentation below!

In my last blog, I spoke about how procurement is key to helping MATs achieve economies of scale, as well as the most important factors to consider for MATs setting out to procure. In this blog, I’ll go on to talk about the rest of the procurement toolbox, including the when, the where and the how of procurement.

Allowing sufficient time for a well run procurement exercise starts long before you start writing the tender document. A typical timeline looks something like this (your experience and the scope of the procurement will cause this to vary, of course):

1. Initial requirement definition: finding your champions, getting their opinion, turning that into a draft specification

2. Refine the requirement: get together as a group to review the draft and find out what you don’t know

3. Market testing: get suppliers to review your spec, present their solutions, and make suggestions

4. Re-refine the requirement: agree what your final spec will be now you have some market intelligence

5. Write your tender: concentrate on your requirements and the scoring criteria; the rest can be based on standard templates

6. Issue a contract notice: (guidance online will help you do this)

7. Issue your tender to interested suppliers

8. Allow 30 days for tender clarifications, etc.

9. Close your tender and evaluate results

10. Announce the successful supplier

11. Provide feedback to all bidders

12. Allow a 10 day standstill

13. Start contract negotiations

14. Commence pilot (if applicable)

15. Test with your pilot group

16. Larger scale rollout

That’s a lot to cover, but doing all of that will make sure you get the results you want. If you rush it, you’ll hate the results or something won’t work. As a rule of thumb, allocate about half your time to speccing the requirement, 25% to the procurement, and 25% to award negotiations.

Where will the system go?

You have a number of factors to consider here. First, and most obvious, how many sites/staff/students is this system going to impact? The larger the number of sites, the better your economies of scale, but the larger the number of opinions and input you’re going to need to get something that works for everybody. Also consider what other systems or methods of work this solution has an effect on. Does your solution integrate? What other systems must change to accommodate your preferred technology?

And while we mentioned “when” as a measure of the procurement timeline, also think about the future. Can this solution scale to add more academies, thousands more students and staff, and still do so at an effective cost? Your tender document will need to spell out the number of staff and students who will be expected to use your system, where they are, and what the likelihood is of additional users/sites joining the system later.

If you want to scope the tender to allow you to add further sites later on – or even create a mini framework to add other MATs later – your tender document is where you need to state this; it will make suppliers far more likely to be clear about their terms or be prepared to offer better ones for the chance at more business in the future.

How do I start?

This guide written by the government should be your starting point, as it gives a lot of information about current procurement guidance.

 This page in particular goes into a lot more detail about the specifics of EU compliant public procurement.

Remember, the threshold at present is £181,302 – that’s the ex VAT total contract value of the solution you’re procuring. Anything over that, and you will have to follow public contract regulations (PCR). Unless you’re substantially under that value, it helps to use the PCR as a guideline for procurement – that way you know you’re not going to be challenged (or at least the chances are minimal).

Take advice and guidance from procurement agents if you can. One I can recommend is 4C (https://www.4c.co.uk/) – they have a lot of experience and can do as much or as little of the procurement exercise as you need.

Last but not least – it bears repeating – please be sure that your requirements are clear, documented well, and explained where there is room for ambiguity. If a requirement is not clear, you’ll know straight away, as suppliers will bombard you with clarification requests. The less ambiguity you have, the easier it is to procure, score, and award contracts. Remember to base these on expected outcomes rather than being too specific. All of this removes the chance of nasty surprises later on.

In Summary

Effective procurement is about getting what you want, for the best price you can afford.

Having clear, agreed answers to the previous points will make your journey so much easier, and will reap rewards countless times over. Allowing yourself time to define the requirements and run the procurement in an orderly fashion will make a big difference when it comes to appointing a supplier, and using the scale of your MAT will also enable you to leverage benefits that can’t be matched by individual academies.