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Our CEO, James Weatherill, opened our fourth MAT Conference in Manchester by talking about the growing sense of confidence in the MAT sphere as trusts become better at coping with constant change. We’ve transcribed his presentation below! This is the fourth conference in a series we’ve run to try and bring together MAT leaders from
Our CEO, James Weatherill, opened our fourth MAT Conference in Manchester by talking about the growing sense of confidence in the MAT sphere as trusts become better at coping with constant change. We’ve transcribed his presentation below!
This is the fourth conference in a series we’ve run to try and bring together MAT leaders from all around the country to exchange good ideas. Today, we’ll talk about your successes, as well as advice on what to avoid, and you should take home some practical, implementable tips to share with your wider central team.
The reason why we do this kind of event is this: we’ve been travelling around the country and speaking to each of you, and we kept on finding that we were being asked the same questions. What this generally meant was that people weren’t exchanging ideas between each other. So, we want this to be a safe space for you to come together and hear about what different MATs are doing, both well and not so well, so you can avoid mistakes and exchange good ideas.
I think in the early formation of any industry, it’s really important that people get together and talk a lot, so that’s the basic format for today. Hopefully you’ll go away having learned something new, having met some peers, having built some good relationships and ultimately having new ideas to take back to help your MAT scale better and more sustainably. That is the goal of today.
We try and come up with a different theme for each conference, and for this I chose “getting better and coping with constant change” – I’ll run you through my rationale for that. This is a quote I came across that illustrates my point by Dorothy Parker, the American poet and author:
“In youth, it was a way I had,
To do my best to please.
And change, with every passing lad
To suit his theories.
But now I know the things I know
And do the things I do,
And if you do not like me so,
To hell, my love, with you.”
What’s nice about this is that I think of multi-academy trusts as a group, and as people we’re still at the start of a journey. I think that journey is now a few years in. The feeling I get from going around and meeting lots of multi-academy trust is that we’re at the end of the youth phase, where perhaps we were all finding our way, listening to what schools had to say and giving quite a lot of autonomy around decision making. I’m sensing a growing confidence in each of you about having tackled the basics.
We’re now moving on to some perhaps more cultural, personal things that you’re trying to tackle in your trusts – more specific issues. Some of the bigger,systemic problems are being tackled, like: “How do we scale? What size do I need to be? What do my staffing structures look like?” These issues are broadly being solved (though not completely) and we’re moving on to the second stage where there’s this growing confidence.
The last line of the Dorothy Parker quote perhaps doesn’t resonate with everyone. You can’t quite be that direct with everyone. And perhaps that’s too much confidence. But, nonetheless, I think we’re somewhere in the middle of those two verses now as trust leaders.
Coping with constant change
The MAT backdrop has been one of massive change, huge change, political change, funding change, technological change – so much more in the last five years than I’ve seen for a very long time. I think as CEOs, you’ve got better at coping with that. You start off with one or two schools, you get better, you get hit by a few problems and your goal is trying to stay on track without falling off (the GIF below illustrates this process quite well!). I think people are steadily getting better at riding that wave of change and pushing through progress in that way.
Group MIS: One system to streamline all data and workflows
So a little bit about Arbor: we’re a Management Information System for schools and trusts. We work with over 800 schools and 75 MATS. We have a group MIS which you can learn about here.
Fig 1: Arbor’s cloud-based MIS for MATs is the hassle free way for trusts to get work done
Our Group MIS pulls all of your data together into one one place and allows you to get a MAT-wide view benchmarked against national data as well. You can drill down all the way from a MAT level. It gives you out of the box analysis on regions, on your primary and secondaries and you can go all the way from MAT level to student level – with no setup required as long as your schools are running our MIS system. It also allows you to work on how you can operate better as a MAT. Group-wide workflows, for example, like setting assessment policy centrally and pushing them down to schools, mean you can get work done without having to go into each individual school’s MIS.
School MIS: A hassle-free way to streamline your schools
We also run a school MIS. This is a simple, smart system that brings all of your data together at the school level. This video shows us an overview of behaviour and reform:
Fig 2: Arbor’s cloud-based MIS for schools
So, you can start to see your data making sense, both from a student level and on a school level. Again, this comes with out of the box analytics and you can drill down and action things. The goal is about automating all of the admin in your school to save your staff time, bringing all of your data together and pointing your staff to the children who are most in need.
Over 1,000 schools will switch MIS this year
There’s been a lot of schools switching MIS. Over 1000 schools have switched this year. We’re slightly different as a company in that we care about the impact that we have. We have a board and it’s my responsibility to report to them. These are the metrics that matter to them:
The answers to all of these questions is shown in the data below, which is taken from the 800+ schools who use Arbor:
Fig 3: At Arbor, we have specific impact metrics that help us make sure we’re doing what we’re supposed to be doing
Over 800 schools and 75 MATs have switched to Arbor
We work with lots of different types of MATS:
Fig 4: A slide from James’ presentation showing the different types of MATs Arbor works with
We work with MATs from the very large (over 60 schools) all the way down to the very small (1 or 2 schools). That’s where some of the learnings come from today. At different stages of the journey, you have different problems and there’s different ways of solving it. We’ve seen a lot of it. Take the Isle of Man, for example, which has its own government – they have very different problems. So hopefully, we’ll be able to play back some of these learnings today.
Centralising data and your back office
We also have lots of partners that we work with. We don’t just do the job ourselves:
Fig 5: A slide from James’ presentation showing how we work with our partners
We have two sponsors today: P.S. Financials and RS Assessment. We integrate with both and we’ll talk about that today. You’ll find out how you can get a holistic overview of all of your students and how you can see your benchmark assessment data alongside your attendance and behaviour in Arbor. The whole goal is around centralizing the back office, so that everything works seamlessly.
School Autonomy vs MAT Centralisation
In previous conference, we’ve talked about the general theme of, “Where do you sit on the balance between school autonomy and MAT centralisation?” and a few speakers today will talk about their experiences with this.
Fig 6: A slide from James’ presentation showing school autonomy vs MAT centralisation amongst different MATs
We’ve run surveys and some of you will have been called about where you sit on the scale. These green blobs show a sample of where this room sits on each of these different areas. I’ve also highlighted in light green where the moving average is. So, what about MATs across the country? How centralized are they across all of these different things? The picture that’s emerging is that it’s kind of settling down. People know what they know and now they’re moving forward more slowly.
The first few conferences that we did, when we benchmarked this data, it was all over the place. Some people were more centralized, some people were less. But what we can see now is that assessment models in primaries and curriculum in primary-led MATS are being more centralized.
In secondaries, it’s still a way off. Governance has been pretty highly-centralized across MATS, and there are different models for that. It’s the same with school improvement – sometimes there is a function set up for that centrally. Some MATS around the tables here are doing that particularly well. Pedagogy less so – left up to the schools to a degree.
But in terms of policy systems and back office, we’re moving towards greater centralization and control at the MAT level. And this is an evolving picture. So we keep on playing this back to the room, but I think the trend has always been more to the right. MATs are taking more ownership of the more non-teaching elements so that schools can focus more on the business of teaching.
Beacons of excellence
There are beacons of excellence in this room. A question we tend to ask you is: “What one thing you do particularly well in your MAT, and what one thing could others perhaps learn from?” These are a few snippets from the calls that we had with some of the people sitting here.
Fig 7: Quotes from MATs about what they do well
The interesting and quite rewarding thing here was that lots of people are talking about their culture being something that they do particularly well. Another common theme is being confident to share the collective idea of our Trust, not the Trust – a shared, authentic identity across all schools. Safeguarding is another one, and one MAT talks about their approach to people(i.e. how HR and talent management can be a competitive advantage). We’ve also heard about how culture can be used to attract schools.
The Biggest Challenges
So now, onto challenges. And there are loads. That’s also what today is about:
Fig 8: Quotes from MATs about some of the challenges they face
One challenge is around parental engagement amongst vulnerable students. Also systems, and integration in a general sense. Head teachers who are wedded to how things used to be done, rather than how things are done now, perhaps? And finance is an ongoing problem. These are some common challenges that I hope will ring a few bells with a lot of you. That’s why I want to give all of you time throughout the day to explore the challenges that each of you have in your respective trusts. That’s it for me – thanks for listening!
If you’d like to find out more about how our hassle-free, cloud-based MIS could help transform your MAT, contact us. You can also book a demo by calling 0207 043 0470 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
At Arbor’s MAT conference on 8th November in Manchester, Debbie Clinton, CEO, and Vince Green, Principal and Regional Director for Education, shared their experiences of turning around Academy Transformation Trust over the past year. To read part 1 of their presentation, click here. It’s scary, isn’t it? How these edifices can collapse really, really quickly in
At Arbor’s MAT conference on 8th November in Manchester, Debbie Clinton, CEO, and Vince Green, Principal and Regional Director for Education, shared their experiences of turning around Academy Transformation Trust over the past year. To read part 1 of their presentation, click here.
It’s scary, isn’t it? How these edifices can collapse really, really quickly in our sector. So how have we fixed it? What have we actually done? I suppose we’ve done a lot of obvious stuff, really. First, I went on a grand tour – it had to be done. I don’t know how you can do it any other way as a new Chief Executive. You’ve got to get into these academies and get to know them, smell them, breathe them – just to feel what they feel like.
So I said to the principals, “I’m going to carry out 22 section 8 inspections over a two term period.” That went down well. But it was actually really, really helpful. I did this because, with the absence of effective school improvement strategy and an effective MIS, I didn’t have intelligence I could trust. I didn’t feel that I could trust what I was being told across all 22 academies. On reflection it was useful because you see things that vary in quality from superb to rubbish.
It’s important to decide this: what are our priorities? A delivery plan was absolutely vital, because there was no culture to hold people to account whatsoever. While I am surrounded by lots of talent in the league of Vince, one of the problems that I had was that the absence of effective systems meant that quality assurance just wasn’t happening on a routine basis.
So the executive leadership team complete an annual delivery plan and decide the following: here’s our strategic priority, here’s what I am going to do and here’s what that will be. Now, if only getting the structure right led to rapid school improvement – wouldn’t we all be happy?
I appreciate that I’m now in year two. Year one was spent doing that. And now in year 2, my trustees will say, “Okay then. Let’s see the impact of these significant changes.” It’s a fair enough question. But I hope what you see is a coherence; an approach to regionalisation; an approach to mirroring directorates that look like each other, which helps in terms of becoming one entity.
(Image 1: A slide taken from Debbie Clinton’s presentation showing how she will act on her three year strategy to improve Academy Transformation Trust)
People development is perhaps an obvious thing to bring up, as is the urgent need for the assessment of safeguarding and risk. We’ve appointed a Director of Safeguarding because we didn’t have one before. One of our schools went into category last academic year on the back of a very serious safeguarding criminal case. We’ve moved on quite a bit since then, but one of the reasons for it was that we just really weren’t understanding the complexity and the vagaries of safeguarding. I think Ofsted upped their safeguarding game remarkably in the past 12 months (about time, mind) and we don’t always agree with them, but actually, in light of that, it means that someone’s got to be driving safeguarding.
Governance is also really important. Our governance trust board had been radically reformed with the DFE’s involvement before I got there. They’re very impressive. Local academies were all over the place – outstanding through to absent, basically, because there’s no approach to governance. There’s no coherent approach to understanding what governance means in our trust.
We appointed a head of corporate affairs which was crucial. Neutrality is also really important. I know that Andy will happily whistleblow about me at anytime because he’s very clear that he is accountable to the chair of the trust. So, although he’s a salaried employee, he operates in a neutral way.
We’ve taken a lot of time to think about the style with which we bring about the recovery. This is perhaps a bit blindingly obvious, but actually I’ve inspected too many MATS and schools to know it isn’t always: “What leadership technique and strategy will I use in this meeting, this workshop, this line management, this performance development compensation, etc.?”
(Image 2: A slide taken from Debbie Clinton’s presentation showing the style of her three year strategy to improve Academy Transformation Trust)
It’s also important to be humble. Humility: you can’t underestimate that. But you know that already. CEOs are famous for their egos aren’t they? I hope I park it as much as I can. There’s too much ego in our system already. We need to acknowledge that around us, we have so much talent. Tact: I’m mostly tactful, but I also don’t mess around. If someone’s not done a good job, they do know it.
I am patient mostly and ethical always. You can look at my expense plan. You can look at my salary. I’ve worked really hard and I spent a long time with my P.A. and one of our finance team talking about the management of my expenses accounts and how it was going to be; how it would be quality assured.
Then the other stuff is obvious. Communication practices: the most obvious thing. We haven’t got that right. In fact, we’re not very good at that yet. It’s getting better, but we need it. We do need an effective communication strategy. You can’t just by accident run a MAT of our size. You’ve got to be consciously thinking about how you get it all behaving as one entity. How will you constantly revisit what we are and what we say we are?
(Image 3: A slide taken from Debbie Clinton’s presentation showing how her strategy has started to improve outcomes for Academy Transformation Trust)
So as you would expect, there are some quantitative and qualitative examples of the impact of all of this activity so far. We ended last year with a £2.9 million deficit. We ended this year in surplus for £2 million. We still have a historic debt, which won’t be settled until summer of 2021. But in a year, we’re down to £2 million. So despite everything, despite ruthless financial leadership, we still did that because we were spending amounts like £200,000 on an army of goodness knows what. I’m out of time now, but I think that the rest speaks for itself.
At Arbor’s MAT conference on 8th November in Manchester, Debbie Clinton, CEO, and Vince Green, Principal and Regional Director for Education, shared their experiences of turning around Academy Transformation Trust over the past year. We’ve transcribed part 1 of their presentation below! Debbie: I’m Debbie Clinton, the Chief Executive Officer of Academies Transformation Trust and
At Arbor’s MAT conference on 8th November in Manchester, Debbie Clinton, CEO, and Vince Green, Principal and Regional Director for Education, shared their experiences of turning around Academy Transformation Trust over the past year. We’ve transcribed part 1 of their presentation below!
I’m Debbie Clinton, the Chief Executive Officer of Academies Transformation Trust and I have been in post since September of 2018. A bit about my background: Secondary headteacher (named in the House of Commons!) and all these accolades that actually were very precious to me at the time. And then I left all of that to join the dark side and become an HMI (forgive me!) but it was very useful. Then I went over to the Diverse Academy Learning Partnership in the East Midlands to be the deputy CEO and then acting CEO of a much smaller trust than the one I work with now. And then, obviously I mentioned that I started at ATT just over a year ago, and I’m loving it. But it’s also a bit loony, which we’ll come to.
I’m Vince Green and I’ve been a principal within the Academy Transformation Trust since 2014. It’s my 6th year with the trust and I’ve really experienced the interesting journey that our trust has been on during the last 5 years – very much ups and downs all along the way. I was principal for 5 years at Bristnall Hall Academy in Sandwell. But this year, I’m in a fortunate position. Having worked with Debbie for just over a year, I’m now Regional Education Director for Secondary West and also Executive Principal over Bristnall Hall and two other academies in the West Midlands.
First, we’ll do the boring bit. So this is us. We are big. We have 22 academies, 10 primaries and secondaries, 1 special school and 1 FE College. We operate across 2 regions, 10 local authority areas, 10 lots of schools forums, 10 lots of CED funding models, 10 high-needs funding models. It’s just great. We have a turnover of over 8 million – not enough, but obviously a significant budget to manage. We have 13,000 students and around 2000 colleagues. If I had had my old HMI hat on – and there’s at least one other former HMI in the room – I would have put our multi-academy trust straight into category for all sorts of reasons, and we’ll come to those now.
(Image 1: A slide taken from Debbie Clinton’s presentation showing key stats from the Academy Transformation Trust)
The main reason is actually very simple: the multi-academy trust was not behaving as a multi-academy trust. It was behaving as a set of 22 individual entities, some of whom, like Vince’s old academy, were fairly high-performing and doing quite well. So, they kind of just got on with it and thought “the trust is just a pain so I’ll just park that to one side.” As a formerly strong Head, I would’ve done the same. But others, of course, were desperate for the structure and support and challenge that lies at the heart of an effective multi-academy trust – and they weren’t getting any of that. So, everybody lost.
There’s a theme we hope that you pick up running through our presentation: the need to behave as a trust, but then defining what that actually means. We had the following problems: significant debt, 4 CFOs in as many years, management that wasn’t fit for purpose (I’m not talking about the individuals, actually, because many of them are still with me – which is actually a great testament to how far we’ve come). But the structures were just all over the place. Very poor systems. We’re still unearthing things now that are news to some of my senior leaders. Very poor control. Almost absent control at all levels, actually.
Then there’s risk management. I can say this now, because we’ve got one. We didn’t have a risk register. Can you imagine my reaction when I arrived to that? And the trustees were being told that everything was actually tickety-boo when it certainly wasn’t. Some academies had a risk register, so they were compliant, and in some cases quite good registers. But there wasn’t one in the centre. This was a huge problem.
(Image 2: A slide taken from Debbie Clinton’s presentation showing key financial problems within the Academy Transformation Trust)
Can I just add from a principal’s point of view that within our trust during that time, it was quite a strange scenario. About a year in, lots of our academies with financial issues were in positions where there had to be restructures and redundancy processes. We very much did those off our own backs, because we had worked with principals or head teachers before who’d always done the right thing: cut their crop accordingly. If you haven’t got enough money moving forward, you have a redundancy process. But many didn’t, and it wasn’t imposed on them by the Trust at all.
At times, it would appear to most of us principals that financial people didn’t really know when these problems were coming. So, the only academies that were addressing this were those that had good financial systems and managers within their academy already. We realised this during a major redundancy process at my own academy at the time and I remember turning around to my SLT at one time and saying, “You know what? I reckon today we could go out and spend £100,000 on stuff for this academy and I think we’d get away with it.” Unfortunately, it’s taxpayers’ money, because otherwise it would be great fun. That was the kind of world we lived in at the time.
Absolutely. It’s a picture that I recognised from my inspection life as well. With regard to operations, you’ve got to think about the context. 22 academies, 10 local authority areas across East and West regions, massive geographical challenges and a massive geographical understanding that needs to be grasped that wasn’t. So, we’ve done quite a lot with H.R., which is getting there and ICT, which wasn’t regionalised – I mean how do you not regionalise IT and MIS? How can you not actually make sure that the very architecture on which you build your MAT has been properly regionalised?
We also had poor procurement leadership; there was a Procurement Director. I have no evidence of the impact of that job at all. We had poor MIS leadership – absent, in fact. When you’re looking at areas like risk management and control systems, you need to be really clear on performance with regard to finance, operations and education. We don’t just do education in MATS – of course we don’t. We’re a multi-million pound business! How did we actually know what was going on? Well, we didn’t. And that’s kind of the point. Classic left hand, right hand stuff: too many people.
If you look at old versions of our website, you will see that there’s all these people employed at the centre doing goodness knows what. And morally, I have an issue with that. So one of the first things we’ve done is try to drive ethical leadership culturally through the organisation. We have to be absolutely clear. What is that job that isn’t either a teacher, head teacher or member of associated support staff? What do they do? What is the point of me? What is the point of a job like this? And how do we continue to evidence the impact of these fairly highly-paid people?
“What do you do?” That was a question that couldn’t be answered effectively by quite a number of people in those roles. Then there was an equally large problem: no approach to people development. There was no strategic, deep understanding that the most important thing you ever do as a trust – as any large organisation – is look after your people. Develop them. Challenge them. Bring them on. Make them feel like they want to be part of the journey.
(Image 3: A slide taken from Debbie Clinton’s presentation showing key operations problems within the Academy Transformation Trust)
I agree. In terms of education, there were some pockets of great practice going on within many of the academies and actually within our central team. We’ve had a lot of different staff that have worked separately for our trust over the 5 years I’ve worked with ATT. We’ve had some great individuals within those groups, but it’s never been joined up. And what it has resulted in is these academies pretty much working in silos, occasionally collaborating with other academies because the principals have taken it upon themselves to do it. But it’s been very much them and us.
So that brings me on to where we are now. We are one organisation. We are one trust. I think what attracted me initially to work for ATT – to take on my first headship with it – was the fact that I was clearly going to have huge amounts of autonomy, which was very attractive at the time. I could bring in the people I wanted, which was great fun, and so on. And that worked well, even in my environment. I’m not just saying that because it’s me necessarily, because I had a number of other great things in place, but this did not work well in other academies where that wasn’t the case.
We had, as I’ve said, uncontrolled spending. We had crazy staffing structures in some places and things not driving on educationally as one would want. Another big issue was definitely our people development strategy. In terms of talent mapping, capacity mapping and skill mapping, it was only done well in some academies. In others, we’ve lost some fantastic people along the way and I see them doing great things now in other trusts and in other organisations. And really, you know, our kids are missing out on those people now because it wasn’t mapped out properly at the time.
You know, Sir David Carter, as he left his role as National Schools Commissioner, talked about the spectrum of autonomous alignment and standardisation. What do you tightly control? What do you not really care about and what do you need to make sure you align? We did a lot of work on that, which is nowhere near finished, but we have begun a very important piece of work in our Trust about that.
One of the things that most fascinated me in my interview for ATT was the total absence of this. There were about 8 trustees involved in my appointment. During the interview they asked, “Have you got any questions?” And I said, “Talk to me about your school improvement strategy,” and they couldn’t tell me anything. It was disgraceful.
In fact, the trustees were quite clear that this was one of their main worries that they felt unable to articulate. That classic Ofsted question: “Talk to me about how you improve academies.” What do you do? What’s your model? How do you know it works?
So defining that was was really, very important indeed. When I arrived, they were spending £185,000 on consultants. So I asked to see the 16 contracts for these 16 consultants. Not a single KPI on any contract. One of them is charging around £800 a day (to fund his villa in Spain, clearly). I could not see any KPIs in any of those contracts, so they’ve all gone.
(Image 4: A slide taken from Debbie Clinton’s presentation showing key education problems within the Academy Transformation Trust)
Just to conclude, I mean, we will all be very aware of what’s happened with certain other high-profile MATs that no longer exist. And I think the bottom line was that ATT was in a position which was seen externally as relatively healthy. It was a MAT that had been allowed to grow – in a crazy way, really. If you look at the geography of a lot of our academies, we had at the time very rapidly declined, in a way that could have basically forced us to cease to exist.
Click here to read the next instalment of Debbie and Vince’s presentation, in which they talk about exactly how they approached turning around Academy Transformation Trust.
Arbor MIS | MAT Conference | MAT Operations | MATs
Now that 72 MATs are using Arbor’s MIS to manage and collaborate more efficiently with their schools, we looked at the 4 key reasons MATs decide to switch to us. Stay connected to all your schools Arbor MIS for MATs brings all your schools’ data together so you can instantly see how your students are
Now that 72 MATs are using Arbor’s MIS to manage and collaborate more efficiently with their schools, we looked at the 4 key reasons MATs decide to switch to us.
Stay connected to all your schools
Arbor MIS for MATs brings all your schools’ data together so you can instantly see how your students are getting on, and jump in if you need to. Act on everything important, fast – and all from just one system, so you and your staff can get on with focusing on what matters most.
Follow up centrally
Arbor lets you log into your schools’ MIS systems in one click, meaning jobs like chasing absent students, following up on behaviour incidents and investigating overdue marks are simple, painless, and take far less time. You can even set up escalations and workflows to get things done automatically, and track progress using standardised or non-standardised assessment frameworks.
Never ask for data again
Reporting in Arbor is as painless as it should be. Use our Report Builder to create reports for stakeholders in minutes (not days!) and send them out daily, weekly or termly to suit the needs of your Central Team. Stakeholders have the information they need without having to ask all the time, and can make better-informed decisions as a result.
A smooth transition with human support at every step
Having helped over 72 MATs and over 800 schools make the switch, we understand the importance of making sure your new MIS is a success for your schools and your Central Team. We’re on hand to answer questions every step of the way, and our phone lines are open 8am-5pm every day of the week.
“Arbor’s simple interface is easy to use, and we love the MAT reporting tool – the ability to see MAT data in one place without having to contact all schools individually has saved us so much time!”
Lisa Sarikaya, Deputy CEO at St Bart’s Multi-academy Trust
Join our Community of MATs
Over the course of this year, we’re bringing MATs from across the country together to discuss how to successfully centralise data and operations – we’d love to see you at an upcoming event!
Image 1: The Bridgewater Hall in Manchester, where our fourth conference will be held
8th November 2019
Scaling Sustainably: Our fourth MAT Leaders Conference
See the full agenda and sign up for your free ticket here: https://scaling-your-mat-sustainably-19.eventbrite.com
13-14th November 2019
Schools & Academies Show Birmingham
Visit us at stand F30 for a chat and a free demo to see if Arbor’s cloud-based MAT MIS could be the right fit for your trust. Don’t miss our live session on day 2 in the Business & Finance Theatre on Arbor’s free dashboards, which give you clear, aggregated, out-of-the-box analysis of your schools’ latest performance data.
31st December 2019
Give your MIS provider notice if you want to switch
If you’re planning to move all your schools to a cloud-based MIS like Arbor, most MIS providers (e.g. SIMS) need at least three months notice if you want to switch this school year.
22-25th January 2020
BETT 2020 at The ExCel
We’ll be at stand NM30 in the main area from Wednesday through Saturday! Drop by to see our MIS in action, come watch our talk at the Tech in Action arena or join us at Tapa Tapa restaurant for a free lunch & glass of wine each day.
27th March 2020
Arbor’s Spring MAT Conference
We’re holding our 5th MAT conference at Kings Place, a ten minute walk from London Kings Cross Station. Put the date in your diary, and stay tuned for more details from us soon.
If you’d like to find out more about Arbor’s MIS for MATs, these events are all great opportunities to see if Arbor could be a good fit for your trust. Don’t forget, we also come to you – email us at email@example.com or call us on 0208 050 1028 to arrange a free demo.
Following three sold out conferences in London and Manchester last year – attended by over 200 MAT leaders representing 157 trusts – we’re very excited to announce that the fourth conference in our popular series will take place on Friday 8th November in Manchester! Fig 1.: The Bridgewater Hall in Manchester, where our fourth conference
Following three sold out conferences in London and Manchester last year – attended by over 200 MAT leaders representing 157 trusts – we’re very excited to announce that the fourth conference in our popular series will take place on Friday 8th November in Manchester!
Fig 1.: The Bridgewater Hall in Manchester, where our fourth conference will be held
Our fourth conference will bring together MAT CEOs, COOs, and CFOs at Manchester’s Bridgewater Hall to discuss different strategies for scaling sustainably. Our speakers will share practical advice (based on their own experiences as CEOs) on how best to scale central team processes, governance, reporting, culture and more – to help you plan for the growth of your own trust.
We currently have 6 speakers confirmed, with more to be announced soon:
Speaker 1: Lauren Thorpe
Job title: Head of Data & Systems Strategy at Ark
MAT: Ark Schools
Lauren will speak about: How Ark manages the spread of data managers across its schools
Speaker 2: Ian Hunt
Job title: Director of Education Standards & Effectiveness
MAT: St Barts Multi Academy Trust
Ian will speak about: Scaling reporting to a MAT board
Speaker 3: Richard Sherrif
Job title: CEO
MAT: Red Kite Learning Trust
Richard will speak about: Communicating change to your schools
Speaker 4: Tom Banham
MAT: Hoyland Common Academy Trust
Tom will speak about: How to make sure each of your schools remain sensitive to their local context
Speaker 5: Debbie Clinton
MAT: Academies Transformation Trust
Debbie will speak about: TBC
We’ll be confirming our final 3 speakers and the topics of their presentations soon! In addition to our main speakers, there will also be an open roundtable discussion between MAT COOs, free breakfast & lunch, and plenty of networking breaks during which we’ll match you up with similar sized MATs to help you learn from each other and exchange best practice.
Click here to sign up for your free place for you and a member of your SLT: scaling-your-mat-sustainably-19.eventbrite.com
Hope to see you there!
Want to move your schools to a cloud-based MIS? Click here to learn more about how Arbor’s Group MIS could help to transform the way you work with your schools
Centralising Operations | MAT Conference | MAT Operations | MATs
At our most recent MAT conference, Paul West, Chief Executive Officer at Spencer Academies Trust, shared his experience of the trust’s recent merger with Trent Academies Group, and how other trusts considering a similar move can make sure they’re doing it right. Check out his presentation below to see how Spencer Academies Trust navigated this
At our most recent MAT conference, Paul West, Chief Executive Officer at Spencer Academies Trust, shared his experience of the trust’s recent merger with Trent Academies Group, and how other trusts considering a similar move can make sure they’re doing it right. Check out his presentation below to see how Spencer Academies Trust navigated this important process:
Fig. 1: Click on the the arrows to flip through Paul’s presentation
At our latest MAT conference in London, Paul James, Chief Executive of River Learning Trust, talked to us about the importance of “working together to achieve excellence in education”. His presentation, which you can view below, explores different approaches to leadership and emphasises the necessity of teamwork. Fig. 1: Click on the the arrows to
At our latest MAT conference in London, Paul James, Chief Executive of River Learning Trust, talked to us about the importance of “working together to achieve excellence in education”. His presentation, which you can view below, explores different approaches to leadership and emphasises the necessity of teamwork.
Fig. 1: Click on the the arrows to flick through Paul’s slides from the day
At our recent MAT conference in London, Will Smith, Chief Executive Officer at Greenshaw Learning Trust, spoke about the importance of defining your Trust and how building strong foundations and principals is key to running a successful organisation. We’ve transcribed the beginning of his presentation below. What do we mean by “Trust”? A couple of
At our recent MAT conference in London, Will Smith, Chief Executive Officer at Greenshaw Learning Trust, spoke about the importance of defining your Trust and how building strong foundations and principals is key to running a successful organisation. We’ve transcribed the beginning of his presentation below.
What do we mean by “Trust”? A couple of years ago, as I walked around schools and spoke to my relatively small central team, I would hear things like “the Trust are coming in; the Trust have asked for this information.” We seemed to exist in some ivory tower headed up by me in some sort of draconian dark suit wielding some sceptre of power that was “the Trust”. We needed to bust that myth.
We moved away from the notion of “the Trust is coming in”. I went round and made it our number 1 performance managing objective to get it clear to local governing bodies and head teachers that “The Trust” is everyone. We challenge people when they refer to the Trust central team as “The Trust”. They are included in that Trust.
This has created an understanding of who we are as an organisation and has allowed me to develop true school-to-school collaboration, because we are all in one Trust and that’s been a massive thing for us. That’s why I focus very much on defining that Trust.
Click on the slides below to learn about Greenshaw Learning Trust’s strategy in more detail:
At our latest MAT Conference in London, Martin Holyoak, Education Product Specialist at PS Financials, spoke about the benefits of standardising systems across your MAT as you scale. Read what he had to say below. Let’s talk about using technology to strengthen your position when centralising. When we read into the whole centralising process, there’s a
At our latest MAT Conference in London, Martin Holyoak, Education Product Specialist at PS Financials, spoke about the benefits of standardising systems across your MAT as you scale. Read what he had to say below.
Let’s talk about using technology to strengthen your position when centralising. When we read into the whole centralising process, there’s a lot to consider. One of the first considerations should be the technology we use. What you should try to do is to use 1 product across all the schools in your Trust. When some schools first join the Trust, they try to take their systems with them. They can use anything up to 15 different systems – just for the basics. It’s actually more cost-effective when you start breaking contracts and just using one system.
Fig. 1: Click on the the arrows to flick through Martin’s slides from the day
Looking at accounting, HR, procurement, communications – whatever it may be; if you have multiple sets of software that don’t work with each other, it’s not helpful. If you just use these spreadsheets and systems, making an error could mean that hundreds of messages could be lost. You’re not going to see the full picture with these spreadsheets – and it’s a lot of work as well! So, if you can have 1 of everything, that will strengthen your Trust’s position and help you with scaling up as new schools join.
Where do you sit?
This brings me to your centralisation journey, wherever you are on it:
1. Autonomy: we work autonomously at first, holding only ourselves accountable and hiring who we want
2. Standardisation: when I look at the information in my Trust, I see differences without seeing lots of processes – standardisation is the next step
3. Centralisation: once everyone is doing step 2, it’s easier to put everything into a central site
But with centralisation, there are quite a lot of issues. I have seen schools in Trusts for years that are still autonomous; they all do their own payrolls, hire who they want, run their own bank accounts. I’ve seen a lot of centralising as well, but you do have 2 separate directions to choose from. Ours is more controlled. By controlled, I mean we have a core team of specialists. Every MAT central team should have a core that covers finance, Hr, IT – to name just a few. They work together, not across business units, but across all schools. This way, you are getting efficiency and uniformity, which will help you to scale up when new schools join the Trust.
What are the positives of going central?
It’s very, very efficient. Let’s look at an individual business unit like the finance function, for example. When running a 10-school trust, that’s 10 banknotes, 10 payment runs – it all takes time. Or we could just have 1 of everything. That seems a lot easier, doesn’t it? Improving financial reporting also really needs core specialists. We get what we can out of the system and all the schools in the Trust get included.
And that’s just in finance. Let’s look at HR: people are always the most expensive part of your budget and that will never change. It’s also the place with the least visibility in all the schools I’ve been to. We’ve introduced our core specialists to HR to control and harmonise processes across our schools. We can onboard people quickly and capture their data.
If we’re going to scale up, it comes down to 3 things and the main thing is people. Getting the right technology is also really important, but it’s about process as well. You can have the most sophisticated software in the land – but if you use it incorrectly, what’s the point?
How does GAG Pooling fit in?
I will bring up GAG pooling, although I have no opinion on the matter. With many Trusts, even centralised Trusts, their schools manage their own premises, IT, administration and much more. The Trust then covers a small margin that handles things like legal, overheads and whatever else. The idea of GAG pooling is that the opposite would happen – the Trust would manage the majority of these school operations. All the ethical stuff, contracts and the like would be taken care of by a core team of specialists. This leaves the school to come back to their main focus: education. That’s something you can do with the right technology.
Is it right for your audience?
One of the concerns you have with centralising is your audience. We all crave reports. I know you’ve got governor reports, trustees, SLT and everything else. There’s lots of reports to produce. With the right technology in the hands of the right people, you can turn great looking things into something tangible. Fantastic work, but is it right for your audience? Again, the right people in the right positions in the central team working together can produce information that is going to make a difference moving forward.
MAT Conference | MAT Operations | MATs | School Improvement | School Operations
Today I will share with you the principles that keep REAch2 together. We call them our touchstones. These are the things that are common and that are important for us as an organisation. We call them touchstones because a touchstone 500 years ago was a measure of quality. It’s a standard by which we are judged.
Today I will share with you the principles that keep REAch2 together. We call them our touchstones. These are the things that are common and that are important for us as an organisation. We call them touchstones because a touchstone 500 years ago was a measure of quality. It’s a standard by which we are judged. Hence, their importance can be felt across our organisation.
They’re also a barometer of how we’re doing. As a director of HR, I can assure you: when we have challenging conversations, this is what we come back to. As I’ve said before, REAch2 isn’t a Starbucks where every coffee shop is the same. We’re the equivalent of a bespoke coffee shop, where quality is absolutely paramount. No teacher is the same; no two schools are the same, but we share these guiding principles.
So what does this mean in practice?
Let me give you some good examples:
We make time to meet. If you take everything else away, apart from aligning with your culture and your purpose, this is paramount. It’s the easiest thing to disappear out of your calendars. We enjoy working together. We are vibrant when we work together.
We don’t have head office, so we’re all in lots of different locations. We’ve gotten really good at Zoom or Skype calls and work hard at making it feel like we’re all in one room. Making time together is really important. That’s the senior leadership team, head teachers and teachers.
You’ll see on the website that we talk about the REAch2 family. That may sound corny to some, but we mean it. Being a family means that we actually hold each other to account. We have a chart that reminds us of who’s responsible for what: how central team is going to work with schools, what support they’re going to get. We challenge each other when things aren’t going so well.
One of the things we remind our headteachers and SLT about is “raise extra purpose”. We have to ensure that everyone understands why we do what we do. If you go onto our website, then you’ll see our 5 year strategy document, which outlines that REAch2 stands for ‘reaching educational attainment’. Under that, we’ve got 3 headings:
Image 1: REAch2 uses touchstones to stay focused on their guiding principles when on-boarding new schools to the MAT
Another key element: people. When I first joined REAch 2, I was clearly the executive. My focus would be leadership, leadership, leadership coupled with location, location, location. You can imagine that, having 60 schools, we’re not looking for the same head teacher for every single one. Our smallest school in East Anglia has 75 pupils, while our largest in London has over 1000. We’ve appointed every single one of our head teachers apart from 3. It’s not a ruthless statistic: it’s the results of painstaking clarity in what we’re about and what works.
When you think about it, it’s not difficult. Know what you’re looking for when you interview. Our first questions are about the ‘REAch2 fit’, not about experience. Our on-boarding plan for every single person on the central team is 6 months. It’s very specific, it’s very clear and the line manager takes ownership of it. We have an induction event, which is not just for head teachers, but for any of their SLT whom they wish to bring along. We have 3 regional teaching conferences a year, and we have one larger headteacher conference where everybody comes together.
It’s important to get people together to reinforce messages. When it comes to leadership and culture:
Practice is important. If our touchstones are non-negotiable and we’re clear about our mission, then actually it takes practice. Communicating something via a poster or on a website and doing it once won’t accomplish anything. It’s about reinforcing it on a daily basis. Over the last 6 months we’ve been looking at our own growth to make sure we maintain our purpose and principles when we add more schools. We’re not standing still.
One of the reasons why REAch2 is really keen to be at Arbor’s conference today is because our sector is still relatively new. This is a good reason to support each other. Don’t forget that whilst we’re all working on our own individual culture, people outside our sector will be looking at us. They will say: ‘what’s it like working there?’ So, your culture (our culture) is important. It will define us as a good place to work: a sector for a career and a sector which means business.
Today I’m going to talk about how to scale culture across your MAT whilst giving schools individual identity. I’m Sue Northend, Head of HR at REAch2, and I wanted to start by telling you a little bit about the trust and the journey we’ve been on so far. REAch2 is the largest primary academy trust
Today I’m going to talk about how to scale culture across your MAT whilst giving schools individual identity. I’m Sue Northend, Head of HR at REAch2, and I wanted to start by telling you a little bit about the trust and the journey we’ve been on so far.
REAch2 is the largest primary academy trust in England, and we have 60 schools scattered across 200 miles of geography. Our schools tend to fall into one of two specific categories; they’re either rural and coastal, which has its own set of challenges, or they’re in central towns and cities. Part of REAch2’s DNA is taking on schools that are in particular situations where there is a lot of social deprivation.
82% of our academies were sponsored when they came to us with severe issues of performance. We’ve got 20,000 children and 4,000 staff, and of the 60 schools we’ve got today, 17% of them were in special measures when they came to the trust. I’m really delighted to be able to say that 6 years later, 82% of our schools are now rated “Good” or above. There’s no doubt that it’s a journey, and part of the culture that we embed in our schools is to make sure that they know that we’re not looking for results over a 12-month period, because we want those results to be sustainable.
My background is in finance, so coming into education was a learning curve for me! Despite this, I think I bought some fresh thinking to REAch2 when I arrived. Really, any organization in the commercial sector that is growing in the way REAch2 has done (which is about 50% in three years!) would think it was utter madness. But what we’ve learnt along the way is that we don’t get it right all the time, and I think we as a central team have had to accept that it is a learning journey. What I want to share with you today is a bit about where we are, what our culture looks like, and how we reinforce it.
First of all, let’s take a look at what it takes to create and organise a culture.
One of our first steps when taking on a new school is to do what we call “facilitating a path”. When a MAT is small, alignment is easy – after a few conversations by the water cooler, a decision is made, steps are agreed, and we’re on the same page. As the MAT grows, that gets more difficult. It becomes all the more important to be clear and consistent, and to communicate what it is we do & what we’re about on a daily basis. So when a school joins the trust, we clear the path for the REAch2 culture, and some of this is really practical, as you might expect. We look at things like structure, accountability, and whether the school has the right talent (although we don’t sack the headteacher!). We have conversations with all the teachers about what REAch2 is about, and our CEO, Deputy CEO, COO & Leadership team make time to go out and spend time in the school so that the teachers can ask us questions and can see that we really care about the path that we’re clearing.
There are a lot of CEOs, COOs and CFOs here today, and make no mistake – culture is your responsibility. It has to start at the top. When we clear the path, we focus on supporting the school leadership by balancing what’s core and consistent across all our schools, with what’s individual to that specific school. I think that’s one of the attractions of REAch2 to all the primary schools that join us – we don’t insist that all schools have the same vision. We don’t impose a curriculum or a uniform – headteachers are headteachers because they enjoy the leadership, the ownership and the success that they bring to their own schools. We understand that.
So we’re very careful about what is core and what’s not. We’re not the Starbucks of the education world, and not every latte, frappuccino or mocha is the same. We see the trust and central team as being the enabler and the empowerer, facilitating and supporting change or improvement.
In order that we can understand what needs to change, we hold inductions. And during that induction, we introduce our Headteachers to “Oh, the places you will go”, by Dr Seuss (one of my favourite philosophers!). It’s a simple book, but it’s got some fantastic philosophy in there. When you first join the trust, it feels like this line in the book:
“You’ll be on your way up. You’ll be seeing great sights. You’ll join the high flyers who soar at great heights.”
However, we’re really clear about this to the Headteachers in our senior leadership team – for all of us there will be times when, as Dr Seuss says:
“When you’re alone, there’s a good chance you’ll meet some things that scare you right out of your pants. There are some down the road between hither and yon, that will scare you so much you won’t want to go on.”
Image 1: REAch2 use The Places You’ll Go by Dr Seuss to onboard new schools joining the MAT
For me, part of the culture of REAch2 is making sure that all of our schools know that we are there when things are going well and when the chips are down. And, let’s be realistic – that can be a daily occurrence.
Before I talk more specifically about REAch2’s culture, I’m going to talk a little bit about what the word culture actually means. We tend to our schools in the same way that a farmer might tend to a field, or a parent might tend to a child. We’re there through the good weather and the bad weather, thick and thin, and no matter what the time is; I’ve been supporting teachers with cases over the weekend and during the evening. It’s important that they know we are there. Every school is individual – not only because of the location – but because no two pupils are the same. So why would our schools be the same? The DNA may be alike, but they’re more like siblings, not clones. Most importantly, the culture spans across all aspects of the organisation, from our trustees to our governors, our headteachers to our pupils, and we share our vision with parents. We tend to our staff through CPD, and coaching is available to all leaders, without restriction. For pupils, our Eleven Before Eleven programme means that children from disadvantaged backgrounds get to cook a meal together, sleep out under the stars, or travel on the train – things they’ve never had the chance to do before.
These are the kind of things that excite us. These are the kind of things that mean the curriculum is not core – it’s differentiated for school to school. So before I talk specifically about REAch2, I’m going to ask you a really easy question. Grab a pen and paper off the table, and I want you to score yourself in answer to these two questions (top marks is 10, and 1 is really low):
You should have found those questions easy to answer. Now I’m going to move onto a harder question.
My guess is probably not (unless you’ve just done a session on this exact topic). But this is the work that you need to do, because those words will affect the way you’re behaving. No matter if your senior leadership team is 3 of you, 10 or 15 of you – if your behaviour is reinforcing different cultures, different words and a different purpose, you can imagine how your sphere of influence will dissipate as the organisation grows.
MAT Conference | Ofsted Inspections
On Thursday 2nd May, we bought together 68 MATs for our third sold out MAT Conference in London. Matthew Haynes, SHMI and the designer of MAT summary evaluations, was among our speakers, and took to the stage to talk us through what Ofsted hope to achieve through the new approach to inspecting multi-academy trusts. You can
On Thursday 2nd May, we bought together 68 MATs for our third sold out MAT Conference in London. Matthew Haynes, SHMI and the designer of MAT summary evaluations, was among our speakers, and took to the stage to talk us through what Ofsted hope to achieve through the new approach to inspecting multi-academy trusts. You can flick through his informative slides below:
We’ll be posting the rest of the presentations from our MAT conference in the coming weeks, so keep an eye on the blog for more updates!
MAT Conference | MAT Operations
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
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
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.
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
Category : Blog , Uncategorized
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!
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.
At Dixons we have 6 core principles:
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:
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:
Process brings seductively strong near-term outcomes – a highly successful company or Trust:
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:
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.
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)
Why Autonomy (at Dixons)
Aligned autonomy will deliver a more agile and less hierarchical organisation:
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”:
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
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
MAT Conference | MAT Operations | Ofsted Inspections
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!
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:
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!
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?
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.
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:
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.
MAT Conference | MATs
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!
15:20 – 16:00: Networking break
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:
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
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:
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:
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, 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.
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 email@example.com to let us know if you’d like to attend similar events in future.
Hope to see you there!
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
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
Centralising Operations | MAT Conference | MATs
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:
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:
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:
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?
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:
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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