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Cosima Baring - 12 March, 2019

Category : Blog

Scaling your MAT sustainably: How, when & if to centralise

We’re excited to announce that on 2nd May 2019, Arbor & PS Financials are bringing together MAT CEOs and senior leaders from across the country for the third installment of our MAT conference series! The conference will build on the success of our MAT conferences in London and Manchester last year, attended by over 200

We’re excited to announce that on 2nd May 2019, Arbor & PS Financials are bringing together MAT CEOs and senior leaders from across the country for the third installment of our MAT conference series! The conference will build on the success of our MAT conferences in London and Manchester last year, attended by over 200 Executive Leaders representing 150 MATs nationally.

Image 1: Kings Place, Kings Cross, where this year’s conference will take place

Entitled Scaling sustainably: How, when and if to centralise, the conference will cover various different strategies for achieving sustainable growth. Delegates will hear from established MAT CEOs & Senior Leaders about how they’ve scaled their strategy, operations, central team process, systems, reporting, governance & culture. You can read about some of of our speakers below:

Cathie Paine, Deputy CEO, REAch2:
Appointed in 1998 to her first headship in a large and socially deprived school in “special measures”, Cathie was at the time the youngest headteacher in England and led the school to become “Good” in just four terms. Cathie’s headship career went on to span 15 years across three key stages and schools in a variety of challenging circumstances across the 3-11 age range. As Deputy CEO of REAch2, the largest primary MAT in the country, her vision is the belief that school leadership at its heart is about transforming lives. Cathie will share her advice on how to scale culture across a MAT whilst giving schools individual identity.

Will Smith, CEO, Greenshaw Learning Trust:
Will is judged by Ofsted to be an outstanding and inspirational school leader. He has worked as a senior school leader for over 15 years and was a national leader in education as leader of the PiXL network, supporting half of the secondary schools in England and Wales. Will was headteacher at Greenshaw High School for five years where he oversaw improvement in outcomes at GCSE and A level. His talk will draw on his experience of scaling from 1-13 schools in 3 years, and will include practical and implementable tips for MATS at a similar stage of growth.

Claire-Marie Cuthbert, CEO, The Evolve Trust:
Claire-Maire has over 15 years of leadership experience in some of the country’s most challenging schools including both primary and secondary contexts. Awarded Advanced Skills Teacher status in 2002, from there Claire-Marie became a trouble shooter for failing schools and departments across the region and also advised the DfE and QCDA on innovative curriculum models and personalised pathways for students. She has been recognised nationally by TES Teaching Awards for her outstanding contribution to challenging urban education, and has recently been awarded the prestigious EMWA award for outstanding contribution to public life and exceptional leadership. During her presentation, Claire-Marie will talk about how to improve collaboration within your MAT and across school phases.

Paul West, CEO, Spencer Academies Trust:
Paul West is a teacher, school leader and National Leader of Education with twenty-five years of experience in schools, and a ten-year record of outstanding leadership in first tier education trusts and corporates. Paul has worked across maintained and independent schools and has led at both primary and secondary level, and his leadership has been judged as outstanding in successive Ofsted inspections. He has practical experience of developing rapid school improvement strategy, opening start-up Academies, establishing Free Schools, Additional Provision Schools, and managing significant change, and will draw on this experience to talk about what to do right and what to avoid when merging MATs.

Paul James, CEO, River Learning Trust:
Paul James is a qualified teacher with over 20 years of experience in schools, including in senior leadership roles in a range of secondary education settings, and as a primary school governor and IEB member. Until recently he was a Headteacher of a comprehensive school of over 1800 students, which is a National Teaching School. He is currently a National Leader of Education alongside being Chief Executive of the River Learning Trust.  Paul will discuss how to define non-negotiables across your trust whilst building in agency for your headteachers.

 

In addition to the speakers and talks listed above, there will also be an open, round-table discussion between MAT COOs about how they’re scaling different sized MATs, including any challenges they’ve come up against in the process and anything that’s worked particularly well. You’ll leave with lots of ideas and tips to take back to your MAT to help you as you scale.

Similarly to our previous conferences, we’ve scheduled various breaks throughout the day, during which we encourage delegates to network, exchange stories about scaling, and share good practice with one another. There will also be breakfast pastries on arrival, free lunch served, and tea & coffee throughout the day. Hope to see you there!

Click here to sign up for your free ticket to Arbor’s MAT Conference: https://scaling-your-MAT-sustainably-2019.eventbrite.com

To get an idea of the sorts of topics we’ll be covering on the day, why not have a look back at the presentations from previous MAT conferences that we posted on our blog? Click here to read them

Arbor - 4 January, 2019

Category : Blog

How the Co-Op Academies Trust established its culture

At our Manchester MAT conference on 5th December 2018, Frank Norris, Director of the Trust at Co-Op Academies Trust, spoke about the highs and the lows of trust’s journey so far, focusing on how they’ve created a shared culture and endeavoured to make sure schools are fully onboard with that culture. He began by drawing

At our Manchester MAT conference on 5th December 2018, Frank Norris, Director of the Trust at Co-Op Academies Trust, spoke about the highs and the lows of trust’s journey so far, focusing on how they’ve created a shared culture and endeavoured to make sure schools are fully onboard with that culture. He began by drawing a series of thought-provoking comparisons between the structures of the big banks that went down in the 2008 financial crisis, and the structures of multi-academy trusts today. We’ve transcribed the first half of his presentation below.

Image 1: Frank Norris addresses the delegates at our 2018 Manchester MAT Conference

Introduction

The Co-Op Academies Trust have a row of desks on the eighth floor of this building. There are no private offices. The CEO of the company was here this morning at the coffee shop, queuing up with everyone else. We had a chat, and he wanted to know what I was doing this morning, so I told him I was going down to speak at Arbor’s MAT conference. It’s a very open environment.

As a trust, we have become immersed in the Co-Op, and what I want to do today is tell you a little bit about the journey that we’ve been on in order to get where we are now. I won’t pretend there haven’t been pitfalls – it’s not been easy, and there have been some really bad things that have happened within Co-Op that have had an impact on us – but there have been some great moments, too. This idea of a journey is something I want to focus on.

We are the largest business-sponsored academy trust in the country, and we have 18 schools at the moment. The Co-Op have invested £3.6 million into our trust at a time when they’ve taken £100 million pounds out of the business, so they’ve made a big commitment. The CEO of Co-Op, Steve Murrells, was on BBC Radio 5 yesterday morning, explaining why they made the decision to sponsor us (you can listen here). We’re hoping that this will be a model that other ethically-minded businesses (of which there are some!) may want to follow.

The Inside Job

James has invited me today to share a little bit about our culture here at the Co-Op, but I want to start by talking about the financial crisis of 2008. When the crisis came about, I was fascinated in finding out why banks like Northern Rock, Lehman Brothers, RBS, Britannia Building Society & the Co-Op bank all fell over during the financial crash, and the reasons why no-one’s been sent to jail for this.

And so I’d like us to watch the trailer for the film “The Inside Job”. Now, none of you are going to be earning the sorts of salaries that you’re going to see in the clip below, and I’m not suggesting that any of you are, but there is a reason for watching it, which I’ll explain in a second:

I would urge you to watch this film in full, because it highlights the reasons why things went wrong. I came across a bit of research by someone called Marianne Jennings, who is professor at Arizona State University, who also looked at the reasons why those major companies went down (bear in mind the Co-Op Bank was one that nearly went down!). Her research showed that actually, you only needed a combination of the following factors for your business to go down, and I think we can relate this to the MAT world, too:

1. Pressure to maintain numbers:

There is always a pressure to maintain numbers. In MAT terms, that could be GCSE results, KS2 results, or how many schools you’re going to get to by the end of the year.

2. Fear & silence

Some boards are completely scared of the trust’s CEO. I can safely say that if this is the case, no effective decisions are ever going to be made.

3. Young ‘uns, and a bigger-than-life CEO

Young people in the business world often think they have the silver bullet. I’ve seen young CEOs with a larger-than-life character that could railroad the entire business forward, but this then sets up a problem for the board who are unable to confront that person. It’s dangerous territory.

4. A weak board

If your board isn’t pushing back on you as a CEO at least 3 times in a meeting, they’re not doing their job. So think about the last trust board meeting you had. How many times was your CEO challenged about an issue? We’ve got a trust board meeting tomorrow, and trust me, it’s a tough day!

5. Conflicts (of interest)

We don’t buy any products or services from the Co-Op, and there are no third-party transactions between us and the Co-Op. It would be easy and we’d probably be able to save quite a lot of money, but we don’t do that because we can see the difficulties that would emerge over time. It’s a cultural thing.

6. Innovation “like no other”

Lots of people think that they have the answer, because they’ve innovated somewhere else and it worked. 9 times out of 10, they’re wrong.

7. Goodness in some areas atoning for evil in others

People have been willing to overlook bad behaviour in lieu of other good qualities. This can’t be allowed to happen.

To sum up, you only need 2 or 3 of the issues above on your board, according to Jennings, and you are looking at a big problem. Those are the reasons why the banks went down. The chairman of the Co-Op Bank was a methodist minister, who knew nothing about finance, but nobody on the board said anything. They were scared, and they were under pressure to get the numbers.

The moral of the story here is that if you don’t get the culture of your board right, your trust won’t survive. In the Co-Op Trusts’ case, the strength of our Trust is down to the quality of the people that we have on our board.

For more tips on creating your experience and skills criteria for MAT board members, you can read Sarah Pittam’s speech from our last MAT conference. To find out more about the demographics and performance of your Trust, log into your free ASP Group Insight dashboard here

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 performaning 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 brought 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 brought 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!

Arbor - 4 November, 2018

Category : Blog

Is your MAT governance structure scalable?

This blog is a transcript of a talk from our 2018 MAT Conference given by Sarah Pittam, Director at SLG Consulting. Sarah explains how different governance structures and processes can scale effectively as your MAT grows. We’ve transcribed her presentation below.   We’ve talked about a number of stages of the MAT growth scale today.

This blog is a transcript of a talk from our 2018 MAT Conference given by Sarah Pittam, Director at SLG Consulting. Sarah explains how different governance structures and processes can scale effectively as your MAT grows. We’ve transcribed her presentation below.

 

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 bringStructures 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. Read what Sarah had to say in the second half of her presentation here!

Arbor - 4 November, 2018

Category : Blog

Hugh Greenway, The Elliot Foundation: My guide to running a successful MAT (part 2)

Hugh Greenway, CEO of the Elliot Foundation, recently spoke at our MAT conference Scaling Sustainably: Centralisation vs. School Autonomy. This blog is the second part of a two-part blog series on his presentation – in part 1, Hugh spoke about the challenge of scaling a MAT without adequate funding. Here, he goes on to say

Hugh Greenway, CEO of the Elliot Foundation, recently spoke at our MAT conference Scaling Sustainably: Centralisation vs. School Autonomy. This blog is the second part of a two-part blog series on his presentation – in part 1, Hugh spoke about the challenge of scaling a MAT without adequate funding. Here, he goes on to say that creating trust among the people in your MAT is crucial to running a successful operation. We’ve transcribed part two of his presentation below.

Creating something from nothing

In order to successfully create a school-led system, we must ask ourselves two questions:

Question 1: Am I doing everything I can to improve outcomes for as many children as possible with the resources available to me today?

Question 2: Are the outcomes good enough?

The difficulty with Q1 is that it can make it difficult to get out of bed some mornings. Therefore, you have to find different ways and different people to help you ask the question in different ways. This is my latest version:

The questions that need to be asked are as follows: Are all children safe? Where do they learn? What do they learn? How do they learn? Who do they learn from? Can we pay for it? Does it work? Is it compliant?

Each of these questions relates back to a relevant operational part of the MAT, about which we can ask various questions to see if we are creating the best learning environment for our children using what we have available to us.  

Think about your finances, for example. If you think that you’ve saved money on photocopiers and/or stationery, you probably haven’t. You just think you have. I can tell you that by implementing print management and switching off colour printing, you can save up to 50% on your print costs now. Schools don’t actually need to print in colour. But here’s the thing: your photocopy costs will be less than 1% of total costs, so even saving you 50% will only deliver a 0.33 of 1% point saving – which might not be worth the uproar you will face from teachers!

The benefits of good governance

The real savings come from building trust with your people. At the beginning of the previous blog, I said that there were no volume discounts on teachers. Well, you can save money on them by treating them better.

This in turn leads to systems which transcend individual schools. If you think about your trust as a tent that needs to be kept upright against any inclement weather, then you need guy ropes. Each guy rope represents a golden thread that runs through the organisation.

In order to be sure that things are as good as they can be you need to check the tension on the guy rope. The inputs and the outputs.

How do we know that all children are safe or that the provision of education is improving? What evidence do we have? And what do we then do with that evidence? Which employee is responsible? Which trustee and which committee has oversight and what does good look like?

For example:

  • The inputs to ‘educationally improving’ are simple: OFSTED reports, phonics, KS1 & KS2 results, RSC letters etc.
  • The outputs are academy improvement plans linked to budgets, TATA reports, and trust/school improvement priorities. The employee responsible for this is me. The Committee is “Standards” and the Trustee is the Chair of Standards. But stakeholders engaged with a sense of agency is more nuanced

Obviously there needs to be a limit to the number of guy ropes, because otherwise you’d spend all your time running round and never get to sleep in your tent.

For those who find that analogy a bit fluffy, here is a slightly harder nosed way of looking at the current way I look at our system:

In brief, the Trust board is accountable to the DfE, which in turn is accountable to the children and the community. Within the the MAT, the staff are accountable to the principal, who reports to regional directors, who report to the CEO. There is then a web of support and representation that links the finance committee, LGBs, the audit committee and the standards committee, as well as NUC unions, an ops group and the principals’ council. A feedback loop runs through the MAT, connecting children to staff, staff to principals and principals to the CEO & trust board.

No roadblocks or concentrations of power.

But, at the end of the day it comes down to trust, and that is where we turn our greatest weakness into our greatest strength. Because if we can deploy our values in such a way that they generate value, then we all have a chance.

Arbor - 4 November, 2018

Category : Blog

Hugh Greenway, The Elliot Foundation: My guide to running a successful MAT

At our MAT conference, Scaling Sustainably: Centralisation vs. School Autonomy, Hugh Greenway, CEO of the Elliot Foundation spoke about the challenge of keeping the “big picture” in view when managing operations across a trust, arguing that this is the biggest challenge to scaling a MAT. We’ve transcribed part 1 of his presentation below. Introduction: The

At our MAT conference, Scaling Sustainably: Centralisation vs. School Autonomy, Hugh Greenway, CEO of the Elliot Foundation spoke about the challenge of keeping the “big picture” in view when managing operations across a trust, arguing that this is the biggest challenge to scaling a MAT. We’ve transcribed part 1 of his presentation below.

Introduction: The job of a MAT CEO

I was at a DfE meeting recently where the job of being a MAT CEO was explained as being, “to find what works and make it scalable”.  But education has always been and always will be mostly unscalable. You don’t get volume discounts on teachers (which are between 65-85% of your costs). The 1,000th teacher costs the same as the first one. What economies of scale you can achieve on your other costs are generally lost to the costs of running the system.

I set up the Elliot Foundation with my friend Caroline Whalley. She was the visionary, I was builder. But what did we set out to do?

The idea behind the Elliot Foundation was to build a safe place for primary schools and to try to protect them from the unintended consequences of academy reforms. We could see that the fragmentation of the system was likely to lead to hundreds, if not thousands of orphaned primary schools, with no one able or prepared to help them.

We set out to build this with three core ideas:

  1. To bring an end to the deficit model
  2. To create a genuine school-to-school model where expertise, decision making and money was kept as close to children as possible
  3. To build a primary voice

So – how’s it going?

The Elliot Foundation currently has 27 schools – that’s around 10,000 children (growing to 30,000). Two thirds of these schools are sponsored and 4 out of 8 converters were RI jumpers.

We’ve had 19 inspections so far, with 7 schools being awarded Oustanding, 10 awarded Good, and 2 Requiring Improvement. Out of the 6 Outstanding sponsored primaries in the West Midlands, 3 of those belong to the Elliot Foundation. But Age Related Expectations are not good enough. They’re probably at about 55% (validated). There are Pupil Premium and EAL gaps in East Anglia.

You can see from the numbers below that our schools are in the most deprived quartile:

Whilst you were reading the statistics, did you notice anything odd about the diagram above? Anything… gorilla-shaped? This idea is based on a famous 1990s psychology experiment that you can find on YouTube (but I’m afraid I’m now about to ruin for you). The difficulty is that nearly all MAT CEOs are former Headteachers, and they view the world through the lens of their experience. They see children, teachers and schools.

But they don’t see the gorilla. Do you see it now?

Unlike the academics at the DfE, I believe that our job as MAT CEOs is to create and maintain systems that keep schools, safe, solvent, structurally sound, legally compliant and educationally improving.

How do you scale without the money to scale?

Back in 2001 our system costs were handsomely funded – LAs used to retain around 16%. When the academy project was expanded by the coalition government in 2010, this had fallen to 12%, and academies had to make do with 8%. When the LACSEG was replaced by the ESG, it had fallen to £160 per pupil (around 3.5%). Today, each of us is personally accountable and potentially criminally liable for maintaining these systems. Yet we are given…nothing. Not even the most frugal of SME would run its head office on less than 5% of total. And in the UK, charities average closer to around 10%.

And yet, we have accepted this bargain by taking our system costs out of individual schools’ funding – and more often than not, by not taking enough, because we don’t want to. In doing so, we have tacitly accepted that our schools were over-funded. So, next time you sign your VfM declaration, you can point out that you have achieved VfM, even if you have only maintained standards (because you are doing so for much less than we used to get paid!).

The real pinch is that we cannot opt out of the law of the land (although that doesn’t stop the ESFA and the National College trying). Indeed, academy legislation is the first time in UK legal history that a government has used primary legislation to alter the terms of contract. By prioritising children we have simply put ourselves in the firing line. Asbestos compliance trumps school improvement. The Equalities Act is more important than SATs. GDPR (so help me) will be more important than SEND.

We all know that this is not true or fair. And this is the gorilla that we cannot see.

Moral purpose is the gorilla that killed Kids Company. And we will be victims of our vocation if we do not get a little more open and honest about how difficult this is.

The only way we can afford to have a moral purpose is to get a whole lot better at creating something from nothing. Fortunately, that’s what Primary schools are really good at.

Click here to read part two of Hugh’s presentation.

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

6 ways remote leadership can help MATs scale

Dr Vanessa J Ogden, CEO of Mulberry Schools Trust, spoke at our MAT conference about scaling culture and maintaining your sense of identity across your MAT as you grow. During the first half of her talk she stressed the importance of creating a set of values that is shared by everyone in your MAT in order to maintain

Dr Vanessa J Ogden, CEO of Mulberry Schools Trust, spoke at our MAT conference about scaling culture and maintaining your sense of identity across your MAT as you grow. During the first half of her talk she stressed the importance of creating a set of values that is shared by everyone in your MAT in order to maintain your trust identity as you scale. In this blog, we’ve picked out the key pointers from the second half of her talk, which focused on the importance of ‘remote leadership’ when bringing about changes in culture in schools to align with the values and identity of your trust. Read part two below:

‘Remote leadership’ is a term used by Tim Brighouse to describe his approach to education leadership at scale. I think it is highly applicable to MAT leadership, and I have found it incredibly useful when thinking about the importance of the CEO as a leader of outstanding education provision.
It is important to note that culture and identity in MATs applies here. The Mulberry Schools Trust’s model is premised on the CEO being a leader of education expertise. Business acumen is important, but knowing how to create outstanding schools in contexts of challenge is the focus and so education leadership expertise – with it being the central business product, if you like – is what is needed in the CEO. There are other MAT models where business skills are at the forefront of the CEO’s leadership and education expertise is held in the roles of directors of education – and this can also be very effective – but for us, the view is that if you want universally outstanding schools, the top job is to know how to do it and what this looks like, providing you have skilled financial, legal, estates and HR leaders working closely to you that you can properly hold to account.

‘Remote leadership’ of school communities thus becomes very important for a CEO. How do you bring your practitioners with you? How do you ensure they buy in to the vision, values and culture of the work in hand?

Remote leadership for a MAT entails a number of things:

  • Understanding in depth the context and history of the schools that are coming into your MAT
  • Spending time talking to stakeholders of the school’s community: pupils, parents, staff and wider partners
  • Imagining the future for the school community and communicating it – painting that picture of success – a vision that moves people on from the past and making a brighter, more exciting future seem possible
  • Building a team of strong leaders that share the vision and values you have in your MAT
  • Having attention to detail, being able to anticipate and being reflexive and adaptable to your school system’s dynamics
  • Giving time to legitimate stakeholders who will help you in your work

Securing a strong and widely shared commitment to the MAT’s purpose and values across a large group of people requires close communication, despite being more remote, and commitment from practitioners to a vision. One of the lessons I have learned about education and the implementation of any initiative at any level is that those who have a fairly autonomous position e.g. as a classroom teacher – in that they are inpidually responsible for pupil outcomes and the quality of their practice – can destroy it by simply not doing it or doing it differently. To be a lastingly successful initiative, they must agree with its importance and find its implementation rewarding.

Getting that commitment means two things. First, if your leadership is more remote, the immediacy of your communication is less and so every contact is vital. The authenticity of such communications is important and so linking them to genuine passion and values is essential.

Second, understanding and using the power of story is a key aspect of remote leadership in the task of scaling up culture and retaining identity. Stories of success create energy and when bringing about change in culture in a school to align with the values and identity of your trust, the use of supportive, affirming and speculative language is helpful – as well as finding those with a can-do philosophy to help you yield the buy-in from the community that you need in school transformation to align with the MAT.
It needs to be recognized in scaling up culture that in this task perhaps more than any other you cannot enact your leadership alone. If successful change in this respect is going to take root for the long term, you need to develop a team around you that can replicate this work and a central infrastructure to enable faithful development. And so we are back to my first point about the structural things you need to do to enable your identity to go to scale.

I have seen this model of remote leadership enacted elsewhere in recent times in perse fields of business and government: once on a visit to the Dyson engineering plant in Malaysia last month and 2 years ago on a visit to meet Barack Obama’s administration team at the White House. The recruitment and staff development process that supports scaling up culture and identity was plain to see in both cases. After all, what could be more important than the work Obama did to address inequality and social justice in the US?

So, I conclude by going back to the photograph above, as it has become symbolic and powerful for us as a Trust. It both shows the context of our work and the social justice issues we need to address about inequality. A great education is the key to a better and more prosperous future. It is also the means of providing greater social harmony within communities and human enrichment where the obstacles prevent engagement with the resources around you. The rainbow, therefore, is the promise. It is our Trust’s promise and it is the vision you buy into when you join our schools.

There have been some very difficult moments along the way, and there are more to come I am sure, but it is an expression of what we believe to be possible – a vision of hope for continued improvement in outcomes not just amongst the pupils within our family of schools but, through partnership and school-to-school support, improvement across the system. It is not growth for growth’s sake but a considered and thoughtful response to educational change and the requirement for us to support – along with Challenge Partners – a great school-led system.

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 - 19 April, 2018

Category : Blog

5 ways to scale culture at your MAT using values-driven leadership

Dr Vanessa J Ogden, CEO of Mulberry Schools Trust, spoke at our MAT conference about how to scale culture and the importance of maintaining a strong sense of identity across your MAT as you grow. She highlighted the need to create a set of values that are shared by everyone when scaling, from your company members and directors

Dr Vanessa J Ogden, CEO of Mulberry Schools Trust, spoke at our MAT conference about how to scale culture and the importance of maintaining a strong sense of identity across your MAT as you grow. She highlighted the need to create a set of values that are shared by everyone when scaling, from your company members and directors through to your school principals, senior teams and Local Governing Bodies. Read on to learn the 5 key ways that you can scale culture at your MAT using values-driven leadership

This photo shows my ‘place’ – where I started my headship in 2006 and where, on 1st May 2017 (after a 7 year journey) the Mulberry Schools Trust was born. The end of the rainbow (with its mythical pot of gold) is right in the City of London. To the side is one of the tower blocks in Shadwell where pupils in my catchment area live – one of the many similar blocks with overcrowding and damp, where people have little personal space or privacy or money. Poverty is patchwork across our country in the same way and so all MATs encounter it in some way. I’ve seen this at close hand through my work chairing the board of the Somerset Challenge and the National Schools Forum for Teach First.

The point of stating all of this is that it means our work at Mulberry Schools Trust is heavily influenced by the need to counter the dynamics of ‘place’ – to counter the close nature of urban financial and social disadvantage shown in the photo, open up opportunity, deal with inequality, offer routes to prosperity, stability and security, and to work towards greater social harmony and human flourishing. As a result, the Trust’s culture is framed by a set of values that are quite specific to this task. In a way, we have chosen to ‘specialise’ as a MAT in this work at this point.

From my experience, I cannot stress enough the importance of values-driven leadership at all levels as you grow. Values frame the culture that is created in all organisations and are easily diluted as you scale up, so values shared by your company members and directors through to your school principals, senior teams and Local Governing Bodies are critical.

Our values at Mulberry Schools Trust

Scaling up your organisational culture and maintaining your identity requires senior leaders to place values and a deep understanding of the context of your schools at the heart of your work. There is a dynamic relationship between a school, its context, its culture and the values which frame that culture. Understanding that dynamic is very important when thinking about scale.

Context or ‘place’ affects education. A school both influences and is influenced by its community. Where a school is situated has a profound, multi-layered effect on its character and the challenges it faces. In turn, good schools enrich their communities and can have a regenerative effect.

Our values are absolutely aligned with carrying out this task. They hold that:

1)Education is a public good: The chance to be educated is a human right and state schools should provide a high quality education for every child regardless of the barriers. An education should provide rich intellectual and personal development for inpiduals and communities. It should equip young people for employment, making a contribution to the economy as well as enabling them to sustain themselves financially

2) The Trust’s work should make a further system-wide contribution to educational improvement beyond being a MAT: Hence being a significant part of Challenge Partners and standing shoulder to shoulder with other school leaders to work collectively for an outstanding school system

Scaling culture as you grow

A fundamental question for us is how we retain these values so strongly and protect our culture from erosion across a growing number of schools. Even within the relatively small 4 square mile patch that my MAT currently occupies, the ‘place’ in which each of the three secondary schools is located is quite distinctive and affects each school’s culture differently. If spread across a wider geographical area and sometimes amongst quite far-flung regions for some MATs the challenge is magnified. However, there are a number of things that have been important for us in going to scale:

Statement of identity, vision and values: having a very clear sense of identity and of the vision and values of the Trust that is written down and shared effectively with the whole MAT community has been fundamental to our work. Helpfully, there is a track record of success already to back its importance, and that success also provides authenticity for people. This is an essential ingredient in education leadership – both in inpidual schools and at scale
Governance: building a Trust board of committed trustees and company members that share our values has been very significant. There have been hard conversations and some very difficult moments connected with building the Board and holding true to our values – particularly when faced with issues of equality. Ensuring that our LGBs are similarly robust has been important too so establishing an appointments committee for the board, having board development, evaluation and training as well as a robust SOD and a handbook have been key to ensuring we retain our identity and culture across an expanding number of schools

Policies that reflect our values too: what becomes a central policy adopted fully by all and what becomes a statement of policy principles for all schools to follow is an interesting discussion. I am also well aware that what you do in a small MAT might be different to a larger one: take curriculum and approach to teaching and learning, where the values of an institution are also expressed. Having a ‘loose-tight’ approach works fine when as the CEO you have time to talk regularly with the principal and to review practice. When you have a larger MAT and take on schools in special measures, for example, a non-negotiable curriculum model that everyone follows is an easier way of quality assuring what is done. I’ll come back to this point at the end because there are more compromises to be made either way on this particular aspect of a MAT’s practice

School leadership: school principals are obviously critical to the retention of culture and identity when going to scale. Either you appoint like-minded leaders who already share the MAT’s culture, values and approaches (we have done this twice now) or you create a talent pipeline that brings people through internally – which we are also doing – but this takes longer to establish. Like others, we have a strong internal leadership development programme which draws upon the talent within our Trust and a headteacher in training / deputy headteacher in training programme which is bespoke and personalized as well as group programmes and courses. The way you interview to test ‘fit’ for a school is, as you know, a sensitive and complex process – but worth investing time into to get the right appointment. And not appointing if it’s not right is always a brave decision

Community: integral to school improvement is the relationship between a school, its context and its community. Investing in external relationships and finding the right ambassadors to enable you to build trust and confidence amongst wider stakeholders helps enormously. Schools in marginalized communities are the community glue and I continue to see the gulfs between groups of different heritage made visible by the events of recent time – such as Brexit, the Syrian conflict and terror attacks. Islamophobia is rife and suspicion between people is unhelpfully fueled by media and social networking sites. Our values around schools’ wider role in social cohesion are strongly held and so for us, work in this domain of scaling up is very important

The close attention of the CEO to these elements of a MAT’s work is essential in scaling up culture and retaining identity, and the work in it over three years to six years is considerable but worth the investment. Facilitating strong governance, nurturing senior teams, building relationships with school communities and having a keen eye on policy implementation are for us the key things that we have considered and continue to develop.

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.