Management Information System (MIS) for schools
Expert ideas for a better working life at your school or trust
Case Studies | MAT Operations
Category : Blog
As part of our popular webinar series for MAT Leaders – “Building a Resilient Trust” – Arbor’s CEO, James Weatherill spoke to Anna Hennell James, CEO of Orwell MAT about her strategies for guiding her trust successfully through Covid-19, as well as how to plan for the future. Anna talked specifically about her decision to
As part of our popular webinar series for MAT Leaders – “Building a Resilient Trust” – Arbor’s CEO, James Weatherill spoke to Anna Hennell James, CEO of Orwell MAT about her strategies for guiding her trust successfully through Covid-19, as well as how to plan for the future.
Anna talked specifically about her decision to move Orwell to a new cloud-based MIS in order to work more effectively as a Central Team during the pandemic and going forward.
You can catch up on Anna’s interview, which took place on 24th February 2021, below. If you’re a fellow MAT Leader, it has some great practical tips on that you can take back and reflect on for how to lead your own trust through this next stage of the pandemic.
You can also catch up on key interviews from the rest of the series in our exciting new ebook. Download your copy of the free ebook for MAT leaders here.
Orwell Multi Academy Trust was founded in 2017 and is made up of six primary schools in Suffolk. Several of the schools are in areas of high deprivation, with high rates of free school meals and pupil premium. One of the schools is currently being sponsored. Prior to being CEO, Anna Hennell James was a Headteacher at one of the schools in the trust. She’s worked in education for her whole professional life. Orwell MAT switched from SIMS to Arbor’s cloud MIS in September 2020.
We chose to change our MIS system for a variety of reasons, and we carried on with the decision even when the pandemic hit. When we formed the trust, we shouldn’t have been quite so reluctant to maintain the status quo. Having seen the impact of changing systems, the only thing I’d say in retrospect is that I wish we’d done it sooner!
The biggest driver was the frustration of staff who work centrally. We’re a relatively small trust and a pretty small team, so we don’t have huge capacity. Any time we wanted any information around employees and staffing, or pupil data and attendance, I had to contact each school separately.
To start with, we felt that was something we could live with, but it soon became frustrating. If trustees asked us for information, it was a pain to have to ask busy schools to send it over. I’d then have to collate it and pull it together myself. It became quickly apparent that we needed something that did this for us, and could show us all schools at once. We needed a cloud-based system.
We involved quite a lot of people in the decision, but on a manageable scale. In January of 2020, I attended BETT (British Educational Training and Technology Show) with our CFO, a couple of Headteachers, plus a couple of Teachers. I thought it was important for people who would be using the system to come along to see what was on offer.
After having narrowed it down a bit, we arranged demonstrations and, by the time they all happened, everything had moved online. At the demonstration stage, we involved all of the Headteachers and Office Managers. Because we had so many different stakeholders involved in the decision, we managed to cover all aspects, and it meant we were confident in making the right decision for everyone. That’s the approach we take on any kind of change that we’re going through. If we’re looking for a new system or a new project, we always hunt in a pack.
When we first started looking for a new system, we hadn’t planned to roll it out as quickly as we did. When we realised it could be relatively straightforward, we brought the switch forward. One of the things that helped us was a basic Excel spreadsheet, a bit like a Gantt chart which had all the things that were going on across the trust. When we started looking at making the change, we plotted it in and we could see what else was happening and where pinch points might be.
We made the decision to switch on 1st September 2020 and gave ourselves the Summer Term to get trained and ready. Starting the new school year on a new system was great because it meant no one could procrastinate. It was actually a very smooth process.
To be honest, not very. I think that’s because, although people were very familiar and comfortable with the systems they were using, they recognised that they weren’t the most efficient and that it was quite difficult to get the information they wanted out. Once people had seen the demonstrations of Arbor and could see what it could do, they were positive about the change.
We also had a couple of eager Headteachers who wanted to start even sooner and were asking if there was a test site to practise on, which there was. That was really helpful because people felt they could go in in their own time and have a play around. This built confidence and, once those Headteachers started sharing what they found, the excitement rippled out and encouraged more people to start getting involved. By the time we actually hit the date to press the button and switch, people were already feeling confident and were ready to make the move over.
I don’t think we’ve been disadvantaged at all by the training not happening in person. In fact, I think people preferred it because some Office Managers chose to do the online training from home so they weren’t getting interruptions in the office. We were able to offer adjusted timings for training, and the beauty of it was that it was all recorded and sent out straight after each live session.
Arbor also provides very comprehensive workbooks and instructions and the Help Centre is really intuitively organised. Our team felt they could help themselves and get ready for the change. Plus, they had the option to speak to somebody if they needed to, so people felt there was a lot of support around it. It has made us discuss the other sorts of training we do at Orwell, because whilst we all miss being in the same room as each other, it’s definitely the most efficient and effective option.
I don’t think anything went hugely wrong. One thing that happened was we ended up with four schools going live on 1st September and two going live on 1st November. In hindsight it would have been better to have everyone go live at the same time. From 1st of November, we’ve had everybody using the system and that’s been when we’ve seen the real impact of it.
Any fears about losing data or children disappearing off the system, never materialised. There were only a few little issues around historical data that were transferred in, but this was due to mistakes in the old system and it was fixed very quickly.
When we were looking, we wanted to be sure the other systems we use would sync with the MIS. For example, we use CPOMS across all of the schools for recording safeguarding and Inventory for door systems, which all sync with Arbor.
The move to Arbor is causing us to reflect on our culture and our approach, as well as the systems we’re using. It highlighted the fact that, although we mostly leave our schools to do what they do best, there are times when it could be beneficial to have more consistency and alignment. For example, as a trust we’ve never imposed a particular way of doing assessments. Assessment data that comes to me is always summative, and the formative process that people go through in schools is up to them. We’re now realising that if we can have a singular system that everyone is putting data into, it would be transformative. We now have an assessment working party who have had training from Arbor on the Assessment module and we’re getting a few bits personalised. This will help us become more of a joined-up trust with more robust discussion and moderation because we’ll be comparing like for like.
I don’t think we would have changed anything because the process was well managed and there was a lot of hand-holding throughout. Everybody was given a really clear timeline of dates and deadlines and I had weekly meetings with the schools to check in and receive feedback on any issues that might be cropping up. The Arbor team is clearly very experienced at doing the process.
It’s made a huge difference and made our lives a lot easier. We get an overview of the trust as soon as we log into the Group MIS dashboard, and we can also drop into individual institutions to get things. I have absolutely loved the Covid-19 attendance dashboard for each school because when I’m reporting to trustees or to the RSC on attendance, or the proportion of our students with EHCPs or FSM, it’s all there for me. I just love it.
It’s also been great in terms of openness between the trust team and the schools because the schools know that we’re working in the same system. We don’t have permission to change anything, but they know what we can see. This has led to discussions around more open sharing of other things.
There’s so much you can do in Arbor that we’re not necessarily doing. One of our schools that is keen to use Arbor to its full capacity is using it as the place to record all their staff performance management. The Headteacher has given me access to that so I can go in and get a sense of what’s being worked on across the whole school and how that compares to the other schools. It’s generating conversations around the commonality of need for CPD in particular areas such as leadership development. It’s changing our way of thinking about a lot of things and we’re only at the very early stages of using it.
I’d say if you’re going to change MIS, make sure you include the right people in the decision making process.
It’s also not as scary as you think. You can often delay these things if you think it’s not the right time. But honestly, our move was incredibly smooth. It was a really tight, well managed process with clear systems, clear lines of communication, good contact and support for everyone involved. This has carried on once we moved over. I think if you can pick the right system with the right support, you can feel confident that even if there are some glitches, they’ll be managed quickly. If we’d had done it four years ago it would have made our life so much easier.
If you’d like to find out how Arbor could transform the way you work, come along to our free webinars to see the system in action. You can also arrange a personalised demo here or get in touch with us at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 0208 050 1028.
MAT Operations | School Operations
For over a year, schools and MATs have been dealing with continual changes to the way they work. One of the most important changes that many schools have undertaken is to move to cloud-based systems to give them more flexibility in the way they run their school. We work with school teams throughout the year
For over a year, schools and MATs have been dealing with continual changes to the way they work. One of the most important changes that many schools have undertaken is to move to cloud-based systems to give them more flexibility in the way they run their school.
We work with school teams throughout the year to move them to Arbor’s cloud-based MIS – last year over 400 schools moved to Arbor 100% remotely! We know it can seem like a daunting task, but that’s why our tried-and-tested approach helps schools manage the change in a way that’s right for them, with support from us every step of the way.
Whatever change you’re managing at your school or MAT, our in-house experts in change management have put together five simple things to bear in to make successful changes.
The first things to think about when you’re starting a project are why you need to make the change and what you want to achieve over the long term.
The reasons you need to make the change will have a lot to do with:
Once you know where you want to be, you can break down your vision into manageable steps you need to go through to get there. You’ll then be able to track the progress you make from your baseline towards your target.
Our teams at Arbor have found some great free online tools for planning, for example Miro the smart whiteboard tool.
When you start your project it’s important to work out which of your staff will be directly involved in or impacted by the change. Putting in place roles and responsibilities across your team will help you assign clear owners for every stage in your project.
Staff who have a positive attitude towards the project will make great advocates to promote it to others. It’s often worth nominating one of these people to be your official Change Manager (or a few), who will be responsible for leading the project.
Change Managers can work closely with other staff in a “change network” in order to coordinate communication, respond to feedback, provide support and report on progress.
When schools move to Arbor nominating a Change Manager (called an Arbor Champion!) is a really useful part of the process.
When you’re undergoing a big change at your school or organisation, the easiest thing to do (but most often forgotten) is to talk to each other. When you’re coordinating the priorities of different staff members, communication can be challenging, but keeping everyone motivated and on the same page is one of the most important aspects of successful change management.
However you create your communication strategy, remember these two top tips:
It’s inevitable that some colleagues will be resistant to changing the way they work. It’s a good idea to ask them to explain why they view the change as a challenge. It could be that they’re worried their job is at risk or that they lack the right skill set.
We recommend involving everyone who is going to be impacted by the change in meetings and decisions right from the start. It’s also important to make sure there are channels for staff to give feedback throughout your project. When schools switch to a new MIS, for example, we encourage them to bring staff into demo meetings with us early on to make sure they understand how the system will impact their day-to-day work, and they can voice any concerns.
Finally, when a project comes to a close, too often we think about the problems that came up along the way, rather than celebrating what went well. Marking key milestones and successes helps demonstrate the progress that your team has made together and gives due credit to everyone who has given time to the project. It also validates your reason for the change and keeps everyone on track to achieve the longer term goals of the project.
We hope our change management tips have given you some useful food for thought when you come to lead change successfully at your school or MAT.
If you’d like to find out more about how we support schools to switch to our cloud-based MIS, come along to ArborFest – our virtual conference exploring innovative ways of working with Arbor MIS. On the “Why Arbor?” Stage, you’ll hear from schools and MATs who’ve recently moved to Arbor about what motivated their switch, and the impact Arbor is having so far.
For the full programme of sessions across our five stages, head to http://bit.ly/ArborFest-2021
In our popular “Building a Resilient Trust” webinar series last term, we invited MAT leaders and experts working with schools and trusts to share how they were adapting to the challenges of Covid-19, whilst developing sustainable strategies for the future. We’ve collated six of the best interviews into a special ebook which we hope will
In our popular “Building a Resilient Trust” webinar series last term, we invited MAT leaders and experts working with schools and trusts to share how they were adapting to the challenges of Covid-19, whilst developing sustainable strategies for the future.
We’ve collated six of the best interviews into a special ebook which we hope will help you reflect on your own trust, and leadership strategies you could put in place to guide your schools through the next stage of the pandemic and beyond.
Download your copy of our new ebook for MAT leaders here
You’ll hear practical insights from fellow CEOs, MAT leaders and industry experts on topics such as turning around schools during times of turbulence, and how centralisation of finance and budgeting can ensure a sustainable way of working beyond Covid. You’ll see how to procure technology quickly and compliantly, and techniques you can use to plan better during uncertainty. In our final articles, you might find yourself reflecting on your approach to leading through a crisis and how to keep your staff engaged, motivated and connected.
1. Turning Round Schools in a Time of Turbulence By Nick Cross, CEO at Kings Group Academies
2. How to Build a Centralised Approach to Financial Management that will Outlast Covid-19 By Jason Brown, CFO at Bath and Wells Multi Academy Trust and Will Jordan, Co-Founder of IMP Software
3. Is Blended Learning the Future of Education? By Giles Hill, Digital Learning Lead at Aspire Academy Trust
4. Lessons Learnt From Procuring Systems During Covid-19 By Jim Farquhar, COO at Nicholas Postgate Catholic Academy Trust
5. Leading Through a Crisis: How to Keep your Staff Engaged, Motivated and Connected By Andy Buck, CEO of Leadership Matters
6. How to Reflect on Rapid Change and Plan for the Future By Rachel Coldicutt, Expert in technology and social impact
This month we’re launching the next instalment of our popular webinar series for MAT
Leaders. Each session, our CEO James will talk to MAT CEOs, COOs, CFOs and industry experts about their strategies for running a trust successfully during Covid-19 and beyond.
The series explores different facets of “resilience”, including culture, change management, school improvement, and finance, with talks by:
See what’s on and book your free spot today
In November 2020, we caught up with Jim Farquhar, COO at Nicholas Postgate Catholic Academy Trust, about his strategy for systems procurement across a Multi-Academy Trust. Nicholas Postgate Catholic Academy Trust is made up of 27 schools across Teesside and North Yorkshire. Formed in 2018 from four smaller MATs and several LA maintained schools, it
In November 2020, we caught up with Jim Farquhar, COO at Nicholas Postgate Catholic Academy Trust, about his strategy for systems procurement across a Multi-Academy Trust.
Nicholas Postgate Catholic Academy Trust is made up of 27 schools across Teesside and North Yorkshire. Formed in 2018 from four smaller MATs and several LA maintained schools, it now serves approximately 1,300 staff and 9,000 students.
Find out below how Jim led the project to procure a new MIS (Management Information System) for all schools in the trust, driven by the need for a system which could stand up to the challenges of Covid-19. Jim has some great advice for fellow MAT leaders who are considering procuring systems at scale.
Over the last two years our strategy has been moving towards more centralisation for the functions that are best suited to it. We’re quite far along, with central teams for finance, HR, governance, IT, attendance and standards. We are also now looking at our estates functions as a next step.
Our IT strategy going forwards is to consolidate systems, with the goal of only 4 or 5 key systems across the trust. This will allow us to make maintenance and quality assurance of data much more efficient and consistent.
All schools and MATs come from different starting points but in my experience there is often a lot of historic spend that goes unchallenged every year. Central Teams need to question what they’re getting for their money. With LA maintained schools especially, you can often see big contracts continuing on that were originally set up by LA.
We have found it has been worth hiring a procurement manager in house with experience in the public and private sectors, who will be good at spotting these types of legacy contracts and putting new arrangements in place.
Our schools were previously using a mixture of systems, including SIMS, ScholarPack and Bromcom. Because of this, we’d built a reporting process where we were taking data out of schools’ systems and were collating and analysing it using Power BI. This took a great deal of time and resource for the IT team and was not a sustainable solution for moving forward as a trust. As a result, our Head of IT and Head of Data Quality put in a strong case for moving to a cloud-based, multi-phase MIS and their rationale made sense from a number of perspectives.
As Covid-19 hit, we realised our systems couldn’t stand up to the added challenges such as tracking and supporting staff and students in isolation and in a timely manner. There was a real information vacuum which became a serious issue.
Although the first few weeks were taken up with ‘firefighting’, after about a month once we had procedures up and running, we sat down as a leadership team and weighed up the opportunity that a new MIS would bring. We were conscious that we’d already introduced several new systems since forming as a trust, so we didn’t want to put additional burden on staff.
But we decided to take the plunge and move to Arbor MIS and were surprised that we were able to procure within one month. Only 6 months later, Arbor is completely implemented and we’re receiving great feedback from staff. The best thing is we now have access to the information we need to make much better decisions as a trust. It also puts us in a much better position to tackle second and potential third waves of the crisis.
It’s been a lot easier than I was expecting at the start. The process flowed, we’ve had great support from Arbor, and the system has just worked. There are always challenges with an implementation process but with Arbor they have been totally surmountable. We’ve also had the advantage of a strong project team we put in place – with a combination of teaching and learning, and technical expertise – which has meant we’ve had the right people driving momentum forward and making sure the system works for everyone.
We used the DfE’s G-Cloud framework to procure which made it really straightforward as it mapped out the process into stages and milestones, with guidance to follow along the way. It meant that we had documentation at every stage to back up our decision making and it took care of all the heavy lifting for us.
The first thing we did was set out our written strategic intent which detailed what we wanted the system to do. We then looked at the suppliers on G-Cloud to see which would meet our requirements well. This helped us narrow down the choice to two options. We then had demos with each supplier and set up an awarding panel consisting of our project team as well as our leadership team to make the evaluation.
It was a ‘soft sell’ at first. We floated the idea of moving MIS without the mention of timescales at first so as not to cause anxiety for staff. We brought them into the process along the way; Headteachers and Business Support Staff joined demos with the two suppliers and also had a play around with the system. We also arranged lots of Q&A sessions for staff to ask any questions and raise any concerns they had about changing systems, which helped dispel any fears.
We had great buy-in from the schools; we offered them a gradual transition plan which would go through to Easter 2021 but all volunteered to come on board straight away. The quality of the Arbor product and the support team helped in reassuring staff and demystifying what could be perceived as a chunky process. Staff were excited that this was a positive step to take the trust forward.
We had the advantage that in the first year as a trust we had put all schools on the same internet and communications platform, which meant that we could engage with school staff directly and much more easily.
Yes, we received 6 or 7 freedom of information requests which got quite vexing. However, we were able to deal with them quickly and in a straightforward fashion because we had all the documentation, audit trail, timelines, etc. thanks to G-Cloud to evidence our decision. This really highlighted the strength of using a procurement framework as it narrows the potential for challenge in the first place, plus if you’ve followed the steps correctly means you don’t need to panic if you do get challenged.
For more advice on procuring systems for your school or trust, check out our blog:
4 top tips for procuring a cloud-based MIS for your school or MAT
MAT Operations | Popular | School Operations
Hundreds of schools are switching to cloud-based IT systems this year to help them work more flexibly. But with several cloud-based MIS systems on the market, it can be difficult to know where to start in choosing the system that will work best for your unique requirements. To support you in your search, we wanted
Hundreds of schools are switching to cloud-based IT systems this year to help them work more flexibly. But with several cloud-based MIS systems on the market, it can be difficult to know where to start in choosing the system that will work best for your unique requirements.
To support you in your search, we wanted to share some of the best advice we’ve gathered from our 1,700 schools and 110 MATs about how to take control of the MIS switch and choose the right system (and the supplier) for you.
Read below for top tips to help you break down the process into manageable steps, when to involve your staff, and how to work with your supplier to get the most value out of your new system.
When you’re first scoping your MIS switch, start with a small team of staff who represent both IT and teaching and learning. Together they make the perfect team to think about the full potential of what a new MIS could do for your school. Try to worry less about admin (in the beginning!) and focus instead on how you want to improve ways of working at your school.
Remember, your current system will be easier to replace than you think!
The best MIS suppliers will work with you to help you achieve your school or trust’s long-term goals. So make sure you talk through your objectives during the sales process. The company should make clear how you’ll be able to adapt the system to meet your needs, and how it will help you implement improvements at your school over a longer period of time.
Remember, switching to a new MIS isn’t just a one-off project, it should be a partnership you can trust in year after year.
Many of our schools and MATs have found using a government-approved framework like G-Cloud a really clear and compliant way of procuring MIS. Having the information about all MIS suppliers on the market in one place can save you time, and helps you choose the most competitive, reputable and secure supplier.
Read our handy guide to using G-Cloud to procure your new MIS.
A change in systems can be daunting for staff, so it’s a good idea to get them involved in the process early on, so they have the opportunity to air their concerns and ask any questions they have. The best suppliers will provide personalised demos for each of your key staff (E.g. Admin Officers, Finance Manager, Middle Leadership, SENCOs, Teachers, HR Manager) to help them visualise how the new system will work for their everyday roles.
Remember, your supplier should be able to reassure all your staff how the new system will improve (not just replace) their day-to-day ways of working.
Arbor is the UK’s fastest-growing MIS supplier, with more schools switching to us than any other supplier.
If you’d like to discover how Arbor MIS could help you work faster, smarter and collaborate more at your school or trust, join a free demo webinar or get in touch with the team at email@example.com or 0208 050 1028.
You can also check out our profile on the DfE’s G-cloud framework here:
MAT Operations | Vulnerable Students
The Mead Educational Trust (TMET) is made up of ten primary and secondary academies in Leicestershire. In September, we spoke to Mark Oldman, Director of Inclusion and SEND at TMET, to find out how they were assessing and aiming to close the post-lockdown learning gap, particularly for their most vulnerable students. We recently caught up
The Mead Educational Trust (TMET) is made up of ten primary and secondary academies in Leicestershire. In September, we spoke to Mark Oldman, Director of Inclusion and SEND at TMET, to find out how they were assessing and aiming to close the post-lockdown learning gap, particularly for their most vulnerable students. We recently caught up with Mark again to hear how he’s been implementing those strategies and how they’ve been going.
You can read Mark’s conversation with Dan, Senior Partnership Manager at Arbor, below.
For our primary schools especially, the strategies we’ve been implementing have been really useful to in many ways reinforce what we already knew – that embedding the key skills that will be most useful going forward is much more important than re-covering the curriculum.
In the past, we might have used short-term interventions to target students who fell behind in reading, for example, but what we’re finding more effective is looking at the skills we’d anticipate they would have embedded had they had a normal year last year, and spend a bit more time on them. As a result of focusing on the skills, we’ve seen their progress in the curriculum catch up naturally.
For our secondary schools, they’ve been using a well mapped-out, sequenced curriculum which we’ve adjusted, rather than filling gaps or “playing catch up”.
This approach has been a rapid and valuable CPD process for new Teachers who have joined the trust this term, as they’ve had the opportunity to spend a bit longer embedding good quality teaching and learning practices with peer coaching from a more experienced practitioner.
At the beginning of term we looked at the vulnerability index to assess students as individuals across all school areas. We also used ImpactEd’s Covid-19 Wellbeing Questionnaire for our KS2+ students. This helped us identify key vulnerable groups, some of whom we didn’t necessarily expect to be vulnerable, who had become vulnerable as a result of the initial lockdown. We’ve also just run our first academic assessment which we’ve been able to analyse in relation to the vulnerability and wellbeing data.
Because it’s a national data set of 60,000 students, ImpactEd has allowed us to benchmark our students against national averages. We found that our students are about 70 points above the national average, which I attribute to the fact that we used it in tandem with the vulnerability index, which means we’re looking at wellbeing much more broadly.
Our ImpactEd results have backed up our approach of embedding key skills, as well as the other initiatives we’ve put in place this term, such as our regular contact with families and sending out additional food packages. When we re-ran ImpactEd this week, our students have made about 15% progress on average across their anxiety, wellbeing and metacognition scores.
Another benefit of ImpactEd is you can drill down into each student’s score, which has allowed us to identify the nuances to students’ anxiety. It’s meant we’ve been able to put in place really bespoke interventions, along with our team of educational psychologists and a SEMH practitioner. Examples have included simply increasing the number of positive reinforcement opportunities that we would do anyway in the year, such as hot chocolate with the Headteacher. We’ve also thought about the ways we’re meeting and greeting students, and we’ve arranged “bubble” parties.
It’s really important to us to give all students a sense of belonging at school. We believe there should be no student who doesn’t think they’re the most important person in the building.
We had almost 100% success contact with our Key Worker primary school students over the summer holidays, with staff making weekly visits to selected families. At secondary level, this was more difficult because students had more unstructured time and since they returned to school, we’ve seen an increased sense of anxiety.
For some of our most needy students, the rigour of Covid-19 regulations has actually helped them reintegrate into school and stay out of trouble because they’ve known exactly where they need to be and what they need to do.
We have, however, seen the onset of more mental health problems this term. We were prepared for this to a certain extent, as we hired two Educational Psychologists over the summer, knowing that we’d have more vulnerability and SEMH cases that would need to be diagnosed effectively. We’ve also had a targeted interventions team working with smaller bubbles off-site.
We’re confident that we’re planning and sequencing learning in the right way, and together with our new IT equipment, we’ll be able to set more effective homework and more effective interventions in future. We’ll keep the IT equipment refreshed, and make sure that our most vulnerable students continue to have access to additional equipment.
We hope our blended learning will allow students to work effectively wherever they are. We’ve given all students aspirational targets which they’ll be able to achieve better as a result of having a Chromebook at home. The Chromebooks have been really popular, and students enjoy using them for school work and to structure their time effectively.
The main thing we’ve learned is just how important it is to cultivate a school community and to get to know your families well. The second is the importance of Teachers and the impact they can have on students throughout their lives. We have really valued the efforts of everyone across our schools, in many respects they have been the anchor for their local communities and provided a constant source of support, love and care to everyone associated with their schools.
For fellow Trust Executives, my biggest piece of advice is that you can afford to scale back on things like your normal QA process or auditing measures, and instead focus on a few really pertinent areas of practice that will make the biggest difference.
Yes, definitely. Our SEND provision in particular has benefited from us working more closely together across the transition between primary and secondary. It’s also benefited from us working more closely with the wider community, for example we’ve been able to expedite transfers of our students to local special schools where needed.
Across the trust, we’ve tried to balance the communications we send out about Covid-19 regulations and health and safety etc., with the sharing of best practice across schools. This is because we recognise that our practitioners are ambitious every day – they don’t just want to make schools operate safely, they want to go above and beyond.
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With the potential of an Ofsted inspection this term, we’ve been speaking to Arbor schools and MATs about how they’re feeling and preparing. Although Ofsted are calling this term’s inspections “interim visits” that will focus on supporting schools to welcome students back to full-time schooling, the inspections are still likely to cause upheaval for schools.
Ofsted may not be asking schools to do any formal preparation, however School Leaders will naturally want to present as much evidence as possible about how their students are doing this term.
To help you best prepare for Ofsted, we’ve gathered together some of the key questions they’ve been asking over the last few weeks, and how Arbor MIS can support you to prepare for each of them.
Gather your evidence in Arbor…
In Arbor, you can quickly pull together attendance data over time, and compare classes, Year groups, demographic groups, or Covid-19 bubbles:
Arbor’s Covid-19 Dashboard is your reference point for daily attendance across your school, split into the key DfE categories, including students with an ECHP, with a social worker and cases of Covid-19. Click into any measure to see a full list of students in each group:
For MATs, Arbor’s Group MIS gives you real-time attendance stats across your schools, allowing you to drill down from the trust-level data to the individual students:
Arbor’s built-in dashboards help you understand behaviour across groups of students (Year groups, Form groups etc.), and track how the types and frequency of behaviour has changed over time:
You can also add new types for Covid-19 related behaviour, such as pulling off another student’s mask during a lesson. Arbor will notify the relevant staff who need to know about the incident, and set up your follow-up actions automatically:
Track the effectiveness of your behaviour interventions groups by pulling together a quick report in Arbor:
Arbor’s new My Homepage gives your Teaching and Pastoral Staff live information about the student groups they look after, so they’ll never miss a new detention, pastoral or medical note. Easy filters also help them keep track of the behaviour, attendance and attainment of their key demographic groups:
Check out this interesting example from a mixed-phase MAT in Leicestershire, The Mead Educational Trust (TMET), about the methods they’re using to assess the impact of Covid-19 on their most vulnerable students.
In Arbor you can set up customised formative assessments which allow you to track how your students are developing during the year. Easy-to-use colour-coded dashboards will then help you monitor performance, and show you clearly where you need to intervene:
You can then filter your results to see how particular Covid-19 groups are performing:
Set up interventions to get certain students back on track, and review the cost and effectiveness of your interventions in one dashboard:
For guidance on how to utilise the Government’s Catch-Up funding, you might find this cheat sheet from The Key useful.
If you’re new to Arbor and want to find out how our cloud-based MIS can help your school work faster, smarter and collaborate more, join one of our webinars at ArborFest – our exclusive online event for schools across the country. You’ll hear how fellow school staff have transformed the way they work with Arbor MIS. Find out what’s on and book now – it’s free!
How will you present your schools’ performance to your board this year? Where will you pull the data from? As a MAT leader you’ve got the task of presenting what could be a very mixed picture of attainment this term, with each of your schools facing a unique set of challenges and a slightly different
How will you present your schools’ performance to your board this year? Where will you pull the data from?
As a MAT leader you’ve got the task of presenting what could be a very mixed picture of attainment this term, with each of your schools facing a unique set of challenges and a slightly different approach to “catch-up”.
So how can you best support your trustees with data this term? One of the most useful resources they’ll benefit from is a clear overview of prior attainment, which will help them contextualise the current situation.
In this blog we’ll show you how your newly updated Understanding Your MAT Report will give you a ready-made report to share with your board showing them a complete overview of your prior attainment data.
Created especially for your trust, your Understanding Your MAT Report brings together key measures like your schools’ ASP performance statistics, alongside your MAT’s size and local demographics, to help you understand the unique make-up of your trust compared to others in England.
This specialised combination of aggregated data is presented in a clear and compact report, with colour-coded charts and expert commentary in plain English, making it the perfect document to kick off discussions at your next meeting.
Your Understanding Your MAT Report is live now for you to download from your free Insight portal!
The Understanding Your MAT report will give your board a grounding in the socio-economic factors affecting attainment at your trust over the last three years. They’ll be able to assess at a glance your schools’ strengths and challenges, and how they compare to trusts in the wider national context.
Here’s an explanation of how your trustees can use the report in more detail:
1. Get a clear picture of student performance
2. Understand student performance in context
3. Shape smart strategy
Let’s break that down…
The report uses your schools’ latest validated 2019 Analyse School Performance (ASP) data to show your spread of performance in key measures at KS4, 2 and 1, such as Progress 8, Achieving Expected Standard: Reading, Writing and Maths, and Working at the Expected Standard: Year 1 Phonics. We’ve also just updated your report to include ASP data for all schools who joined your trust up to 1st September 2020.
The report also compares all results against three key benchmarks: Trust average (the weighted average of all your schools’ results), National average (weighted average of all state schools in England) and National MAT average (weighted average of all academies in England) to help them see what makes your MAT distinctive.
You can also share with Trustees a login to your free Arbor Group Insight portal, where they can dig further into any data set to see student level figures. Here they’ll also be able to download 2019 reports for all schools in your trust for free, allowing them to drill down to identify the subjects and student groups behind any underperformance.
KS4 Progress 8 score, Understanding Your MAT Report 2020
Trustees might be wondering whether the pace at which you’re growing is normal compared to other trust. They might also want to know if your school demographics (e.g. the proportion of students eligible for Free School Meals, or with English as a Second Language) is higher or lower than other similar trusts.
As they’ll see from the report’s leading article “Breaking the link: Attainment, poverty and rural schools”, the relationship between disadvantage and attainment varies considerably between different parts of England, so it’s important for trustees to understand how this plays out across your mix of schools.
The Understanding Your MAT Report will help you answer these questions, by showing you how your MAT context compares to other trusts in the country.
Using latest 2019/20 GIAS (Get Information About Schools) data and information from the Office for National Statistics (ONS), the report gives an overview of your MAT’s size, growth, blend of phases, pupil characteristics (% of FSM, SEN and EAL pupils), as well as the “Area Type” classifications for where your schools are located, including level of education and the unemployment rate.
Area Type Blend, Understanding Your MAT Report 2020
With the attainment gap for students from disadvantaged backgrounds potentially widening by up to 75% as a result of Covid-19, it’s more important than ever to be able to explain the link between your students’ performance and their contextual factors.
By understanding all the factors impacting achievement at your MAT, your trustees will be better equipped to help identify student groups in need of extra support this year.
Your Understanding Your MAT Report is ready to download from your Arbor Group Insight portal. If you’re not registered, don’t worry, you can sign up for free.
If you have any questions about your report, or if you’d like one of our team to show you around Group Insight, get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 0208 050 1028.
When school systems are working well, you shouldn’t even notice they’re there. They should run in the background, helping you to speed through your daily admin and giving you all the information you need, when you need it. However, many schools find that over the years, they’ve somehow accumulated lots of different IT systems that
When school systems are working well, you shouldn’t even notice they’re there. They should run in the background, helping you to speed through your daily admin and giving you all the information you need, when you need it.
However, many schools find that over the years, they’ve somehow accumulated lots of different IT systems that only do one job each.
A messy network of systems which don’t “communicate” with each other, also leaves your student data in lots of different places. This puts an added burden on staff who have to enter data manually multiple times over, and added risk of errors or things going missing.
If you counted the number of hours your staff spend every day entering data or logging into various systems to find information – it would really add up. This is valuable time that they could be spending on tasks that matter – like speaking to a parent, or supporting students in the classroom.
By auditing your school systems, you’ll spot immediately where cutting down on your systems could save costs and give staff quicker access to the information they need. You might be surprised by the amount of overlap you have where two or three systems could be replaced by just one.
For MATs, using lots of different systems becomes especially unsustainable when they grow to 5-10 schools or more. At this scale, consolidating and centralising systems can not only hugely cut costs, but will also allow staff across the trust to work together more easily. Dave Noble, Director of Operations at Red Kite Learning Trust, has a great example of his vision for centralisation.
The most important question to have in mind when you start reviewing each of your systems, is Why do we need it?
And more precisely:
What does it do that another system can’t?
Do staff use it frequently? If not, why?
Do staff use every feature of it?
For example, a school might have been using a behaviour tracking software for many years, and are happy with how it charts behaviour points over time. But this is the only feature they use this software for. In cases like this, and with many other systems that are an added cost, it’s worth questioning whether you could do it all within one tool – such as your MIS.
We recommend tackling your systems audit using this four step process. Many schools find it helpful to work in an Excel template like this:
How you can approach a systems audit
Start by listing out all the systems your staff use for their core tasks, like attendance, assessment, behaviour and communications. Remember to ask staff at all levels and from all areas across the school – don’t assume that one person will know what everyone is using!
Move on to listing the annual costs of each system. If you don’t have to pay for something annually and you already have it, you can mark the cost as £0. Make sure to split out all software products even if they’re from the same company because you might find one is more useful than the others.
Go back down your list and note each software’s functionality – not just what you’re currently using it for, but what it could do if you used every feature within it.
You’ll probably have come across several overlaps by now. This is the tricky part: for everything that overlaps, consider which has the greater value, and which you could think about cutting.
This value judgement can’t entirely be based on price, although that is important. You should also question why you had several systems in the first place. Is one of them more user-friendly? Is it quick to train new staff on? Could you get a better deal and a better product by getting rid of both altogether?
If you decide to cut out some of your systems, this might require a change in mindset for staff who have been used to working in a certain way for years.
Working now with over 1,200 schools, most of whom chose to move to Arbor MIS to consolidate their systems, we’ve seen schools manage this change and come out the other side with much more efficient ways of working.
Arbor brings together all your core school tasks into one place, giving everyone shared access to information and a shared view of progress. Staff save time by only having one login to remember and no longer having to transfer data manually between systems.
Of course, your audit might have shown you that some systems are worth keeping alongside your MIS, and that’s great – now you know you’re making a good investment. At Arbor, we integrate with over 30 powerful external systems to give you the flexibility to use the ones that work for you, whilst making sure your data is all joined up.
To find out more about how Arbor could help you work faster, smarter and more collaboratively, join a free webinar or arrange a personalised demo.
Tellmemore@arbor-education.com | 0208 050 1028
After the success of our MAT Conference webinar series in Summer Term, “Adapting to Change: Lessons from Leaders in a Global Crisis”, we’re excited to announce our new series “Building a Resilient Trust: Lessons from leaders 8 months in”. As the months quickly roll on in this new academic year, trust leaders are having to
After the success of our MAT Conference webinar series in Summer Term, “Adapting to Change: Lessons from Leaders in a Global Crisis”, we’re excited to announce our new series “Building a Resilient Trust: Lessons from leaders 8 months in”.
As the months quickly roll on in this new academic year, trust leaders are having to shift from crisis mode towards ensuring their schools and staff are getting back on track with their curriculum, attendance, systems and other areas of school life.
We’ve created this new webinar series to give you a safe space to hear from fellow CEOs, COOs, CFOs and Directors about what they’re doing to prepare for further challenges now and in the future.
In each 45 minute webinar you’ll hear from an established trust leader speaking with James Weatherill, Arbor’s Co-Founder and CEO, on areas such as leadership, remote learning, financial management and software procurement. They’ll speak openly about their experience and how they’re future-proofing their trust, giving you practical ideas and strategies to take back to your own trust.
To sign up for individual webinars, or for the whole series, simply follow the links below.
Sign up for the MAT Conference Webinar Series here (and be the first to hear when we add new webinars!)
Friday 23rd October, 11am
How to Build a Centralised Approach to Financial Management that will Outlast Covid-19
– in conversation with Jason Brown, CFO at Bath and Wells Multi Academy Trust (BWMAT) and Will Jordan, Co-Founder of IMP Software
With 33 schools to oversee, Jason will explain how he re-examined and re-aligned budgets last year and how this affected the trust as a whole. Jason has been at BWMAT since it’s formation, so has a wealth of experience in scaling sustainably and challenges along the way. Find out how a centralised approach to Financial Management impacted BWMAT’s Covid-19 response and how the past few months will change the way the trust will operate in the future.
Will, Founder of IMP, also joins this webinar, to discuss IMP’s MAT forecasting solution that you can use for budgeting, automated forecasting and reporting. In the webinar, you’ll get first access to their free whitepaper on GAG-pooling.
Sign up here
Friday 20th November, 11am
Is Blended Learning the Future of Education?
– in conversation with Giles Hill, Digital Learning Lead at Aspire Academy Trust
Wondering what the future of education will look like and how you can build your teaching and learning initiatives across your trust to support this? Giles will discuss the benefits and pitfalls of both classroom and online learning and offer his advice for trusts now and for the future. Giles is part of the EdTech Demonstrator Programme, a government-backed initiative supporting schools and trusts to deliver remote learning during the coronavirus period – and to build the foundations of solid future EdTech strategies.
Friday 27th November, 11am
Lessons Learnt From Procuring Systems During Covid-19
– in conversation with Jim Farquhar, COO at Nicholas Postgate Catholic Academy Trust
Moving from old to new technology systems will always be a bit of a heart-in-mouth feeling, and moving 27 schools to a cloud-based MIS is no different – especially during a pandemic. Jim will speak candidly on his first-hand experience of migrating systems during lock-down, and the lessons he’s learnt. He’ll share advice on how you can start this process if you’re thinking of a systems change and what should be on your checklist to ensure your trust us prepared for the future.
Friday 4th December, 11am
Leading Through a Crisis: How to Keep your Staff Engaged, Motivated and Connected
– In conversation with: Andy Buck, CEO of Leadership Matters
The coronavirus pandemic has placed extraordinary demands on leaders in education. With regional lockdowns and continued uncertainty, a focus on your leadership style and practices is as important as ever. Entering the winter months will be a test of character, and this webinar will provide you with some tools and top tips for leading through this period.
If you’d like to get a taste of what our last MAT Conference Webinar Series was like, take a look at the ebook we’ve put together featuring six of the best interviews with MAT leaders at the moment when the Covid-19 crisis took hold.
“Building a Resilient Trust: Lessons from leaders 8 months in” is brought to you for free by Arbor Education as part of our social mission to transform the way schools and trusts work, saving teachers time and improving student outcomes. We want to help you get the support you need during a time of unprecedented change so you can ensure students get the best start in life.
To hear more about how Arbor’s cloud-based MIS could help you and your schools work better today and be ready for tomorrow, join us for an MIS Demo Webinar, designed for trusts like you.
email@example.com | 0208 050 1028
As the DfE advised in their letter to schools last February, it’s a good idea to re-procure any large contracts (such as Management Information Systems (MIS)) when they come to an end. When procuring systems like your MIS, going through an approved framework allows you to search a range of accredited suppliers for one which
As the DfE advised in their letter to schools last February, it’s a good idea to re-procure any large contracts (such as Management Information Systems (MIS)) when they come to an end.
When procuring systems like your MIS, going through an approved framework allows you to search a range of accredited suppliers for one which matches what you’re looking for.
A framework is the simplest route to buy off-the-shelf software, without limiting personalised support through the buying and delivery process. It saves you spending hours drafting requirements, researching companies and going through the tender process – instead giving you all the information you need to choose the most competitive, reputable and safest provider all through one platform.
You’ll also have peace of mind that due diligence checks have already been carried out on the products and companies, and that you’re complying with buying procedures and applicable procurement law.
Today, we’re excited to announce that Arbor has been added to the DfE’s latest G-Cloud 12 framework for approved cloud suppliers!
Find out below how you can use the G-cloud 12 framework to procure a cloud-based MIS for your MAT.
The G-Cloud framework, available on the DfE’s Digital Marketplace, contains 31,000 cloud services for cloud hosting (services for processing and storing data), cloud software (internet applications) and cloud support (helping you set up and maintain your software).
All companies on the framework must go through multiple legal, financial and social responsibility checks on the way they work and the services they provide.
You can find the DfE’s guidance on using the G-Cloud framework here.
1. An important first step is to work out exactly what your trust needs from your system or service before you start. For example, it might be important to you to have built-in communications and meals management, or you might want to customise the system to your bespoke assessment framework. You will likely want a system that’s compatible with multiple internet browsers and devices, and gives you secure logins.
The DfE provides this requirements list to help you start (though it’s from 2014, and most English MIS have developed new capabilities since then).
2. Go to “Cloud software”
3. Search for keywords that are relevant to what you’re looking for, such as ‘Primary MIS’, ‘Secondary MIS’, or ‘MAT MIS’, to find the list of relevant suppliers. Remember to download this list for your audit trail once you’ve found what you’re looking for.
If there are too many results after putting in your keywords through, you can click a filter, e.g. “2-factor authentication” to see the suppliers that provide that feature.
4. Read each supplier’s product and pricing information
5. Send any clarification questions to the suppliers or host a demo day to confirm which supplier best meets your needs
6. Award your contract using the G-Cloud contract template
Arbor MIS helps over 1,200 schools and 100 MATs work more easily and collaboratively, with intuitive tools designed to make a difference.
Arbor’s Group MIS is the only true MIS for MATs, allowing you to see the bigger picture across your trust. Designed with trusts like yours, Arbor helps you work more collaboratively, with tools that make working together easier at every level.
100 schools have joined Arbor through G-Cloud so far! You can find us on G-cloud 12 here:
If you want to see Arbor in action you can book a free demo or join a webinar here.
In our popular “Adapting to Change” webinar series last term, we invited MAT leaders to share how they were adapting their strategies to navigate the Covid-19 crisis as it unfolded. We’ve collated six of the best interviews into a special book which we hope will give MAT leaders useful advice for how to support your
In our popular “Adapting to Change” webinar series last term, we invited MAT leaders to share how they were adapting their strategies to navigate the Covid-19 crisis as it unfolded.
We’ve collated six of the best interviews into a special book which we hope will give MAT leaders useful advice for how to support your schools through constant change and prepare for whatever the future brings.
You can download your copy of the “Adapting to Change” ebook here
Here’s a bit more about the book from Arbor Co-Founder and CEO James:
As MAT leaders there has never been a moment where so much change happened in such a short period of time. In the past six months every trust has been forced to adapt almost all processes overnight to safeguard and support staff, students and the wider community. Whilst this has been an incredibly tough time (I hope you got a break over the summer), it’s also taught us a lot, including how agile, bold and resilient schools could be.
At Arbor we’ve seen a lot of new ideas and practices emerge over the Spring and Summer terms from the 100+ MATs we work with, and have been holding weekly webinars with MAT leaders on strategies they’ve put in place to help adapt to this change.
This book is a concise write-up of practical tips and tactics from MAT CEOs centered on the broad topics of Leadership, Student and Staff Wellbeing and Online Learning. You’ll see how others have wrestled with pivoting their organisations quickly, defining how much autonomy to give to schools, making sure staff don’t burnout and how to ensure quality when teaching online. Hopefully it will stimulate a few new ideas as you look ahead to the future.
I’d like to thank all the authors and those on our webinars for being so open and brave in sharing their experiences as they happened. No one’s pretending they have all the answers, but if there’s ever been a time to experiment with new ways of working it’s now, and I’m encouraged by what I see.
Our mission at Arbor is to help centralise your insight, improve your communications and streamline how you work across your trust. If you’d like to find out more about how we can help, please get in touch.
I look forward to seeing you online in our next series of MAT webinars this term, or even one day in person!
Interested in finding out how Arbor’s cloud-based MIS can help you work more easily collaboratively this term? Book a demo today, or join one of our webinars.
As part of our “Adapting to Change” webinar series for MAT leaders, Dave Noble, Director of Operations at Red Kite Learning Trust, shared with us how the trust have been dealing with the Covid-19 crisis. Dave explained the vision he’s building for a centralised and collaborative IT infrastructure across the trust. Embracing new technology has been
As part of our “Adapting to Change” webinar series for MAT leaders, Dave Noble, Director of Operations at Red Kite Learning Trust, shared with us how the trust have been dealing with the Covid-19 crisis.
Dave explained the vision he’s building for a centralised and collaborative IT infrastructure across the trust. Embracing new technology has been vital in responding to the challenges of the pandemic, from maintaining business critical operations like payroll, to reaching out to vulnerable students, to managing the quality of remote teaching and learning.
Check out Dave’s webinar and presentation below.
To find out more about how Arbor MIS could transform how you work at your school or MAT, we’d be happy to give you an online demo. Get in touch or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Alternatively, you can call 0208 050 1028.
Since the pandemic began and schools have been working flexibly and remotely, we’ve welcomed over 400 schools and MATs to Arbor who we’ve onboarded, migrated and trained 100% remotely. Most of these schools chose to move to Arbor MIS (Management Information System) to replace their server-based system which was preventing them from managing their schools
Since the pandemic began and schools have been working flexibly and remotely, we’ve welcomed over 400 schools and MATs to Arbor who we’ve onboarded, migrated and trained 100% remotely. Most of these schools chose to move to Arbor MIS (Management Information System) to replace their server-based system which was preventing them from managing their schools remotely, and meant they weren’t able to adapt to the new DfE guidelines quickly.
We use a simple, personalised process to move your data to Arbor and to get staff ready to use the system confidently, with expert guidance every step of the way. If you’d like to see a brochure about the support we offer from signing with Arbor and throughout your journey, leave your details here and we’ll send you a copy.
Rather than take our word for it, it’s often most helpful to hear how real schools and MATs have found the experience. Recently we caught up with the team at Woodland Academy Trust, a Primary MAT in Bexley and North Kent, who have moved to Arbor during lockdown.
You can read our conversation below with Dan Morrow (CEO) Sue Ashton (COO and Deputy CEO) and Yvonne Bruce (School Business Manager).
Our MAT Programme Manager Joanna has been very supportive and approachable from the start. She and her colleague Kate have ensured that we have been on target in the run up to the data migration, with regular calls being made to our Arbor Champions and School Business Lead.
There was a level of nervous excitement during our Discovery Day. Being a SIMS user for so many years, it was difficult feeling 100% about moving to a new system. Again, Joanna was very supportive and explained each step from the Trust & School’s priorities, operational priorities, module role out, training and data migration, going live and third party applications, ensuring that we understood the information we needed to provide.
The Discovery Day was very useful as it allowed us to really look into the applications we were using, and to look at the key successes and challenges we were currently facing when it came to deciding on which applications to migrate over.
The migration was very smooth and lived up to the expectation I had from the seminar I attended, when other users assured me that this process was seamless. The response from other members of our team has been that they were able to find the answer to their queries through your help page and only needed to speak to a trainer on very rare occasions.
Whilst this is clearly a structured process, there was some clear anxiety from our executives and data users over it. The security and assuredness of the project framing from Arbor’s side ensured that these could be addressed and the actual delivery was without any issue whatsoever.
The training has been very thorough and relevant to our needs. The trainers have made their way through the areas at a good pace for everyone on the call to take in and understand. They have each encouraged questions and answers after every section to make sure that everyone on the call understands what has been said. The recording of the training sessions has allowed us to reach out to other members of staff to review.
In a number of our sessions we have had different groups of staff with different focuses and areas of interest. The training has meant that the universal concepts can be delivered and that more bespoke training is then brokered and arranged as needed. The clear respect for people’s time and the subsequent thought and care put into the whole training programme has been a clear win, as it’s meant that our whole team have then engaged with the training.
The response from our Office and Business Management teams across the Trust has been very positive; with comments that Arbor is easy to navigate, especially around reports and is a far superior system to what we were using previously. Setting up the new academic year has also had positive responses; with many of the team saying the step-by-step guide was the easiest they’ve come across, that it’s quick and time-saving and the ability to save as you go has ensured confident use of the system.
The permissions around business roles has taken some getting used to as not all roles in Arbor have the permissions for the business roles we are used to, but again, your help centre has been on hand to show that we can add ad hoc permissions to specific roles.
I would say this has been the perfect time to move! Firstly, It has allowed more personnel to sit on training sessions than perhaps would have been possible under normal circumstances.
Equally, to have a positive change project that has been so well scoped and framed has given us a boost to be able to “control the controllable” and see robust and rigorous systems introduced to further underpin the care that our children and communities deserve.
The news bulletins from Arbor have been helpful with regards to tips for setting up the new academic year and the attendance information required by the DfE.
It has provided a “blank page” to reconsider the way we collect, store, monitor and report our information and at a time when we are looking to reimagine as well as return within education, the timing has been far from a threat; it’s a golden opportunity.
If you’d like to find out more about how Arbor MIS could help you manage your school or trust flexibly next Term, you can book a free online demo or contact email@example.com. You can also reach us on 0208 050 1028.
In our latest webinar for MAT leaders, we were joined by Derek Hills, Head of Data and Andy Meighen, IT Director from The Harris Federation. In our previous blog, we explained Harris’s unique approach to IT and how they were able to enable remote learning for their 36,000+ students when the Covid-19 crisis hit. In
In our latest webinar for MAT leaders, we were joined by Derek Hills, Head of Data and Andy Meighen, IT Director from The Harris Federation. In our previous blog, we explained Harris’s unique approach to IT and how they were able to enable remote learning for their 36,000+ students when the Covid-19 crisis hit.
In this blog, Derek and Andy share how they analysed their data across the trust using Microsoft Power BI, so they could measure how well students and staff were engaging with the online learning tools they’d put in place.
Once remote lessons got underway at The Harris Federation, questions soon arose around how it was all going; how many Teachers and students were engaging and what the quality of the interactions were. It was easy for Teachers to get insights about their classes from Microsoft Teams, but it was difficult to get useful information at a departmental, academy or trust level. To combat this, the IT team developed reports using Power BI to analyse usage data across the trust.
Below is a standard Power BI template they used to see all trust digital activity over a period of time, such as where users were logging in from and which files they were accessing. This was useful as it meant they could look at huge quantities of log data (10 million rows a day) during lockdown.
This image shows a different report they used to look at log information showing all online student activity. This allowed them to easily see the peaks and troughs over time, which helped them identify anyone they should follow up with.
The below report showed them usage of systems during the Covid-19 period. Office 365 is orange, SharePoint is pink, OneDrive is grey, purple is Teams and yellow is Exchange (email) (not many students).
They could see that in March, there was a big increase in email use as students and staff needed to communicate more than ever before, but Teams soon overtook email as remote lessons became regular. Use of Onedrive dropped, potentially because students and Teachers were storing and accessing assignment files within Teams instead.
They also used Power BI to get important demographic information for safeguarding purposes. They also had to keep Governors and the Board of Trustees up-to-date with stats such as attendance.
Covid-19 has drawn attention to just how important having a strong IT infrastructure has been for teams across Harris. It has allowed the IT team to continue business as usual for the large part, and respond to the huge number of data requests they’ve received during lockdown.
Though they’ve been able to learn a lot about the quantity of their online learning data, e.g. the peaks and troughs of usage, which parts of the system were being used and by whom, but what they haven’t been able to analyse is the quality of what was actually going on in the classroom.
We’d be interested to know how and what you’ve learned from your online learning data at your school or trust, and the lessons you’ll take forward as you continue with a blended learning approach. Post a comment here or on the Arbor Community forum.
You’re invited to join us for the next webinar in our “Adapting to Change” series tomorrow (Friday 19th) where we’ll be demonstrating how to use benchmarking and performance analysis to drive smart strategy at your trust. Sign up for free with the link below.
Friday June 19th 2020, 11:00am
Using Arbor’s benchmarking and performance analysis to inform data-driven decisions for your trust
Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash
Recently we invited Derek Hills, Head of Data and Andy Meighen, IT Director from The Harris Federation – a trust of 48 academies in London and Essex – to talk about how they rolled out an online learning programme for their 36,000+ students. They explained how when Covid-19 hit, their flexible, cloud-based setup allowed them
Recently we invited Derek Hills, Head of Data and Andy Meighen, IT Director from The Harris Federation – a trust of 48 academies in London and Essex – to talk about how they rolled out an online learning programme for their 36,000+ students.
They explained how when Covid-19 hit, their flexible, cloud-based setup allowed them to quickly and easily give all students access to online education, which would not have been possible using a legacy, server based system. You can read more below about Harris’s unique IT approach and how they responded to Covid-19.
Check out our next blog to find out how they analysed their online learning data!
With 4,500 staff and 36,000 students across primary and secondary, Harris uses a centralised and standardised IT set-up designed to give everyone the same experience across the trust.
The focus of Derek and Andy’s roles is making IT work for everyone across the trust with systems that are as efficient and cost effective as possible.
The key principles of their IT approach are:
The IT team at Harris manages data centrally through a combination of their own data warehouse and cloud-based systems. They created a data warehouse so that they could hold all their MIS (Management Information System) data on premises and develop systems on top of it.
Using a data warehouse also means that when they bring in a new system, for example Microsoft Teams, it can set up user accounts for all students and staff automatically. Admin Staff simply add the student names, then the data warehouse puts them into the right groups, saving the central IT team time.
Whenever they design new systems or processes, Derek and Andy ensure they can be used across all academies. They want to make sure all staff and students have the same technology options at their fingertips. At the same time, it’s also important to give Teachers the freedom to use digital tools in a way that suits the particular lesson they’re giving. For this reason, the IT team doesn’t advise that staff teach in a certain way, or use a certain VLE (Virtual Learning Environment) such as Google Classroom. From experience, without top-level buy in from trust leadership, initiatives like these are rarely successful.
Harris uses Microsoft systems across the trust which are set up to communicate with their data warehouse. These are some of the key parts of the puzzle that help the systems interact:
As schools began to close and remote working became necessary, Harris was able to respond quickly, using lessons they’d learned from a recent snow day. On that day, phone lines couldn’t cope, staff ran out of SMS credits and the web connection crashed. They therefore had already solved these issues, and increased their supply of laptops for students and staff to take home when Covid-19 hit.
Setting up remote teaching and learning was also a smooth transition because staff were already using Microsoft Teams and Show My Homework to record lessons and set assignments. The only difference was that staff had to adjust to doing much more on Teams such as leading live lessons. The IT team also needed to set up lots more users on Teams – in March alone they set up 20, 000 accounts which took two weeks as Microsoft struggled to cope!
Click here to see the four steps the IT team took to set up users on Microsoft Teams using their data warehouse
Although they were smooth to set up, remote lessons brought some challenges. IT worked quickly with Teachers to adapt the ways students interacted with Microsoft Teams. For example:
Check out our next blog to find out what Harris has learned about their online learning programme from analysing their data in Microsoft Power BI.
During our webinar series “Adapting to Change”, we’ve been hearing from lots of Multi-Academy Trust leaders about how they’ve shifted their strategy to deal with the Covid-19 crisis. Dan Morrow, CEO of Woodland Academy Trust, shared how he’s looking out for staff wellbeing, whilst Mark Greatrex, CEO of Bellevue Place Education Trust, spoke about the
During our webinar series “Adapting to Change”, we’ve been hearing from lots of Multi-Academy Trust leaders about how they’ve shifted their strategy to deal with the Covid-19 crisis. Dan Morrow, CEO of Woodland Academy Trust, shared how he’s looking out for staff wellbeing, whilst Mark Greatrex, CEO of Bellevue Place Education Trust, spoke about the balance between school autonomy and trust centralisation, and Mark Lacey, CEO of Diocese of Salisbury Academy Trust shared some lessons for leaders in a global crisis.
Our latest speaker in our Adapting to Change series, LEO Academy Trust gave a brilliant talk about how they’ve rolled out cloud-based technology and consolidated their systems across their trust. They shared how they had to rapidly step up their rollout as the Covid-19 crisis began to kick in. They also explained some of the ways Arbor’s cloud-based MIS has helped them work flexibly during lockdown since they moved in March.
LEO’s Director of Technology (Learning) Graham Macaulay and Chief Operations Officer Nicky Gillhespy shared some great advice for fellow MAT leaders, particularly if you’re planning on updating your trust’s digital strategy in light of the demands of Covid-19.
We’ve summarised their talk below – we hope it gives you some useful tips to take back to your trust when thinking about how to manage the coming weeks and months.
Our Trust is built up of six academies, 3550 students, 415 members of staff across seven sites, but we wanted to bring in one digital strategy which drives our use of technology across the board. It was really important to us that we aligned all our key stakeholders in a clear direction before thinking about how we would actually roll out new systems.
When we began planning our new digital strategy in September 2017, we had five challenges we needed to overcome before moving forward:
To solve these problems, we had two options. The first was to carry on doing what we’d always done and “fill the holes and paint over” so that on the surface everything looked like it was working. This would have been the easy option, as it would involve no new staff training, no new risks, costs or demands on staff time.
Option two was to innovate and think differently. We had to realise that the world was massively changing and that we as an organisation needed to embrace that change. Sometimes the quick wins don’t always produce the best outcomes in the long term.
Defining what we wanted to achieve
The digital vision has to come from the top and you have to have the support of the Trust Board. You also have to have input from various different groups. The key to our success was setting up Digital Working Parties with key stakeholders from across the trust, including Trustees, the CEO, the CFO, COO and Director of Technology. We asked key questions such as “What do we want out of the system?”, “What do we need?” and “What are we doing now that we could do better?” Then we tasked the IT and Technology departments to devise new solutions. Having input from every single area within our trust helped to manage knock-on effects of initiatives and make sure they worked for everyone.
Planning is essential
During the journey, there have been highs where we’ve made progress and delivered change, but of course, there have also been challenges along the way. We learned quickly that the key to success, as with any change management project, was setting essential milestones along the way. Then as the plan began to change, we could default back to our core objectives in order to manage expectations.
We spent a lot of time thinking about long-term development, for example the sort of organisation we wanted to be and the opportunities we wanted to provide to our staff and pupils. But we also needed to deliver short-term projects where staff could see the benefits immediately. What was important was to position these “quick wins” within the longer term direction.
Communicating the strategy
We initially took a “dissemination approach” to communicating the changes to staff. Centrally, we communicated in the Digital Working Party, then Headteachers and Principals passed on the message to their teams. We reflect now that this process could have been improved because it meant those messages weren’t always delivered on time or accurately, and this generated a feeling of hearsay between schools. It would have been better if we’d have taken on some of that responsibility centrally.
Changing mindsets and empowering staff
We wanted to ensure that every staff member had the core skill set they needed to make the changes we were putting in place. We therefore spent almost a whole academic year preparing support materials for staff and delivering CPD on everything from beginner’s Google, to creating forms, to managing files.
Running a staff development programme was essential to making the digital project a success. And this work is ongoing – as we evolve our digital strategy, we will regularly review our provision for our staff and their capabilities, and change the way we deliver our CPD accordingly.
Although most staff have adapted to the new technology we’ve introduced, there was some reluctance and fear of change. We found the most important thing was to build their confidence. Our Office Staff have enormous skill and so we asked them why they liked working in certain ways so we could make sure our new ideas suited them and made their workload easier. By encouraging them to take part in our Digital Working Parties, and demonstrating their particular skills, they started to flourish.
The impact of technology on teaching and learning
Since we moved to the cloud, we’ve been able to change our pedagogy and the way we deliver teaching and learning. We’re running a programme to provide all KS2 children with a Chromebook to use in school and to take home. This has enabled us to move from a passive approach where teachers talk and children do an activity, to having a lot more strategies that enhance the teaching and learning. Pupil engagement has rocketed as a result.
We’re also really proud that one of our schools has become a Google for Education Reference School which means they regularly host visitors from around the world to look at the impact that technology is having on pupil experiences and outcomes.
Supporting remote learning
During these unusual times, we’ve used technology to maintain a sense of normality as much as possible. One of the ways we’ve supported teaching and learning has been through setting up a simple Google website for schools to upload activities. The vision was to provide fun opportunities for children and help families support their children with their education from home. The site is massively helping not just our children, but children across the world, with around 15,000 visitors every day!
We’ve also set up Google Hangouts for our classes, as well as sessions for our “Digital Leader” pupils with speakers from Google and Adobe sharing words of wisdom and ideas for how they can develop their computing knowledge. We’re also holding virtual discos with staff acting as DJs which we’re streaming live.
We moved to Arbor on 16th March – midway through the start of the Covid-19 crisis – but the timing worked out perfectly. Moving to a cloud-based MIS meant that our Office Staff could do all of their admin work at home. From the operations side we have been able to continue business as usual since the crisis hit, since all of our payments and orders could continue, and we could set up staff to work from home easily.
Moving to the cloud has changed how we work for the better and put us in a really strong position, especially for the demands of distance learning. From one computer we can access all areas across the trust, such as the MIS, our data stores and our finance systems. As soon as we decided to close our schools, we created a form to find out from pupils and staff whether they had access to a device or the Internet at home. We then made sure that every pupil and member of staff went home with a web-based device.
Look out for more webinars with MAT leaders in our series “Adapting to Change”. You can also check out our Summer schedule of webinars all about how to manage your school or MAT flexibly with a cloud-based MIS. With sessions specific to primaries, secondaries and MATs, and managing assessments, meals and payments, and more, find the session that’s right for you and book here. See you online soon!
In our webinar series for MAT leaders “Adapting to Change”, we recently heard from Mark Lacey, CEO of Diocese of Salisbury Academy Trust, who shared his strategies for leading his trust through the challenges of Covid-19. Mark had some really useful advice for fellow MAT leaders around how having strong foundations through your strategic plan,
In our webinar series for MAT leaders “Adapting to Change”, we recently heard from Mark Lacey, CEO of Diocese of Salisbury Academy Trust, who shared his strategies for leading his trust through the challenges of Covid-19.
Mark had some really useful advice for fellow MAT leaders around how having strong foundations through your strategic plan, business continuity plan and risk registers, as well as a strong set of digital tools, can help you pivot flexibly in a crisis. Most importantly, Mark highlighted the need for realism and compassion for staff.
As you’re planning your exit strategy from the current Covid-19 crisis, you might find it helpful to take a look at Mark’s planning document which he kindly shared with us. As you’ll see, the document addresses key risk scenarios and outlines the trust’s response, with space for the individual schools to complete their responses. Click here to download the PDF.
We’ve summarised Mark’s conversation with Arbor’s CEO James Weatherill below.
How well prepared were you for the Covid-19 crisis?
I don’t think anyone was prepared for what has happened, but what we benefited from is we have a clear strategic plan, business continuity plan and risk register which gives us a strong backbone and allows us to adapt and flex when external events occur.
We also pride ourselves on having an adaptive culture at the trust. We recognise that we don’t always have all the answers, but that it’s more important to share best practice, collaborate, and be open to admitting when we’re doing something wrong. This allows us to change direction fast.
How did you adapt to the crisis?
Earlier in the year, we had already experienced a large challenge – we went through 7 Ofsted inspections over a period of 10 weeks – which forced us to adapt quickly. This served as a test in some ways for what was to come with Covid-19 and we were able to learn important lessons so we could easily switch to a new rhythm of working.
Given our schools are spread over quite a wide geographical area, we made sure above all that we worked tightly as a Central Team and that we set a clear direction. It was important that we were responsive in relaying information as soon and as clearly as possible to schools, and that we were accessible for whatever schools needed.
What have you learned about being responsive in a crisis?
The speed at which we’ve adapted to ensure emergency provision has shown us just how much potential we have for change. It’s also proven to us the importance of building into our strategic planning a focus on people more than process. We know staff will continue to feel vulnerable sometimes going forward and we believe taking a compassionate approach and prioritising wellbeing is really important.
When you return to more normal operations, how will your “people over process” approach change the way you work?
Putting people first is a difficult thing to measure and be certain about, but there are some concrete measures we can put in place. For example, we’ve seen that easy-to-use shared IT systems like Office 365 take a lot of burden away from staff and can help them feel connected. We also try to gauge how staff are doing through sending out digital forms and bringing representative groups of staff together to discuss certain issues. We aim to use the feedback we get from staff to build into our policy making going forward. A big emphasis across the trust is also social and personal development.
How do you monitor wellbeing when working remotely?
A big focus of ours as a Central Team is looking after our Headteachers. Our Academy Improvement Team members have each taken responsibility for a group of Heads who they meet with every week using Microsoft Teams (video chat). Every meeting starts with questions about their wellbeing – it’s been important for us to understand all the different struggles Heads are dealing with at the moment, such as spouses who are key workers or having children at home. We’re learning a lot, and fast, about how to sense how staff are doing from their body language and tone over video. Many of the tensions Heateachers found with staff at the beginning involved miscommunications over email, so we’ve actively encouraged video chat to bring a personal approach.
Keeping regular lines of communication has also been really important. We’ve converted our monthly bulletins to weekly bulletins focused on wellbeing, in order to make sure everyone has access to helpful resources.
How has your leadership style changed during Covid-19?
The most challenging thing we’ve faced as a Central Team has been working remotely and not being physically in each school. Whilst my natural leadership style is collaborative and approachable, this has been essential to emphasise even more, making Headteachers aware I’m here if they need.
Of course, we’ve been direct and interventionist where it was necessary. For example, we felt it was important to bring some schools together into hubs so that we had greater control of emergency provision and more staff could shield, despite some resistance from Headteachers.
How have you been using tech to adapt?
Because we’ve invested quite considerably in digital tools over the last two years, we didn’t have to suddenly bring on lots of new systems to cope with remote working. This crisis has shown us the real value of having systems like Arbor’s cloud-based MIS and Office 365 in place to rely on. It’s meant we can share data within and between schools easily, and communicate with parents using tools staff are comfortable using already. Some of our schools weren’t using some of the communications features before the crisis, but Arbor switched these on swiftly for us.
We’ve also seen the benefit of Arbor in our financial management during the crisis. We were able to set up our own Free School Meal voucher scheme and get all the data we needed from Arbor.
Setting up students on Microsoft Teams has also made a lot of impact. Going forward, we’re going to ensure everyone has access to a remote learning platform.
Has this crisis challenged your expectations on how quickly you can implement change?
It’s shown us the importance of being clear about what we all need to do together and what will have the most impact. It’s given us conviction and belief to step into changes more boldly in future.
What are your future plans?
Having learned from this current situation, we’re going to be cautious about making too many plans going forward. Being able to adapt is much more important. We’ve got to be realistic about what can be achieved over the next year, given schools will need time to recover.
In terms of planning towards wider school opening, we’re trying to make neutral decisions by weighing up the polarised spread of views out there. We’ve put together a risk assessment and planning document for our exit from the Covid-19 situation* which outlines key questions and issues, and the trust responses to each of them. It also provides space for schools to add their responses.
* You can download Mark’s “Risk Assessment: Planning for Exit from COVID-19 Emergency Period” document here.
What are your key takeaways from the Covid-19 crisis?
I hope we will all go forward with a greater appreciation for what we have and more compassion for each other. I have been incredibly impressed with everything our staff have achieved and will not forget it.
As a Central Team, we will aim to take collective responsibility for who we are as a trust and move forward with a strong moral compass.
Data and Insight | MAT Operations
Preview of the new Understanding Your MAT Report – special article In partnership with the Centre for Education and Youth (CfEY), we’ve created a new free report for MATs across the country – the Understanding Your MAT Report – to help you see your trust in a new light. Built especially for your trust, your
In partnership with the Centre for Education and Youth (CfEY), we’ve created a new free report for MATs across the country – the Understanding Your MAT Report – to help you see your trust in a new light.
Built especially for your trust, your report brings together key measures like your schools’ ASP performance statistics, alongside your MAT’s size and local demographics, to help you understand the unique makeup of your trust compared to others in England.
The report is out soon but you can sign up to our waiting list to get early access to your report now!
As a preview, we wanted to share with you the leading article from the report, written by Loic Menzies, CEO of The CfEY. The article introduces you to the contextual analysis the report gives you and the kinds of conversations your report might bring up in your next strategy meeting.
by Loic Menzies
The relationship between disadvantage and attainment varies considerably between different parts of England. Combining datasets shows that poverty has a particularly pernicious effect on educational attainment in some area-types, particularly the rural areas shown in green, below.
Free School Meals aren’t the only ingredient
In recent years there has been increasing recognition that the relationship between deprivation and educational achievement is not as simple as we once thought. Researchers like Simon Burgess have shown that the interaction between disadvantage and ethnicity / migration status, for example, is often underestimated.
At LKMco we’ve had a longstanding interest in ONS area classifIcations (see “The Two Kingstons – what FSM does and doesn’t tell us” and “Maybe it’s because I’m a Londoner”). These classifications combine a range of characteristics of different areas, including industrial and employment data; demographics and qualification levels.
Combining these classifications with school data reveals striking differences between patterns of school performance in different area types.
Affluent England and London in the lead (surprise, surprise)
At the most basic level, we see that area types differ considerably in their attainment and deprivation levels.
Areas described as “Affluent England” achieve most highly, but “London Cosmopolitan” and “Ethnically Diverse Cosmopolitan” areas are not far behind – despite having two or three times the same level of deprivation.
However, once we plot FSM levels against attainment, the results get considerably more interesting – and the worrying situation in rural schools is revealed.
A variable picture
Firstly, notice how, apart from a small cluster of very-low-deprivation, very-high-attainment schools on the far left, pink dots dominate the top of the distribution. These represent “ethnically diverse cosmopolitan” areas (most of which are in Greater London). This shows that regardless of their deprivation levels, pupils tend to do best in these areas. Meanwhile, red dots are concentrated in the top right-hand corner. These represent high-achieving, high-deprivation central-London schools.
How strong is the link between deprivation and attainment…? It depends on the area
Switching our attention to the trend lines and R-squared values (representing the strength of the relationship between poverty and attainment), we see that the angle of the lines differs considerably – as does the strength of the correlation, even though all eight correlations are significant.
Notably, in rural areas, the relationship between poverty and educational outcomes is particularly strong. So although pupils in rural schools with low deprivation attain highly, schools in deprived areas are really struggling.
It seems that rural schools have particular difficulty breaking the link between poverty and low pupil attainment.
What about pupil progress?
Switching the measure to pupil progress paints an even starker picture of pupil outcomes in disadvantaged rural schools.
In general, the relationship between FSM and Progress is much weaker than when looking at attainment (r squared values of <0.2 in most area types).
This is unsurprising, since how well pupils achieve at KS2 (which is taken into account in Progress 8), already depends a lot on their deprivation level.
However, in rural schools, we find that a moderate relationship returns. It, therefore, seems that low attainment in rural, high-deprivation secondary schools is not just about pupils having low starting points. Instead, there is an important link between school deprivation level and progress rates.
Why is pupil progress in disadvantaged secondary schools worse in rural schools than in other parts of the country?
When considering how to break the link between poverty and education outcomes, it is crucial to take a nuanced view of poverty. Geography, demographics and community/economic context plays a critical role in moderating the relationship between poverty and educational outcomes.
Studies of the factors affecting schools in different area types are therefore urgently needed since these would help schools understand how best to respond to their circumstances.
Key factors to explore could include:
Find out more about this analysis in Schools Week.
Loic Menzies is Director of The Centre for Education and Youth (CfEY). He specialises in education policy and research, youth development and social enterprise. He was previously a tutor for Canterbury Christ Church’s Faculty of Education, an Associate Senior Manager and Head of History and Social Sciences at St. George’s R.C. School in North West London and a youth worker. He has authored numerous high profile reports and works with policy makers to communicate the implications of research, for example presenting to the Education Select Committee on White Working Class Underachievement or presenting to civil servants on teacher recruitment, retention and development. He is currently editing CfEY’s first book with Routledge entitled ‘Young People on the Margins’.
For descriptions of all the area types in England, as defined by the Office for National Statistics (ONS), take a look at the ONS website.
Mark Greatrex has had a rich history in education; having held senior positions in three academy trusts and serving ten years at the DfE, his current position is CEO at Bellevue Place Education Trust (BPET), where he’s been for five years. BPET is geographically spread out, made up of eight primary schools in eight different
Mark Greatrex has had a rich history in education; having held senior positions in three academy trusts and serving ten years at the DfE, his current position is CEO at Bellevue Place Education Trust (BPET), where he’s been for five years. BPET is geographically spread out, made up of eight primary schools in eight different Local Authority regions across London and Berkshire.
Mark joined us for a brilliant webinar in our series “Adapting to change”, where he shared with fellow MAT leaders his strategies for leading a geographically dispersed trust, and how these strategies play out during the challenges of Covid-19.
You can read Mark’s conversation with Arbor’s CEO, James Weatherill, below. Here’s a quick summary of the three main strategic areas Mark talked about:
We’re very passionate about the breadth of provision we offer. We want the children to leave having real independence and confidence. Not only is the curriculum broad, but it’s delivered in an exciting, engaging and purposeful way.
The most important thing for us is educational autonomy. We create the culture of the organisation centrally, and do have some policies that are approved centrally, such as safeguarding, first aid, health & safety and HR. But all our educational policies are approved at a local level.
In the autonomy model, the role of the Headteacher is key. I’ve wanted to make sure that they have full ownership of everything that goes on in the institution they lead. It’s the middle leaders and the Teachers too, who are the engine room of the school. They own the curriculum content and the delivery of it. Because we serve schools across a diverse group of affluent and not so affluent areas, the curriculum needs to meet the needs of the local community that we serve.
The first thing I did as the CEO was put a very strong Headteacher performance management policy in place so that I can properly hold them to account, and that the metrics are shared and understood across the organisation. If we are pushing accountability, we need to reward so our Headteachers are eligible for discretionary bonuses every year of 2-8%.
Headteacher objectives and targets are linked to our trust goals: Learn, enjoy, succeed.
We make five two-day visits a year to review each of our schools. In the visits, we look at the school development plan, the safeguarding audit. The essential element is the learning review where we look at a particular piece of teaching and learning.
Our review cycle is modelled on “C.O.D.E.” (Challenge, Ownership, Dialogue and Engagement). Each school chooses one area to be reviewed on each year. For example, under “Ownership”, we review childrens’ engagement in their own learning. This drives a powerful teaching and learning conversation within our schools. I wouldn’t recommend doing the whole Ofsted review cycle, because if the Central Team has got leadership right, and we’ve got teaching and learning right in schools, everything else will fall into place.
Systems like Arbor MIS and Civica (our finance system) are invaluable to us as a Multi-Academy Trust, as they make those conversations a lot more focused. Five years ago, when I was going into schools with school improvement advisors, we’d spend a whole hour just trying to agree on a figure. Now we can immediately identify where the challenges are, for example persistent absences or behavioural issues. Arbor and Civia take us to the right places to focus our discussions and move the schools forward at pace.
As part of our school improvement strategy, we produce performance reports every term that are similar to the “school on a page” reports that some trusts use. These are two-page reports with RAG ratings covering attainment, quality of teaching and learning, leadership, attendance, safeguarding, behaviour, resources, staffing and engagement with the community. These consistent documents share the dialogue and increase visibility and accountability, bringing everyone into the conversation of improvement.
As a Central Team, we then plan strategic improvement interventions. As David Blunkett said “Intervention should be in inverse proportion to success.” We believe the system is improved by working on our worst performing schools.
Depending on internal capacity, we sometimes commission organisations such as Local Authorities or expert private providers to do a piece of work with a clear scope e.g. improve attendance in one of our schools.
We’re lucky to have an “Enrichment fund” which we use for certain passion projects across our schools, such as “Philosophy for Children” staff training, or hiring a Maths advisor five days a year for each school.
Our CPD offer is critical. We’ve developed new Headship, Senior and Emerging Leaders programmes. We run one trust-wide INSET day a year in one of our schools, with about fifty one-hour taster sessions in different areas e.g. having courageous conversations with parents. These really drive enthusiasm and give staff tools and techniques they can take back to their schools. They’re also aimed to continue to fire their enthusiasm for teaching and learning.
We also make sure we do safeguarding every year for new staff or those who need a refresher. It’s possible to do things centrally but you can’t do it as often and you need to use remote formats. Going forward, we plan to do 4 out of 5 of our collaboration sessions per year virtually.
Where we give our schools educational autonomy, the opposite is true in terms of how we’re structured financially. By managing finances centrally, I want to invest funds in the schools that need it the most. That’s not to say we pool school funding. Each school retains their budgets based on the school funding letter.
We’ve set three key financial performance indicators:
1) No school will go into deficit. Those who are in deficit have a goal to be out by the end of the year
2) Staffing should be no greater than 75% of each school’s budget. This has allowed us to prioritise our numbers of staff
3) 95% of invoices should have a purchase order. We want to ensure a formalised process where all committed spend at school level is raised in our finance system (Civica) as a purchase order. We then process all invoices centrally in weekly payment run across all schools. This ensures all our suppliers are paid against their payment terms
Since 2011, the MAT market has been growing and evolving exponentially. The question of proximity was only really brought up by Lord Nash when he recommended an hour’s journey time between schools. Hopefully the way we support our schools will give confidence that distance doesn’t have to be a barrier, but we take responsibility for our growth, not only in numbers, but in geography, and work hard to make sure we don’t have any true outliers.
A management consultant once introduced to me the rule of “10, 40 100”. If you think of these proportions applied to an organisation – it could be the number of employees, or the turnover – organisations with 10, 40 and 100 need to be run in very different ways and probably need very different CEOs. In our case, we think of this in terms of number of schools. Our aim is to grow to 15 schools, but if we’re successful at 15 and the trustees want us to grow to 40, that will be a very different business model.
However, where operational alignment works well for 15 schools, the question is, is it scalable within the 10, 40, 100 rule? I don’t know. If we grow, Regional Directors and hubs might be an option. We could also split the Finance Director role into four hubs. What we’d have to think about, however, is how we’d bring those hubs together to maintain consistency.
Over the past few weeks we’ve been thrown into web calls; we use Zoom for all of our conversations with Headteachers. Normally, having a meeting with a school can take two hours out of everyone’s time, so doing them virtually is really powerful. I think having a blend of the Internet and meeting in person is important – Zoom is something the finance and operations teams use quite a lot anyway, and have been for a few years now. But you can’t deny the power of personal contact. I think we’ll always continue our physical meetings with Headteachers four times a year.
Look out for more webinars in our series “Adapting to Change”, where we’re interviewing MAT leaders about how they’re adapting to partial school closures and all the changes that are happening at the moment. You can catch up on one of our recent webinars with Dan Morrow, CEO of Woodland Academy Trust all about “Nurturing Staff Mental Health and Wellbeing” here.
If you want to find out more about how Arbor MIS could help your trust work flexibly and remotely, get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org or 0208 050 1028. Or alternatively you can book a web demo here.
As part of our programme of webinars – “Adapting to Change: Managing your Schools and Staff Remotely” – we invited Dan Morrow, CEO of Woodland Academy Trust, to share his strategies for staff mental health and wellbeing across his trust Dan discussed the responsibility of trust leaders to their staff, particularly during the Coronavirus crisis,
As part of our programme of webinars – “Adapting to Change: Managing your Schools and Staff Remotely” – we invited Dan Morrow, CEO of Woodland Academy Trust, to share his strategies for staff mental health and wellbeing across his trust
Dan discussed the responsibility of trust leaders to their staff, particularly during the Coronavirus crisis, and how he’s shaped policies around what makes a real difference to staff. We’ve put together the key takeaways from Dan’s fantastic talk and also included his slides below.
His main tips were:
The philosophy that guides Dan’s strategy is that “wellbeing isn’t something you can just tack on – it needs to be based in culture and action”. Since arriving at Woodland Academy Trust, a trust of four Primary schools in North Kent, Dan has brought wellbeing and mental health onto the agenda, replacing the previous “compliance mindset” which he says did not treat staff “as people first”.
He’s introduced initiatives such as wellbeing dogs, paid wellbeing days and CPD pathways staff can shape themselves, which have turned around the trust’s previously high level of staff absence, sickness and turnover rate. They’ve achieved this, Dan explains, by shaping wellbeing policies around their staff – which makes them feel heard and creates a reciprocal culture where “people want to get out of bed and come to work every day.”
“A contract is very important but as you see at the moment, it isn’t a contract that’s driving behaviour – it’s relationship, it’s duty, and it’s need”
The last few weeks have proven to Dan that the most important thing for his employees is their families and home life. As a leader, he believes you have to work your decisions around the reality of peoples’ lives. “It’s important we understand that sometimes life happens”, Dan says. With this in mind, the trust has re-examined their bank of policies to make them family-friendly and focused on workload. Making these adjustments has cut down on the number of staff calling in sick because of dependency issues or an issue that would have previously forced them to take unpaid leave.
In shaping wellbeing policies across the whole trust, Dan sent out surveys to his staff to make sure they were on board with everything he was proposing. “The worst thing you can do in wellbeing” according to Dan, “is to announce a strategy which you’re effectively doing to your staff and they may not actually want”. The surveys helped Dan’s team understand what would really make a difference to staff. For example, they had proposed wellbeing workshops but staff said the most valuable thing for them was more time. Dan’s team took this and introduced the idea of paid wellbeing days which staff can use for something that’s important to them, whether that’s to “attend weddings, the first day of their children’s school or a spa day with a friend they hadn’t seen for 30 years. Why not?”
An essential part of Dan’s leadership strategy is listening to his staff. When he started as CEO, he met with every member of staff to get to know them as individuals, ask them how they are and what they need. The aim of these conversations was to build the relationship on “a shared sense of culture and vision”. In a trust the size of Woodland, it was possible (and important to Dan) for the Executive Team to hold these conversations, but for larger trusts Dan suggests this may be done on a Division or Director basis. Dan plans to check in with staff in this way again when schools return after the Coronavirus crisis.
Woodland’s people-first approach extends to staff development, where Dan ensures that initiatives are geared towards what staff actually need and want to work on. Staff can now create their own CPD pathways and take secondments or work experience opportunities, which gives them “a voice in where their development is going”. Staff are also encouraged to take part in networking and to be active in discussions within the education sector on social media. 3 out of 4 of Woodland staff are now involved in Twitter or LinkedIn which, Dan says, demonstrates how staff feel more ownership over their career.
“Being part of a broader narrative of education has been really important for colleagues to find their place within our sector”
As part of the overall strategy at Woodland “WAT CAIRS” (Woodland Academy Trust Care, Aspiration, Inspiration, Respect and Stewardship), they believe that leadership should be “part of the solution to problems” that staff face in their lives. For this reason, a free employee counselling service is available for staff, which has been particularly useful during the difficult few weeks since the Coronavirus outbreak. They also run a wellbeing dogs scheme, which has been incredibly popular, both with children and staff. Initiatives like these are relatively cheap and help to “lift the spirits and make it feel like work has an aspect of care to it.”
And those costs have paid off. Staff retention has risen to over 95%, saving over £ 300, 000 in recruitment costs over three years. Days lost to sickness has reduced significantly, too, falling from 11% in 2015-16 to 3.1% last year, which has cut the need for external cover.
As a result of the Coronavirus crisis, Woodland Academy Trust has taken many lessons which will inform their wellbeing policy going forward. In this challenging time full of anxiety, Dan’s attitude is “it’s incumbent on us leaders now to ensure that staff understand that their wellbeing is being prioritised.” One of the immediate practical measures he took to put anxiety to rest was to reassure his staff around pay. Communication was also key – teams are encouraged to check in with each other regularly and new protocols and practices have been produced so everyone is comfortable working remotely. They’ve also provided close support for the more vulnerable members of staff.
Dan predicts that following this crisis, wellbeing and mental health are going to be higher on the agenda so leaders should “ensure staff have the professional capabilities, the personal resilience and the team around them to be successful”.
You can look through Dan’s presentation below which includes useful links for teachers to resources, podcasts and blogs to access during lockdown.
We have lots more webinars coming up in our programme Adapting to Change. The next few will be conversations between MAT Leaders and Arbor’s CEO, James Weatherill. For more details on what’s coming up, check out our blog.
If you have any questions about the webinars, or about how Arbor MIS could help your trust, you can get in touch at email@example.com, or give us a call on 0208 050 1028.
To find out how to manage and report on the Coronavirus situation in Arbor, you can read our latest blog, or find practical advice on our Help Centre.
You might have heard of Microsoft Power BI, Google Data Studio or Tableau. But what is Business Intelligence (BI) and what does it mean for schools and MATs? We’ve put together this handy guide to help you navigate all things BI. What is BI? BI stands for “Business Intelligence”. In simple terms, this means the
You might have heard of Microsoft Power BI, Google Data Studio or Tableau. But what is Business Intelligence (BI) and what does it mean for schools and MATs? We’ve put together this handy guide to help you navigate all things BI.
What is BI?
BI stands for “Business Intelligence”. In simple terms, this means the technology used by companies (or schools and trusts!) to analyse their data. BI tools are used to do these things:
How is BI used in schools and MATs?
Schools are swimming in data. But data is only helpful when you can learn from it. Without a way to understand their data so they can turn it into actions, schools can find themselves “drowning in data” (Education Technology). This is where Business Intelligence tools come in – they help SLT monitor the health and progress of their schools (e.g. Which of my schools is performing most highly?), inform strategic decisions (e.g. Which subject should we invest in more next year?) and report to governors, parents and trustees.
Why are schools using external BI tools?
Schools and MATs are turning to external BI tools more and more in order to analyse their data. This is usually because their management information system (MIS) doesn’t give them an easy way of visualising their data in the way they need. BI tools free schools from having to manually build reports in spreadsheets which is time-consuming and doesn’t present an overall picture. For multi-academy trusts especially, BI dashboards allow them to see a “single source of truth” in order to monitor and assess the performance of all their schools, rather than having to piece together and compare the data themselves.
The size of your trust will affect the type of data analytics and BI tooling that’s right for you. Larger MATs may have the resources to employ data and software professionals to create a bespoke BI solution. We’ve put together a diagram below showing how the size, degree of centralisation, existing systems and data strategy of a MAT might affect what they need from BI.
The problem schools are facing with external BI products is they’re expensive, complex and require setup by trained staff. Many tools don’t work with schools’ existing management information systems, which means it takes a long time for staff to take actions on the data. Plus, as most tools are not suited to groups of schools, MATs have to rely on products such as Microsoft Power BI to bring all their data together.
Arbor’s BI solution
At Arbor, we have built “out of the box” Business Intelligence solutions into the fabric of our MIS through clear, detailed and relevant dashboards. This means there’s no need for configuration or setup – everyone working at your school can see and manipulate the data they need in a few clicks. Plus, you can go deep into the detail of your data and take actions without needing to be a data expert or to hire one!
What makes Arbor different?
Whilst Arbor provides detailed, powerful, “out of the box” analysis for schools, we also know that you sometimes need to analyse data outside of your MIS. That’s why Arbor MIS supports all major BI providers, giving you the freedom and flexibility to choose and define your own BI approach for your group. It’s easy – using Arbor “Live Feeds”, you can export live data from Arbor MIS into your external BI tool.
We’ve built powerful yet simple Business Intelligence into Arbor MIS, Group MIS and Arbor Insight. You can book a demo today or come and chat to us at BETT – we’re at stand NM30. We’re also hosting lunch (on us!) at Tapa Tapa restaurant (on the DLR walkway outside the ExCel centre) – sign up for your free spot here.
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.
This September, Ofsted’s new inspection framework came into effect, putting more of an emphasis on curriculum as opposed to just academic results with their new “quality of education” grade. A consistent theme in teachers’ feedback to inspections so far seems to be that Ofsted have become more rigorous; rather than settling for a surface level
This September, Ofsted’s new inspection framework came into effect, putting more of an emphasis on curriculum as opposed to just academic results with their new “quality of education” grade. A consistent theme in teachers’ feedback to inspections so far seems to be that Ofsted have become more rigorous; rather than settling for a surface level view, they now want to dig a little deeper into how schools and trust operate and why.
According to Tes, some leadership and teachers have described these new inspections as intense and stressful, while others say it provides a fairer, more balanced view of how you work. Either way, we can safely say that it definitely wouldn’t hurt to prepare to tackle some tough questions about your MAT.
To help you prepare, we’ve put together this useful list of questions that you might be asked during an Ofsted inspection this year. Our list is by no means exhaustive, but acts as more of a checklist for you and other MAT leaders to read ahead of any upcoming inspections.
Questions are based on inspections that other schools have experienced this year. Many of these questions can be credited to governingmatters.wordpress.com who posted this useful article to help governors prepare for Ofsted inspections.
1. MAT structure and values
Ofsted are very likely to ask you at least one question about your MAT’s values and the aims that you have for your pupils. Consider why your trust operates the way that it does and how you think this will help to shape your students’ education overall.
A. How is your MAT structured and why?
B. What are your priorities for your schools?
C. What are your ambitions for your children?
You’ll be expected to provide some information on your governors, including their training and the role they play. Think about how you can show that your governors are adequately trained and appropriately contributing to how your MAT is run.
A. How does the MAT board work with Local Governing Bodies?
B. What role do your governors play in school leadership? How do you recruit new governors?
C. What training do your governors receive?
3. Headteachers and SLT
Have a think about how often you hold your headteachers and SLT members to account for how their schools are performing. Be sure to have some proof that you can present to Ofsted ahead of your inspection! In Group MIS, it’s easy to check how your different schools are performing by looking at your data dashboards when you first log in to your portal.
A. How do you hold your headteachers and SLT to account?
B. How do you ensure that you are not just relying on information provided by the head?
C. Can you give an example of how you challenged the head and brought about a change?
Image 1: A screenshot of the main Dashboard when you log into Arbor Group MIS
4. Staff performance and wellbeing
Be ready to provide examples of how you handle both positive and negative staff performance, as well as how you make sure the staff across your MAT are well looked after and happy. In Arbor MIS, you can use our Staff Development function to track staff appraisals and training.
A. How do you ensure staff wellbeing? Can you give any examples?
B. What is the link between teacher appraisal and pay?
C. How is teacher underperformance dealt with in your trust?
5. Measuring progress and school improvement
Think about how you’ve analysed your KS1 & KS2 performance data so far and whether you’ve effectively pinpointed where your MAT is performing well and where it could be doing better – click here to find out how you can do this using our free Group Insight reports and dashboards.
A. What do your schools do best and what could they do better?
B. How do you contribute to and monitor your school improvement plan?
C. Please describe the MAT’s journey since the last inspection. Have you made an effort to fix issues that were picked up last time?
6. Curriculum planning and tracking
Ofsted is putting more emphasis on the curriculum than ever before with their new inspection framework. Use Arbor’s curriculum tracker to manage the way you deliver the curriculum across your MAT, and our analytics to inform your methodology. You can also read our helpful blog on curriculum planning and improving student outcomes.
A. How do you monitor your schools’ curriculum and how do you know it matches the national curriculum?
B. How do your students do in foundation subjects?
C. How do leaders discuss the sequencing of curriculum development? How do your teachers know what to teach?
7. Education equality
Consider the provisions you have in place for your disadvantaged pupils and how you make sure they have as many opportunities as their fellow students and that they are treated equally. Remember – you should be able to show how you measure the impact of these provisions! In our Group MIS, you can use our “By Demographic” function to keep track of disadvantaged students and work out where to intervene; you can also use our Interventions tracker to monitor any progress made.
A. How do you meet the equalities act? How do you know diversity is being taught in your schools?
B. What do you know about the performance of your SEN/EAL/disadvantaged pupils?
C. How do you use Pupil Premium and Sports Premium monies and what impact has this had? How are pupil premium children progressing and what do you have in place to ensure higher attaining Pupil Premium students are challenged?
Image 2: A screenshot of attendance by demographic in Arbor’s Group MIS
8. Data monitoring
It’s possible that Ofsted will also ask you about the way you monitor and measure the data you receive from schools across your MAT. You need to be prepared for questions about the accuracy of this data; do this by collecting tangible evidence ahead of time. In, you can use our helpful data dashboards to diagnose any potential errors before your inspection.
A. How do you know that the data you get from your schools is accurate?
B. How do you measure pupil attendance in your schools?
C. How do you monitor pupil behaviour in your schools?
9. Safety and GDPR
We’re pretty confident that you’ll be asked about the level of safety in schools across your MAT. Make sure you have evidence to show that you’re compliant with GDPR regulations and that you have all the necessary procedures in place to keep your students safe. Visit our website to see how you can keep your data safe with Arbor.
A. Are children safe in your schools?
B. Do you have safeguarding training? Are safeguarding audits carried out regularly
C. Are you aware of and happy with the lockdown procedure in your schools
10. Parental engagement
Finally, you may be asked about your schools’ relationship with parents and how this relationship is maintained. You might want to check out our blog on “5 ways to boost parental engagement at your school” to see how you can effectively keep in touch with your parents.
A. How do you communicate with parents?
B. Are parents supportive of the schools in your trust?
C. Can you tell me more about your parent questionnaires?
As we’ve mentioned in a previous blog, our new “Understanding Your School Report” will help you prepare for the new Ofsted inspection framework by allowing you to benchmark your schools’ performance data against the national average, top quintile, and schools with a similar demographic intake. Download our new report to help your schools prepare for the next inspection: https://login.arbor.sc/auth/register
Hope you find the list helpful!
Arbor MIS for MATs brings all your schools together so you can instantly see how everyone’s getting on, and jump in if you need to. To find out more about Group MIS, get in touch via the contact form on our website, email us at email@example.com or give us a call on 0208 050 1028.
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 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.
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!
We recently talked about the importance of an aligned staff development framework in your school or Trust, and our first point was to make sure your objectives are SMART – Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Timely. SMART objectives are a common project management tool, and can be set for an individual staff member, for a
We recently talked about the importance of an aligned staff development framework in your school or Trust, and our first point was to make sure your objectives are SMART – Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Timely. SMART objectives are a common project management tool, and can be set for an individual staff member, for a department, a school, or even as a vision for an entire Trust. So, what are the benefits of SMART objectives for staff management, and how do you make sure you’re getting them?
(You can also click here to read & download a handy PDF checklist for SMART objectives)
Specificity is important because it means your staff will always have a clear sense of direction. Wanting to improve attendance may be your overarching goal, but your staff will be listless and their attempts to do so may rub up against one another if they each have that as their own personal objective. A more specific school objective would be “improve on last year’s attendance across the board in every year group”. Then, your Heads of Year would have even more specific attendance objectives such as “meet with the parents of every persistent absentee in Year 5, to create personal attendance strategies“.
In this way, your staff all know how they’re contributing to your targets. This will give their daily tasks a sense of genuine purpose, and help them prioritise their time. To check if your staff objectives are specific enough, ask yourself; is this objective focused on this one person’s role in the school? Am I confident this objective won’t be misconstrued?
Measurability is important to consider for practical reasons. You need to know if your efforts are effective so that you can build on them next term or next year, and you can’t know that unless you’re somehow measuring them. When you set a staff member’s objective, consider how it will be reviewed in three months time. Try not to set objectives that will require a significant admin burden to measure – it’s best to use metrics which are already recorded by the tools at your disposal. For instance, the Head of Year target above, to meet with the parents of every persistent absentee in Year 5, would be very difficult if you didn’t already have a way of reporting on persistent absentees by year group and easily making their meeting records.
Remember that ‘measurable’ doesn’t necessarily mean ‘measured by hard data’. A classroom teacher, for instance, might have a target of achieving positive feedback in every lesson observation that year. If you decide how you’re going to measure your targets up front, you remove any disputes and headaches from the performance review process, and ensure that staff members always know how well they’re doing.
It’s important to make sure your objectives are challenging, yet realistic. Give your staff members something aim for, but make sure the target is within range. Getting to a 97% attendance average this term is a very specific and measurable goal for your school, but could end up being pretty demoralising if your current attendance is 85%. If a goal is overwhelmingly optimistic, it’s harder to work out where to start, and stressful to invest energy into any one approach.
Individual staff abilities should also be considered – do they have enough training in their role to complete this objective? Will they need any help? Do they feel confident that they can succeed, and if not then how can you as a manager instill that confidence in them?
Making sure your objectives are relevant has obvious surface level benefits – there’s no point telling your staff to do something that has nothing to do with the school or its students. Relevance has a more refined meaning though; individual staff objectives should be relevant to their team’s current objective, which should be relevant to the school’s current overarching objectives, and so on. At the top level, creating a very clear improvement plan will help all of your school or Trust’s line managers to set relevant individual goals for their staff.
If staff goals are all very relevant, the right person will always be completing the right task. Relevant objectives also help staff improve their skills in their chosen career. To test whether an objective is relevant enough, ask yourself if it’s contributing both to the goals of the school and the purpose of that individual’s job role.
Every objective should be time bound, both to make sure there’s a defined end or review date, and to make sure your staff member is performing tasks at a relevant time in relation to their context. In a school or Trust context, this generally means binding objectives to the academic year. You should be able to decide whether an objective is a short term goal which should be finished by the end of term, such as to support students in achieving their mock exam target marks, or whether an objective is a longer term project that could take all academic year with termly check ins, such as to improve homework submission rates across a department.
The benefit of this is that your staff member will have the time they need to achieve their objective and will be achieving them in time to contribute to your broader goals for the school. To check if an objective is timely, ask yourself; is this the right time of year to attempt this objective? Have I provided enough time to succeed? Will it be complete in time to fit in with our overall improvement plan?
However you track your staff performance, whether through Arbor MIS or any other system, SMART is a useful framework to keep in mind. The best performance objectives will instill a sense of purpose, make task prioritisation easy, and give your staff a clear direction for the year ahead. Download a PDF checklist of this advice here, or read more advice on improving school and Trust operations here.
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
Why run a systems audit in the first place? Over the years, many schools accumulate a variety of IT systems or software. These systems were initially installed to help make things run more smoothly across the school but, over time, they’ve inevitably become outdated and no longer fit with the day-to-day running of the school.
Over the years, many schools accumulate a variety of IT systems or software. These systems were initially installed to help make things run more smoothly across the school but, over time, they’ve inevitably become outdated and no longer fit with the day-to-day running of the school. In many cases, school leaders can forget to question whether a piece of software is continuing to help improve the school, or whether it’s there simply because it worked in the past.
When a school or trust tells us about all the third party products they use, we always like to ask why they chose that particular system:
For example, a school may have been using a behaviour tracking software outside of their MIS for many years and are happy with how it charts points over time, but they don’t use any of the other features that the software offers. In cases like this, and with many other systems that are an added cost, it’s worth questioning if there are alternative ways of working within one system to consolidate both time and funds.
We encourage schools to create a side-by-side price comparison of the cost of each third party product to prompt an internal conversation about the practicalities and usefulness of each system, and whether it can be replaced by a new system altogether. This practice promotes the importance of an audit in deciding if there are added benefits to keeping a specific system, or if it’s time to part ways.
Image 1: How we encourage schools to approach an IT systems audit
This is how we would recommend running an IT systems audit:
1. Ask members of staff from all areas of the school when running your audit – don’t assume that one person will know everything that everyone is using!
2. Start by listing out all the systems people use for the core functions in your school, like attendance, assessment, behaviour and communications, and how much you pay for them annually
3. Move on to listing the rest of your systems and costs – if you don’t have to pay for something annually and you already have it, you can mark the cost as £0
4. Make sure to list separate software products from the same company as being separate – one might be more useful than the other
5. Then go back down your list and note each software’s functionality – not just what you’re currently using it for, but what it could do if you used every module and feature in it
6. You’ll probably have come across several overlaps by now. This is the tricky part: for everything that overlaps, consider which really has the greater value, and which you can think about cutting down
This value judgement can’t entirely be based on price, although that is important – you also have to question why you had several systems in the first place. Is one of them more user friendly? Is it quick to train new staff on? Does it save your teachers a lot of time? Will you really get the best deal just by picking between these two programs, or if you’re switching anyway should you choose an entirely new system altogether?
It’s quite possible that with a change in mindset, cutting down your third party systems may open more doors than it closes, and create opportunities to improve how you work.
We understand that this takes time, but we’ve also seen first hand how many schools love the fact that Arbor can bring all of their data and systems into one central system, meaning that the number of logins (and passwords!) for staff can be cut down. This results in increased productivity as it ultimately saves staff hours of time manually transferring data between systems – because everything you need is all in one place!
If you’re not yet an Arbor MIS customer, you can request a free demo and a chat with your local Partnership Manager anytime through the contact form on our website, or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or calling 0208 050 1028.
It may seem like a challenging task, but aligning your multi-academy trust’s staff development processes and policies should be high on your agenda – especially with the DfE’s new teacher retention strategy shining a light on how schools and trusts support their staff. We’re all aware of how effective performance management and staff development can
It may seem like a challenging task, but aligning your multi-academy trust’s staff development processes and policies should be high on your agenda – especially with the DfE’s new teacher retention strategy shining a light on how schools and trusts support their staff. We’re all aware of how effective performance management and staff development can be in not only recognising but encouraging high performance among staff, but also in improving quality of education in the schools across your MAT.
So why does having an aligned policy with set processes in place across your trust matter? You’ll probably be asked why you want to change things which are already working for your individual schools’ current performance/development plans. However, having alignment and a centralised policy is important for a number of reasons:
A trust that puts staff development at the heart of what it does should see improvements in teaching and learning as well. In order to do this, you’ll need a reliable system to carry out staff development activities and appraisals, which can help to easily highlight development needs and track performance & growth across staff (and see the impact this is having on student outcomes).
So, what are the first steps to aligning your trusts processes?
1) Make sure all staff have SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, relevant & timely) objectives that are clear and are explicit in what needs to be done to achieve them. Understanding across the trust how objectives should be created, and ensuring that they are SMART, means each staff member’s individual targets will be consistent with the trust’s wider improvement plans or overall trust/school objectives.
Fig. 1 – Setting a staff member’s development objectives in Arbor MIS
2) Set up a regular cycle across the trust that completes the appraisal policy. You should make sure that it is clear:
This helps to set the basic foundations of a good appraisal policy and ensures that all staff across the trust always know what they are going to be measured on, and how long they have to achieve their goals.
Fig. 2 – A staff member’s Appraisal page in Arbor MIS
3) Finally, it’s important when aligning your trust’s development processes that you share best practice throughout each school. If staff at one school seem happier with their professional development, find out why and see if you can use that expertise to help you improve the process across all your schools. Running an effective development structure should be an iterative process, and it’s a great chance to learn what works best for your trust and your schools.
If you’d like to find out more about how Arbor’s simple, smart cloud-based MIS could transform the way you run your MAT, get in touch via the contact form on our website, email us at tellmemore@arbor-education or give us a call on 0208 050 1028.
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 email@example.com.
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 is the final blog in our series offering a new vision for MATs. With a clear vision, based on 6 powerful principles and the development of 6 core competencies, and MAT-wide systems and cultures already put in place, the main focus should be on the systematic development of collaboration. Management style: collaboration Overview MATs
This is the final blog in our series offering a new vision for MATs. With a clear vision, based on 6 powerful principles and the development of 6 core competencies, and MAT-wide systems and cultures already put in place, the main focus should be on the systematic development of collaboration.
MATs which have achieved the integration above quickly realise that “you can’t mandate greatness”. Alignment and standardisation risk killing innovation and engagement. Arbor Education refers to this next phase as an ‘Assistant MAT’, Dixons Academies uses the term ‘Agile’ with ‘High autonomy, high alignment’
MATs at this stage are also well placed to collaborate beyond the MAT itself, contributing to a self-improving Academy system which is led from the middle.
If the work of Stage 2 has already been done, then the underpinning capabilities of Support, Learn, Assess and Communicate are also in place, and will be refined and improved through collaboration.
The emphasis now is on building systems, processes and policies to support purposeful collaboration. This supports the growth of teams which are focused on improvement, allowing experiments to be tried out, collaboration to grow. Management must support individuals and teams to be highly aligned to the vision, and then encourage groups which will self-identify and form to tackle a problem.
David Ross Education Trust operate a ‘Team around the school’ where supporting functions meet with the Principal to fix issues and plan for the future.
The Inspiration Trust employ Subject Specialist Leaders’ whose role is to develop Subject Communities, which variously focus on Assessment, Materials and Curriculum resources.
Dixons adopt the ‘Agile’ approach used by Spotify, of ‘Squads’ (a group of people who have decided to work together on a common challenge, e.g. learning and teaching of a particular subject and phase),‘Tribes’ (a group of ‘squads’ working on adjacent challenges who can benefit from sharing), Chapters (functional experts who bring different competencies to the squad), Product Leads (the owner of the particular challenge), and ‘Agile Coaches’ (senior leadership whose role is not to direct, but to coach the teams to help them achieve). In this model, Squads will form and finish based on the need to tackle a particular challenge.
By this stage I assume a strong IT platform is in place to act as infrastructure for effective collaboration. In particular a strong IT platform will allow sufficient bandwidth and flexibility for anytime/ anywhere collaboration to be supported.
The benefits of moving from Growth Stage 1 to 2 are well-documented and relate to traditional measures such as:
1. Economy – getting more for your money by planning ahead
2. Efficiency – the avoidance of wasted time and cash, the ability to buy at scale, reduced complexity; and
3. Effectiveness – improved systems and structures which allow people to do their job better, and retain staff as a result of less stress.
The important benefit of growth stage 3 is to foster…
Engagement. Empowered teams, aligned by systems, processes and vision, but free to develop their own groups and solutions, have the potential to be at the heart of taking the Academy system forwards.
It is tempting to jump from Stage 1 of MAT growth to Stage 3, missing out the detailed and difficult work of Stage 2. I believe this would be a mistake, as without a strong underpinning, it is difficult for a large group of Academies to collaborate effectively. I encourage you to stick with it as the benefits of getting this right are significant:
This blog, the fourth in our series offering a new vision for MATs, describes the second growth phase of MATs. At this pivotal stage, a large number of changes are often needed to capabilities and systems across the MAT in order to create an “integrated MAT”. Management style: Growth through Direction Overview As the MAT
This blog, the fourth in our series offering a new vision for MATs, describes the second growth phase of MATs. At this pivotal stage, a large number of changes are often needed to capabilities and systems across the MAT in order to create an “integrated MAT”.
As the MAT grows larger, there is a need for more integration between Academies, to improve educational impact, and start to achieve efficiencies. Common systems, processes and policies need to be put in place. This is a big strain on the central team, requiring discussion, collaboration and expertise.
In a MAT which has grown primarily through Convertor Academies, supporting services will typically be standardised more readily than education activities. In a Sponsored MAT, the opposite may be true, with a strong set of educational practices and non-negotiables in place before supporting systems are centralised. Most MATs will create commonality around formative and/ or summative assessment, but with a variety of models to achieve this. Some will run central/ regional School Improvement teams, with intervention where required. Others will set up Subject Leadership roles, or working groups/ communities for other types of improvement.
Most MATs of above 4 Academies will create a central team with professional leadership of Finance, HR, and Operations (typically covering ICT, Estates and Governance). These leaders are responsible for working with Principals to put in place the central systems, policies and processes below. In many MATs, these leaders have dotted rather than direct line management responsibility for Academy teams who are implementing the policies (e.g. the local finance staff, caretakers, ICT Technicians). Some MATs are comfortable to stay in this arrangement. Others find that the cost of running a central team as well as Academy teams is unsustainable, and that the Academy teams start to become confused about whether to take ultimate direction from their Principal, or Head Office, and move to end-to-end functional management of support staff. This allows much more scope to redesign roles, processes and systems.
These organisational arrangements need to be supported with strong systems, which could incude: Cashless catering, Asset management, IT system User Authentication, Biometrics, Digital signage, Parent Payments, Building Management System, Applicant tracking system, Management Information System.
Standardised and centralised processes should be put in place for Finance, ICT, Estates (Health and Safety, Premises Management), Workforce policies (including Abuse, Fraud, Pay& Reward, Capability, Disciplinary, Equality, Flexi time, expenses, hospitality, performance management, redundancy, Code of Conduct, Teacher Training, Recruitment and Induction), and governance (MAT and Academy standard Governance policies, Schemes of Delegation).
There should also be centralisation of Procurement & Contract Management of ICT infrastructure, software, broadband/ telephony, insurance energy, break fix, construction, Agency supply, catering, photocopying, legal services, audit, hard and soft Facilities Management. This will include consideration of Cloud-based systems, supporting Academies to have the right devices to achieve the educational vision, and delivery affordably, whether through a shared service within the MAT, or an outsourced contract.
Shared systems to support learning will be a priority for many MATs at this stage, although some will chose to leave some of the below to Academy level decision making.
Shared learning systems include: Admissions; Attendance management and reporting; Behaviour management and reporting; SEN planning; Learning management system/ VLE; Interventions tracking; Library/ resource management; Classroom management; Timetable generation; Seat planning.
A number of shared process should also be considered, including: development of curriculum resources/ Lesson planning and preparation/ SoW; Research to understand practices and theories within and outside the MAT; behaviour management and reporting.
Some MATs will provide support for the improvement of physical learning spaces to support educational philosophy (e.g. lighting, audio, availability of charging for ICT, wireless networks), although others will find this difficult to impossible depending on available funds and existing estates conditions.
Shared policies at this point should typically include Admissions, Attendance , Student Behaviour/ Pastoral support, Inclusion/ Special Educational Needs. There will be legitimate exceptions due to context.
A Mat of this size should consider shared systems for Formative/ summative Assessment, Progress tracking, Data analysis, Examinations Results Analysis. There may also be shared systems for marking, and an alignment of Primary Assessment models/ Exam Boards. Alongside this, MATs should convene teacher led groups to investgate shared policies for marking (or not marking!).
MAT-wide systems can be put in place for communicating with parents and students, Parents evening booking, Homework setting, Reporting to parents and Visitor management. There could also be alignment or centralisation of some communication processes, allowing for efficiencies and improvements to quality. Home school agreement policies can also be aligned.
Shared development systems can include staff CPD/ lesson observation, and staff performance management. By aligning on a system, more time and energy can be spent on the more value-adding activity of refining which types of approach to development and support hae the most positive impact.
A number of systems can support, or get in the way of, collaboration for a MAT of this size. MATs should consider standardising Office productivity applications, Email, storage, and Collaboration tools (student-student/ student-adult/ Adult-adult)
In terms of processes, at this point a MAT will need to have formal roles or groups to support collaboration and alignment. These roles may be distributed amongst Academy Principals, middles leaders, teacher or other staff, or held centrally/ regionally.
Click here to read the final instalment of Chris’ blog series on how to create an agile MAT
In the previous 2 blogs in this series I described the need for MATs to sharpen their strategies, and set out 6 principles and core capabilities that should underpin this. In the next 3 blogs I describe how these can be developed during each of the main growth phases of MATs, stating with “putting the
In the previous 2 blogs in this series I described the need for MATs to sharpen their strategies, and set out 6 principles and core capabilities that should underpin this. In the next 3 blogs I describe how these can be developed during each of the main growth phases of MATs, stating with “putting the basic in place”.
The initial focus is on agreeing a common vision and values, alongside basic common systems and processes. These typically focus on school improvement for a Sponsor MAT, or on Supporting Functions (also called ‘Operations’ or ‘Back Office’), for a Convertor MAT.
Common systems and policies for Finance (core finance and budgeting), HR (services and Payroll), safeguarding and child protection is a priority. Many will also put in place a common MIS system. As well as the system, most MATs will want to align finance processes quickly, e.g. a common Chart of Accounts and budgeting cycle. Aligned support policies will often include GDPR, FOI, Data Protection, Equal Opportunities and Recruitment.
In a Convertor MAT, learning and teaching is largely decided at a school level. In a Sponsored MAT, there may be a strong SIP function, or Executive Headship. In curriculum-driven MATs, e.g. those focused on a knowledge curriculum, this will be a much earlier priority. This means processes for collaborative alignment will be required at an earlier stage as well.
Assessment may be undertaken differently in each school, but there are likely to be a termly or more frequent sharing of data. Discussions commence about where and how to align elements of data. As above, if there is an early focus on a core curriculum then assessment will also be standardised at an earlier point.
Communications from the Central MAT team are typically few; individual schools continue as the main point of contact with parents/ students.
Some light touch shared development may take place, especially for middle and senior leaders. There may also be a shared approach to ITT and induction, especially if there is a Teaching School Alliance within the MAT.
Collaboration is vital, but at this stage may be informal, light on systems, and through personal interactions connections between Principals and senior support staff leaders/ managers. More formal systems will be needed if MATs need to make ealier progress on the capabilities below.
Click here to read the next blog in Chris’ series about the benefits of creating an integrated MAT
In the first blog in this series I shared research which indicates MATs need to be clearer about their vision, even though different MATs will rightly have different visions. I would suggest that the following principles are likely to underpin the vision for many MATs as they grow and mature: Six powerful principles to include
In the first blog in this series I shared research which indicates MATs need to be clearer about their vision, even though different MATs will rightly have different visions. I would suggest that the following principles are likely to underpin the vision for many MATs as they grow and mature:
Six powerful principles to include in any MAT strategy:
1. An inquisitive approach to curriculum and pedagogy, framed from the top and led from the middle
2. Consistent and regular performance data which is;
a) standardised (between Academies),
b) balanced (measuring what we value, rather than valuing only what we can easily measure),
c) integrated (the data is generated through activity which would be useful to the teacher, not just to create reports),
d) layered (different people can use it for different purposes without recreating burdensome collection),
e) benchmarked (we know how it compares to others)
f) formative and summative and well understood by all
3. High quality governance which is clear about authority and delegation
4. Leadership and management which is focused on outcomes, which inspires, and which aims for “subsidiarity”, with decisions being made where they are most effective
5. A culture of personal development and learning for staff as much as students
6. A clear growth strategy which balances economy with capacity, geographic focus, due diligence and a clear ‘deal’ for new joining schools.
These principles are a good start but a MAT needs a clear view about the capabilities which will deliver them.
Six core capabilities for MATs*
*Capability: a combination of people, systems and processes
The importance of systems to enable collaboration is often overlooked
It is traditional to think of MAT capabilities in terms of the first five of the list above. However, I believe that there is a significant additional capability which can be built systematically: purposeful collaboration can bridge the gap between chaotic innovation, and stifling standardisation.
Technology can help scale collaboration between stakeholders
Paul Shoesmith, ICT lead for CJK Associates says that “technologies can help to support collaboration between students, and between teachers and students. Setting up, configuring and managing such systems can be challenging at an individual school level, but by sharing best practice across schools the investment in time which is often required to get those systems working effectively the benefits can be realised more quickly and at a lower cost, in time as well as financially.”
The way each MAT approaches the six principles and core capabilities will reflect size, context, and level of maturity. In the next three blogs I will set out a possible pathway, considering the management style, organisation, systems, processes and policies that are likely to be put in place over time.
Click here to read the next instalment of Chris’ blog on managing MAT growth
A vision for Multi Academy Trusts: a 5-part blog series written for Arbor by Chris Kirk, Ex-Partner for Education at PWC and formerly GEMS/DfE. The launch of the Confederation of School Trusts on Thursday 11 October 2018 is a huge step forwards for those of us who believe it is essential that we create a school
A vision for Multi Academy Trusts: a 5-part blog series written for Arbor by Chris Kirk, Ex-Partner for Education at PWC and formerly GEMS/DfE.
The launch of the Confederation of School Trusts on Thursday 11 October 2018 is a huge step forwards for those of us who believe it is essential that we create a school system which is led from the middle. For this to be a reality, we need to increase the pace of development of MATs as highly effective networks of schools, collaborating not only within, but between Trusts.
This five part blog sets out a framework for sharpening MAT strategy with powerful principles and core capabilities, followed by three stages of growth:
Strategy varies between MATs, which is a good thing
When asked about the focus of their strategy, MATs give a wide range of responses. Most MATs seek to preserve school identity whilst improving back office efficiency – often by centralising systems and staff – with a collaborative approach to standardisation. But there are much wider ranges of views when it comes to scaling tried and tested school improvement models, creating consistent pedagogy, boosting local governance, or MAT-wide enrichment programmes.
However, sometimes strategy varies within a MAT, which points to lack of clarity
This variation in MAT strategy is in my view a good thing, as there is certainly not one right way to work: context is very important, and very different between MATs. What is more surprising is that our research indicates that there is just as much variation of view of strategy within many MATs. This is less welcome. The most effective leaders have the ability to develop a vision which is strongly influenced by their followers’ needs, creating a climate of collective aspirations. Within a MAT, this must surely mean a clear vision focused on the difference made for students, schools, communities and the system, supported by a realistic and shared strategy which is honest about capacity and has high expectations for all.
It follows then that a significant task for MAT leaders is to build a common vision and view of strategy within their MAT. In the second blog in this series I will set out 6 principles and 6 core competencies that I believe should underpin every MAT vision.
Click here to read part 2 of Chris’ blog series about the 6 principles that MATs should always include in their strategy
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!
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
Chris recently wrote a blog for us about the 6 phases of growth that MATs go through, and the crises that can follow each phase, as well as how MATs can use an ‘operating model approach’ to ensure that they’re laser-focused on delivering their vision. His latest blog for us looks at the four common tensions faced by MATs when centralising operations, and how to avoid them.
As I approach 25 years in the education sector I can’t remember a more demanding environment for reducing costs and increasing accountability. Whilst we all continue to make the case to government for addressing the many challenges this raises, it’s incumbent on education leaders to manage the resources they have wisely, for the benefit of students.
That’s why Academies that come together into Multi Academy Trusts often do so in pursuit of greater efficiency and effectiveness. Many MATs find that Finance and HR are the easiest services to centralise, followed by Estates and IT. On the education side of things, it is common to see school improvement, Family Support, and Special Needs Support Services benefit from this approach. This all sounds straightforward, but there are four common tensions to be aware of. In this blog I explain what these are, and how to avoid them.
Tension 1: “To the person with only a hammer, every problem looks like a nail!”
Before you fix on one approach to structuring your central teams, there are five choices to consider:
Tension 2: Balancing ‘build capacity in advance of need’ with keeping overheads low
Case studies of MATs who have grown sustainably point to forward planning, with capacity to provide effective support to new Academies. However, I have also come across MATs who created new central roles in anticipation of growth that didn’t happen, due for example, to delays in approval from the DfE, and were left holding an expensive baby.
To address this, there are two principles you can apply:
(i) The first is ‘often recruiting; occasionally hiring’. You can be scouting for talent before you are in a position to commit, so when you do need to hire you aren’t starting from scratch.
(ii) Secondly, build in agility – can you create additional capacity through partnerships or buying in services, until you know you are ready to make a permanent hire?
Tension 3: “To SLA or not to SLA… that is the question”
As you move from a service which was managed and received by the same leader, i.e. an Academy Principal, to one which is managed by, say, the Director of Finance, there is a risk of getting caught up in a nightmare of “Service Level Agreements” and supplier/customer relationships. Most MATs take the sensible view that, for an internal shared service, the starting point is colleagues working together to the same end, with defined roles and responsibilities, but without SLAs. On the other hand, if you have decided to purchase from an external Shared Service Centre, or to share a service between MATs, you are going to need more formality, and this usually takes the form of SLAs and a Service Catalogue. This sets out what is delivered, to what standards, who it’s delivered to, and any delegation/escalation arrangements. Whether its internal or external, aim to delegate as much as you can to the front line (with appropriate Schemes of Delegation) so that problems can be solved quickly and easily with minimal need for additional layers of decision making.
Tension 4: 1% Inspiration, 99% perspiration
Thomas Edison’s famous quote has some relevance here. Strategy, design and forward planning can be energising, and tend to catch the attention of senior leaders. Important though this is, the really difficult stuff is implementation. Make sure the MAT leadership team is actively involved in leading the change, and that there is Board level sponsorship. You’ll also need a ‘Change Project Team’ to handle planning, resolving difficult problems through negotiation, ensuring that the services to be provided are clear, that they deliver what the users actually need, and that everyone is supported through these changes. You’ll need to think clearly in advance about HR, legal and financial implications of making the change, especially in terms of job roles.
That’s quite a few tensions, and so it’s worth reminding ourselves why it’s important to consider changing the roles of the central team as a MAT grows. In my experience, there are 4 major benefits to be had:
All of this saves time and money to reinvest in improving learning outcomes, and gives the Board a clearer view of what’s going on, therefore reducing risk. This has to be right in today’s challenging times.
Chris Kirk is Director of CJK Associates, an education consultancy. For more information about MAT central teams, operating models and strategy, take a look at his website here.
Data and Insight | MAT Operations | School Operations
Why bother centralising your data? Schools, Trusts and LAs increasingly ask us how they can centralise their data, but they sometimes don’t know where to start and what their broad options are. Most share the common need of wanting to bring their data together to gain deeper, faster insight into their staff and students, save
Schools, Trusts and LAs increasingly ask us how they can centralise their data, but they sometimes don’t know where to start and what their broad options are. Most share the common need of wanting to bring their data together to gain deeper, faster insight into their staff and students, save teachers time endlessly copying and pasting data from multiple systems (and reduce mistakes whilst doing so), whilst saving money by reducing the number of systems they have in the school.
From our work with schools, MATs, LAs and governments we’ve seen a lot of different ways of centralising data, but they generally fall into 3 categories.
When small, it’s best to keep things simple. Whilst not ideal, excel is the quickest, cheapest and easiest tool to get to do your heavy lifting. Most schools will organise data drops at set times in the year, using permissioned worksheets and data validation to minimise errors, and producing graphs and reports that can act as simple dashboards. New versions of excel can even link live to your systems (we do this in Arbor) so that can be pulled automatically from your MIS, meaning no more data drops and data errors! That said, excel comes with hidden costs, it can involve staff double entering data, takes time to fill in, is prone to errors, and doesn’t scale as your school or MAT grows (in fact it gets harder to administer as you grow).
Once a Trust grows to about 5 schools (depending on the complexity of the Trust) the person in charge of collecting and analysing all of the data can often become overwhelmed by the manual process, and as we’ve written about before, this is the time most Trusts look at standardising some core systems to start to automate the process of data collection. It’s worth noting that this step is typically beneficial for all school types; the key is not to leave it too late, as you then end up unpicking all of the manual process within each school.
Once the core systems have been standardised and rationalised into as few systems as practical (e.g. finance, assessment, MIS), then the school, Trust or LA can integrate these systems, ensuring data is only entered once, and use the tools’ internal ability to aggregate their core data and reports. The disadvantage of this approach is the upfront setup time and cost, however if chosen sensibly, these system should be able to payback this in time/money savings within a year or two, lowering overhead, improving reporting capability, allowing the Trust to centralise workflows and communication and ultimately enabling the group to scale.
Without a degree of standardisation in your core systems and data, as described above, achieving an analytics layer can take a lot of time and patience. Custom field names, non-standardisation across schools of assessment, and people simply choosing to record things in different ways at different times lead to increasing complexity. Many systems (like Arbor) integrate with analytics layers such as Microsoft’s PowerBI (which many Trusts are using) out of the box, so once you’ve standardised your MIS, you can spin up an analytics layer in little to no time. This allows you to create custom graphs and charts with the reassurance that the underlying data is accurate – else bad data can lead to bad decisions!
1. Integrate live with Excel/Google: Every table and report in Arbor can be live linked to Excel or Google sheets [slide 18], meaning no more data drops. Schools and Trusts can collect data instantly from several schools, and generate their own simple dashboards, combining MIS, national, HR and external data to create a holistic view of performance
2. Standardising systems: we’ve talked about what systems to standardise and when before. Once standardised, Arbor’s Group dashboards and reports instantly aggregate student and staff data across schools, allowing MATs and LAs the ability to centralise data and take action by logging into systems remotely and performing workflows (e.g. attendance follow-ups)
3. Analytics layer: Arbor integrates with PowerBI out of the box via the excel integration, allowing groups to build their own simple Analytics layers. Our free and open API can also be used for deeper integration with Business Intelligence tools.
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
In this presentation about scaling your data & Trust which I emailed to every MAT CEO last term, I highlighted how central teams often struggle to decide on the right balance between a MAT’s need for central alignment and a school’s desire for autonomy. The argument typically goes that alignment makes MAT operations more streamlined, efficient, auditable
In this presentation about scaling your data & Trust which I emailed to every MAT CEO last term, I highlighted how central teams often struggle to decide on the right balance between a MAT’s need for central alignment and a school’s desire for autonomy. The argument typically goes that alignment makes MAT operations more streamlined, efficient, auditable and cost-effective but at the expense of a school’s individual autonomy, which has often been established over many years.
Some groups talk about ‘earned autonomy’ as a compromise, but this still assumes that a school needs to tow the MAT line until they can prove they ‘deserve’ autonomy. And once schools do ‘earn’ their autonomy under this model, they’ll most likely still be submitting data and using processes that the MAT have designed and embedded in the school.
MAT Alignment vs. School Autonomy
I’d like to challenge the notion that MAT alignment and school autonomy are oppositional. In fact, alignment can enable autonomy if you have accountability and transparency in place.
Alignment Can Enable Autonomy, if there’s Transparency & Accountability
The picture above shows how MAT alignment can enable autonomy, allowing for sustainable growth beyond 5+ schools. The Assistant MAT in the top right example sets clear performance goals, and because it has built the right infrastructure (including standardised systems, instant access to data and auditable processes) it doesn’t mind how the schools go about achieving those goals. If there’s an issue, the MAT will be instantly alerted and can step in to assist the school in fixing, or sit back and monitor how the situation is dealt with. Either way, the schools get autonomy from day 1, and don’t have to earn it, whilst the MAT has the benefit of alignment.
There are other examples shown where alignment does not enable authority. This is typically a conscious decision by the MAT. For example, more authoritative MATs (such as in the top left of the diagram) may choose to have very high degrees of standardisation in terms of systems and processes, leading to low school autonomy. This isn’t necessarily bad – for example, in turnaround schools there may be processes and systems that need complete overhaul.
Standardise systems and give autonomy to people to get the best of both worlds
The key is for MATs and schools to decide on what they want to align or standardise, and what they want to devolve autonomy to schools on. This will depend on your culture, but at Arbor we tend to be of the mind that to create a sustainable infrastructure you should standardise systems to allow for a degree of uniformity and give autonomy to people in how they use those systems. That way you get the best of both worlds. More on that in the next post…
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.
In April 2018, our conference on ‘Scaling Sustainably: Centralisation vs. School Autonomy’ in London bought together CEOs and Senior Leaders from over 70 MATs, as well as eight speakers with a mix of business and education backgrounds. John Leonard, independent consultant and tender expert spoke about the key things MATs should consider in order to
In April 2018, our conference on ‘Scaling Sustainably: Centralisation vs. School Autonomy’ in London bought together CEOs and Senior Leaders from over 70 MATs, as well as eight speakers with a mix of business and education backgrounds. John Leonard, independent consultant and tender expert spoke about the key things MATs should consider in order to get the most out of the procurement process, including knowing exactly what it is that you want to get from your new system before you set out to procure. Below we’ve transcribed the first part of John’s presentation!
In this blog, I’m going to show you why you should be streamlining your procurement to benefit from the massive economies of scale it can bring. A common theme in education is the 5 ’W’s (Who, What, When, Where, and Why) – and in procurement this is no different – but with one addition – how?
Consider the following questions as a “toolkit” for gathering all the information you need to run an effective procurement exercise. If you spend the time understanding your requirements and what your expected outcomes are, procurement is substantially easier.
Procurement can be complex, but working through the questions and suggestions made here will help you be the best prepared you can be for effective procurement that gets you what you want, at a price you’re happy with, from a supplier who will work with you and understands you.
Let’s get started.
1. Why procure?
There are countless reasons why, but the most pressing one is to achieve economies of scale, while still getting the technology or platform that you want. By the way, your wants are defined as an objective exercise which we’ll cover in a moment.
Let’s start with an example. Assume you have 15 academies in your trust, and across these academies you have three groups of five – with each group using a different system or technology platform.
Each group has its own costs:
And also consider the cost to you as a Trust to get consistent data from three platforms – whether that is specific reporting information, or simply an assessment of its effectiveness.
Staff moving between academies have to know more than one system, integration between systems either doesn’t work at all or requires another overhead – it can be very very expensive to manage this.
That’s not to say that you have to force each academy to accept a standard, cookie cutter system. You can achieve a balance between low cost/standard systems and high cost/customized systems – and that is achieved through effective engagement with your staff and potential suppliers (see ’Who’ for more detail on that).
Another “why” is the simple legalities of purchasing – in order to demonstrate fairness, every purchase that’s greater than £181,302 ex VAT (click here for the current threshold) over the lifetime of the product HAS to follow procurement guidelines as set out in the Public Contracts Regulations 2015. You may have your own procurement guidelines for procurements below that threshold – and will certainly be bound by the requirements for three quotes as a minimum – but above the threshold, EU procurement legislation as embodied in the Public Contracts Regulations takes effect.
2. What (do I want to procure)?
The exercise you will conduct in engaging your academies goes a long way to defining what it is that you want, and allowing you to get a clear picture of your expectations.
You’ll make the process even easier by defining your requirement in terms of outcomes:
This is where it’s also important to consider the balance between simple/cheap and complex/expensive – neither extreme is advisable, but the right balance depends on the system you’re purchasing and the requirements you set as a Trust. Outcomes-based criteria ensure that you capture requirements from a more holistic perspective – and also ensures that you don’t get caught out later with a system that’s not fit for purpose.
While you can refine a specification to get the closest match to your requirements, if it doesn’t perform the way you want it to, then you’re in trouble. If you define the specification in terms of your outcomes, it makes subsequent management of the platform (and your suppliers) far easier.
Consider the following as a sample:
Knowing what your expectations are here will enable you to build them into a the scoring criteria for the tender itself as a wholly objective series of scores – the Service Level Agreement (SLA) or Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) that allow you to measure the performance of your system and the supplier you’ve engaged.
Procuring a platform on this basis that subsequently doesn’t perform also gives you far better methods of redress later on.
3. Who needs to be involved in the procurement process?
Well, first consider who can benefit from the system you’re planning to procure. If it’s going to have a wide impact on a large number of stakeholders, then centralising the procurement exercise and making it applicable to all your academies can lower the overall cost, greatly simplify the process, make contract management easier, and get you far better contractual terms. Suppliers will obviously be more attracted to larger procurement exercises too!
You also need to consider who can participate in helping you define your specification. Careful engagement across your academies will make life a lot easier – as the definition of your specification and requirements needs input from your vocal champions – the ones who point out the good and the bad – and your quiet champions too – the ones who just get on and use the system. Being clear about what works for you at present and equally, what doesn’t, helps you get the most out of a procurement exercise – the clearer you can be about your requirements, the better off you’ll be.
If you’re not sure what you need, or need opinion from potential suppliers, this is the time to invite them in for market engagement. You’re perfectly entitled to invite a range of suppliers in to discuss your requirements; good suppliers will also know their market well enough that they will come up with suggestions you may not have thought of.
Once you’ve met a fair representation of suppliers, then it’s time to go back to your internal team, and refine the specification again, so you all agree on what is needed. (N.B. Aa fair number of suppliers is a representative sample of providers for the type of solution providers you’re looking for – one is not a fair number! I’d recommend you see at least three, and more if you can).
I can’t say this enough times – the more collaboration you engage in, the clearer your expectations will be, the specification will be easily understood by potential suppliers, and the procurement exercise will get you the system you want at a price you want to pay.
You can read the second part of John’s presentation here
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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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
At a recent residential programme for MAT CEOs we were discussing different models for improving schools across a MAT, and how any chosen strategy needed to change and adapt at different points in a MAT’s growth. I was reminded of the ‘Greiner Growth Model’, which I first used when I was a Strategy Partner at
At a recent residential programme for MAT CEOs we were discussing different models for improving schools across a MAT, and how any chosen strategy needed to change and adapt at different points in a MAT’s growth. I was reminded of the ‘Greiner Growth Model’, which I first used when I was a Strategy Partner at PwC, and I’d like to share how this shows MAT leaders the 6 phases of growth they might go through, and some potential pitfalls that accompany them (which might sound familiar!)..
The 6 phases of growth (and the crises that accompany them!)
Professor Greiner observed that in fast growing organisations, the management practices that were ideal in one phase of growth may eventually bring on a crisis as the organisation outgrows them. The resolution of this crisis creates a new model of management.
The Greiner Growth model has six phases :
How the growth model applies to MATs
If the pace with which fast growth leads to a crisis is, as Greiner said, a factor of speed of change in a sector, there can be few sectors that have seen such dramatic changes as Multi-Academy Trusts. In contrast to schools, which have been with us for hundreds of years, MATs were only created in line with the sponsored academies programme 16 years ago, and the number of MATs has risen 88% in the past year alone. MATs are growing not just in number but size, with the number of MATs with over 10 schools growing by 68% in the same period.
MATs are put through rigorous stress tests by DFE before they can become sponsors, and at various stages of growth; but even if the management approaches were right at those points, the Greiner model predicts, and therefore helps us to manage, the points at which those practices are outgrown.
The size of a MAT is only one factor to consider when choosing how to manage. The appropriate management style will also relate to other aspects of complexity, such as the chosen approach to curriculum, pedagogy and school improvement, the geographical spread, the difference in context of different Academies, and whether the MAT covers a mix of Special schools and a range of phases of education, or just one phase.
Stage 1: 1-4 schools – a crisis of leadership
In a small and young MAT growth can be achieved through ‘creativity’. In this phase, which might consist of a single Executive Head / CEO in charge of up to 4 schools, there are few formal management activities at the MAT HQ level, and head office communications are frequent and informal. The small senior leadership team are collectively driven by their belief in the MAT, and its mission for students. However, as the MAT grows, it becomes too large for such informal ways of working: it cannot provide adequate reports to the Board on finances, and it needs to be able to take on new schools which were not part of the original discussions about mission. The founding Headteacher-turned-CEO may or may not have the appetite for more formal management. Sadly I have come across many MATs that have allowed the early warning signs to develop into a full blown crisis of leadership before they have taken action.
Stage 2: 3-15 schools – a crisis of autonomy
The Greiner Growth model would suggest that a MAT of anywhere from 3-15 schools may be well served by growth through ‘direction’. At this point the MAT puts in place functional structures, with specialised IT, HR, Finance and other roles. Proper accounting systems, budgets, common work standards, and formal communications are needed. The Growth model suggests that it is possible for a MAT of this size to be led from the top, with Heads of School and Executive Heads focused on running individual schools. Professional teaching communities, focused by subject and age range, would set standards and make sure they were being applied across the MAT.
However, with further growth, the MAT needs to create ‘clusters’ of schools which can work together, and potentially also Regional structures. At this stage, the Growth Model predicts a growing tension between the clusters/ Regions and HQ, and the new directive approach may begin to fail. Regional leaders of sizeable groups of schools may feel restricted by the central hierarchy, believing that they know their local context better than staff in HQ, but can’t take initiative. The Greiner model predicts that a crisis of autonomy will follow. To move forwards, a new model of delegation will be needed, but it may be hard for the leaders who rescued the organisation from its early chaotic struggles to give up their directive style, and equally hard for Regional/ hub leaders to take that responsibility off the CEO.
Stage 3: 7-70 schools – a crisis of control
This leads us to MATs with a mix of Regional and Hub structures, making use of increased levels of ‘delegation’. These decentralised structures motivate Regional and hub leaders to respond to local needs, and work with middle leaders to push forward subject excellence and other solutions. The role of the HQ is to manage by exception, using reports from the field. Communications to staff would more frequently be from the region/ hub than from HQ. The professional subject (and other) communities would continue to meet nationally as well as regionally, but the role of deciding how to implement the practices emerging from these communities would be devolved to the region, cluster or schools.
The very wide size band for this phase relates to earlier comments about the many other factors that affect complexity, although this tends to emerge from ~7 schools. It is not certain to me that a large MAT necessarily needs to outgrow this phase, but this delegative management style will in turn face challenges. Sizeable Regions, hubs and schools enjoying greater autonomy will start to run their own shows, resisting HQ requirements for reporting or interventions. A crisis of control may emerge, which if not addressed will lead to those regions breaking away from the MAT entirely. Of course, this may be a reasonable outcome, but a pro-active HQ will at least want to be aware of the alternative options. Whilst there may be a temptation for the MAT HQ to try to regain control and re-centralise management, this will usually fail due to the vast scope of operations involved at this stage of growth. Instead, what is needed at this point is for the MAT to shift its management style to co-ordination.
Stage 4: 30-100 schools – a crisis of red tape
A very large MAT managing through ‘co-ordination’ would focus the HQ on leading formal planning procedures, and allocating budgets carefully based on clear business cases. The MAT HQ would retain some technical functions, such as data processing. Many other operations would be decentralised to ‘Territories’, that is groups of Regions. Consider that by this stage, each region might be the size of many of today’s medium-sized MATs. The HQ would still retain an oversight function, but would be unlikely to intervene directly, as by this point, individual Territories should have sufficient capacity. As with Stage 3, it is unclear if a MAT would necessarily outgrow this phase, but the model suggests that the signs it is failing will be when the formal systems for planning and investment across HQ, Territories and Regions create a crisis of red tape, alongside growing mistrust between HQ , Territories, Regional leaders and local teams.
Stage 5: 50-150+ schools – a crisis of growth
A MAT which was so large that it outgrew co-ordination should focus on growth through ‘collaboration’, the preferred style of some of the world’s largest organisations. The HQ would focus on setting behaviours, social role modelling, and interpersonal interaction, and would apply very few formal coordinating systems. HQ would act through consultation, not direction. A matrix of Territories and professional functions would help to maximise the benefits of people with the same skills collaborating, whilst allowing for geographical responsiveness. Simplified control systems would use real-time information about a few things that really matter, to inform daily decisions. Frequent conferences of senior leaders (territorial and functional) across the MAT would address problems, and CDP funded by HQ will focus on teamwork and conflict resolution (territories and regions would have devolved budgets for other forms of CPD such as subject specialisms). Experimentation and innovation will be fostered and encouraged.
The main limit on MATs moving beyond this phase is likely to be a constraint on the number of Academies which find the MAT to be a good fit, leading to a crisis of growth. In fact, this constraint may come up at any of the earlier stages, and lead to a final type of growth, through mergers and alliances.
Stage 6: Mergers and alliances (any size) – a crisis of alignment
MATs may find themselves considering mergers and alliances at any stage of growth. There will be two main scenarios: either because a highly performing MAT is asked to take on all the Academies in a low performing MAT (for financial , educational, or both reasons) ; or because a MAT has identified a need to grow further, in order to access the benefits of greater size, but cannot do so through taking on individual schools – perhaps because there are none in a suitable location that fit the MAT’s values and focus. At this stage, MATs will consider growth through mergers and alliances. There have been relatively few examples of the second ‘voluntary’ scenario to date, due to the complexity of MAT Boards deciding to merge unless they are forced to. It is likely that in this scenario, as well as full mergers, other models will emerge, such as groups of MATs sharing services, or ‘reversible’ decisions to create a merged MAT which continue to allow separation in future if this does not have the benefits they wanted.
If the right steps are not taken before and after merger there can be a crisis of alignment. There there will be particular challenges if one MAT is in a different phase of management style than the other. For example, a MAT growing through ‘Direction’ merging one growing through ‘Creativity’ would need to be clear about the tighter expectations. A ‘Collaborative’ MAT merging with a ‘Directive’ one might find that the Directive MAT can continue to operate in a semi-autonomous fashion for a while; but there is a risk that it never feels fully part of the family. The act of merging may trigger a need to enter a new phase of growth with a different management style. The MATs’ respective approaches to topics such as standardisation, and choice of curriculum, will be important factors.
Above all, it is vital that the new identity is shared and owned not only by staff, but by pupils and parents.
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
In 2020, United Learning chose to move all of their 72 state schools to Arbor MIS. Find out more about their decision on our blog.
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 – the 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.
We’ve been gathering feedback from the dozens of different MATs we work with on what core measures they’ve been tracking to monitor success. Measuring staffing is clearly vital, as it typically accounts for 70%-80% of a school’s budget, but we find that the measures MATs and schools are currently using vary wildly. Some opt for financial measures that
We’ve been gathering feedback from the dozens of different MATs we work with on what core measures they’ve been tracking to monitor success. Measuring staffing is clearly vital, as it typically accounts for 70%-80% of a school’s budget, but we find that the measures MATs and schools are currently using vary wildly. Some opt for financial measures that focus on efficiency and cost, others look at Net Promoter Scores that focus on satisfaction, all depending on the culture of the MAT or school, which we’ve analysed in previous posts. Below are some that we’ve seen with their benefits and drawbacks:
1) Staff cost per pupil: split by % child facing vs. % non child-facing, % SLT vs % teachers (supply vs. FTE) vs. % back-office
A basic indicator but one that can reveal a lot if benchmarked and analysed correctly. Looking at the splits of % child-facing vs. non-child facing can reveal heavy management layers or inefficient back office process taking resource away from front-line teaching. The split between SLT, teachers (supply & FTE) and back office can help to drill down and identify where schools might be over or underspending.
2) Cost per subject
Used by MATs such as Outwood Grange in their dashboard, this can help schools rationalise subjects to make efficiency gains (such as a vocational subject taken by 6 students year on year). The exact calculations can be tough to produce without the right systems able to combine academic and financial data.
3) % staff receiving performance-related pay increase
A contentious measure, as there is no right or wrong answer, but worth correlating to pupil attainment and progress measures. This can also be further broken down by Key Stage and subject.
4) Net Promoter Score (NPS)/satisfaction + staff comments
Most schools agree staff satisfaction is a key measure of long term health, and even though satisfaction may not always be high it’s worth knowing when it takes a dip so you can intervene to reduce turnover. Some schools and MATs such as Elliot Foundation are starting to use Net Promoter Score to measure this. Arbor uses a tool called Ask.nicely to monitor the health of all our schools, which automatically sends out 100 emails a day to different school stakeholders, allowing us to segment responses by role (email us to find out more). Note that the comments provided as feedback are perhaps more useful than the data in helping management understand school strengths and areas to improve.
Number of complaints by role or school, as well as the verbatim complaint itself combine with Net Promotor Score as a useful indicator. Again the comments in the complaints themselves are often the most useful.
Staff turnover is often 20%-30% in some schools and MATs, far higher than the 15% national average. Retention is a vital measure to at least know, even if it’s not monitored as frequently as satisfaction or NPS. Vacancies by number and type of role is also useful to understand retention and where issues lie, and it can be obtained relatively easily through the census submission, although it’s a lagging indicator (by the time a vacancy arises it’s too late to intervene).
7) CPD cost as % staff pay
Not investing in staff can lead to high turnover, but many schools and MATs are guilty of underinvesting in staff who then stay and don’t progress. Monitoring overall CPD as a % staff pay allows benchmarking between different schools and MATs to see if you’re developing your staff. Clearly just monitoring the cost won’t tell you if the CPD has been effective. This should be assessed in appraisals.
Ultimately the measures you choose depend on the culture your MAT or school wants to foster. Purely financial measures with no balance will focus on efficiency, whilst focusing entirely on staff satisfaction can lead to lax financial management. Having the systems to automatically report on staffing measures is key to reduce excel sheets flying around. Arbor’s MAT and School MIS can centrally report on all staff and student measures, giving SLT the reports and dashboards they need in one click to monitor performance. Get in touch to find out more.
In my last blog, I highlighted the 4 different basic MAT personality types: Authoritative, Micromanaging, Entrepreneurial and Assistant. I showed how start-up MATs (usually a mixture of Entrepreneurial or Micromanaging) can cope with manual processes and dual staffing, but once they get to a certain size, this starts to break. The diagram below, from DfE
In my last blog, I highlighted the 4 different basic MAT personality types: Authoritative, Micromanaging, Entrepreneurial and Assistant. I showed how start-up MATs (usually a mixture of Entrepreneurial or Micromanaging) can cope with manual processes and dual staffing, but once they get to a certain size, this starts to break.
The diagram below, from DfE commissioned analysis, shows when this typically happens.
When do MATs change their infrastructure?
People start to break before ~5 schools
At the start, MATs are small and can cope with manual processes and procedures, spreading staff across multiple institutions, and allowing schools a certain degree of discretion over how they manage themselves. However, as the number of schools approaches 5, the central team (who often also work within a school) become overstretched. Late nights catching up with their day job in the school, the burden of gathering and analysing data on excel from multiple schools, chasing staff for updates and generally cranking the admin wheel to get management the information they need in a timely manner is too much. People break.
Getting the right infrastructure in place & letting systems take the strain
Typically this is when MATs begin to look at letting the systems they have take the strain. This is so that every additional school the MAT takes on doesn’t increase the challenge exponentially. Most MATs we speak to are defining a core set of non-negotiable systems and processes that all schools will be required to take on to streamline data and processes. Standardising systems gives MATs the infrastructure to grow, whilst allowing schools autonomy in how they use these systems.
Standardise the MIS after finance
The first system to be standardised is typically the finance system, as this helps fulfil basic compliance. Most MATs are opting for PS Financials as it does a good job of aggregating financial information across the Trust. But the next system that MATs tackle subsequently is the MIS as they want to centralise their student and staff information. Just as MATs find their legacy finance system unable to cope with the demands of operating in a multi-school environment, so too over 50% of the largest 10 MATs are changing their MIS, moving away from SIMS or CMIS to cloud-based MIS systems that allow instant access and aggregation of their data across multiple sites. Robert Hill, the former DfE advisor, who has written well on the subject of MAT data makes this point well in his blog.
The case for operating a MAT MIS
Operating across multiple sites presents unique challenges for MATs. MAT leadership need instant access to data to ensure their schools are performing effectively, and at present this is a laborious task to collect. More than just data, MAT leaders need the ability to instantly log in to school systems to audit workflows and ensure consistency, flagging issues and following up with staff where necessary. This demands not just a dashboard, but a better, more efficient system with which to centralise data, streamline workflows and operate your MAT, which is why most of the large trusts are actively moving away from SIMS, RM and CMIS, and many small and mid-sized trusts are now doing similar.
Arbor has built the first MAT MIS which allows leaders live, instant access to DfE, Ofsted, in-year progress and MIS data in one central dashboard and custom reporting tool. More than just a dashboard, the MAT MIS allows leaders to receive alerts for important events such as exclusions, and drill right down from the group into any school’s MIS and analyse performance in a few clicks. This centralisation of data and ability to action workflows from the MAT saves around 30% on software licenses, and hours of time gathering data and communicating with staff.
Find out more information by clicking here, or just email me at email@example.com and I’d be happy to connect you with one of our MATs or come out to show you our MAT MIS myself!
I’ve already discussed the 4 different MAT personality types based on how much they standardise vs. give schools autonomy, as well as at what stage of growth MATs tend to standardise MIS systems. From our discussions with 100s of MATs, we’ve learnt some great lessons about how the 4 types of MAT scale their systems and people. I’ve summarised what we’ve
I’ve already discussed the 4 different MAT personality types based on how much they standardise vs. give schools autonomy, as well as at what stage of growth MATs tend to standardise MIS systems.
From our discussions with 100s of MATs, we’ve learnt some great lessons about how the 4 types of MAT scale their systems and people. I’ve summarised what we’ve learnt below:
This MAT type combines a high degree of MAT alignment with lower school autonomy, and as a result has highly standardised systems and processes. Many of these MATs have built their own custom systems or integrations, such as the Praising Stars system developed by Outwood Grange, or the Assembly data system built by ARK. These systems are typically built and administered by a large central team who are on hand to assist with data analysis and school improvement where needed, taking the burden off schools. School workflows and processes are similar in each school and can be audited by the central team.
This organisation type is usually found in start-up MATs with challenging schools. Typically there isn’t enough of a top-slice to pay for a large central team, and one or more of the SLT in the lead school will typically act in a dual role both in their school and the MAT. There is typically not much standardisation of progress or MIS systems across the MAT, and as a result each school typically submits data manually via Excel in half-termly or termly data drops. This limits the complexity and timeliness of the data, meaning light data at the MAT level that is only reviewed a few times per year. Reliance on the people in the small central team is great, and as I’ve discussed, people start to break at around the 5 school mark.
This organisation type is usually found in start-up or informal MATs. Each school has high autonomy, and there isn’t much MAT alignment around systems or process. The data that does get collected at MAT level is usually light and done via regular Excel data drops. Like the micromanaging MAT, there is only usually a skeleton central team, with a member of school SLT playing dual roles as data lead for both the school and Trust. This is usually acceptable under the current Ofsted framework as long as the schools are high performing, but two things make this position fragile. Firstly, this system can’t scale beyond a handful of schools, as the central team will start to break under the chaos. Secondly, if Ofsted’s health checks prove to be heavy-handed, entrepreneurial MATs may have their work cut out to gather the data in a timely manner.
Usually found in groups of high performing schools, this type of MAT has standardised their ‘non-negotiable’ systems – typically the finance, MIS, progress and HR systems – leaving the rest at the discretion of schools. This allows for a semi or fully-automated data collection similar to the Authoritative MATs, as well as the ability to transparently view what is going on in each school without interfering. The small central team only get involved to help add extra capacity to their schools, such as building reports or analysis, setting up the behaviour policy in the system, or communicating with staff. Schools have autonomy in how they use the system, and the MAT get the core data they need with high levels of accountability.
Whatever your MAT personality, standardising your MIS is a step 50% of the largest 10 MATs are already starting to take as they move away from SIMS or CMIS. Arbor’s MAT MIS can help centralise all your core student and staff data in dashboards for instant benchmarking and reporting, automates school workflows to save staff time, and allows you to take action to improve outcomes. Why not book a quick demo by emailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org or ask one of our MATs why they made the switch?
In this presentation about scaling your Trust and my last blog, I highlighted how the central team need to decide on the right balance between a MAT’s desire for alignment and a school’s desire for autonomy, as this will define their systems, processes and, ultimately, culture. Looking at the diagram below, you can see the 4 different
In this presentation about scaling your Trust and my last blog, I highlighted how the central team need to decide on the right balance between a MAT’s desire for alignment and a school’s desire for autonomy, as this will define their systems, processes and, ultimately, culture.
Looking at the diagram below, you can see the 4 different personality types I suggest, and the culture that each one generally has as a result.
How Alignment and Autonomy Influence Culture
Often seen in MATs with a high proportion of turnaround schools who have weak operational processes that need replacing. These MATs have a large central team to help ensure a high degree of alignment with the MAT, and deploy a largely non-negotiable, tried-and-tested set of systems and processes within each school, leaving little variation.
Often seen in MATs with high performing schools and strong headteachers/leadership teams. These MATs have defined, clear goals agreed with their teams and a certain set of core non-negotiable systems and data that they have aligned schools around, leaving peripheral systems and processes at individual schools’ discretion. The central team is relatively small and nimble, able to respond in a timely manner and help schools where they need extra capacity or assistance
Often seen in local, start-up MATs with high performing schools and leadership; people know and trust each other. There is typically only a small topslice, so the central team are small, usually having a dual-role split between an individual academy and the MAT central team. Systems and processes are non-standardised, and schools have wide discretion over how they manage themselves. Data collection is manual and light, often using excel, meaning little central oversight.
This sounds bad, but it’s sometimes necessary. In challenging start-up MATs taking on turnaround schools there is no budget or large central team to roll-out a set of tried and tested systems and processes. The MAT has to take a hands-on approach, often with staff seconded from the lead school into the poorer performing schools. It can feel quite full-on for the schools, but here the entrepreneurial approach may not be viable!
I should say that the framework above is intentionally simplistic – you can’t easily define culture or put schools and MATs in a box. MATs often behave differently with different schools, and there are many more dimensions to culture. But frameworks are useful as they stimulate debate, so where do you sit and how do you plan to scale? My next blog provides some more detail on this. Watch this space…
Chris Kirk, Ex-Partner for Education at PwC, and formerly GEMS DfE. recently wrote about the 6 phases of MAT growth (and the crises that follow), explaining how as MATs grow in size and complexity the leadership style needs to flex, else crises can occur. Below Chris has summarised what type of MAT fits into what
Chris Kirk, Ex-Partner for Education at PwC, and formerly GEMS DfE. recently wrote about the 6 phases of MAT growth (and the crises that follow), explaining how as MATs grow in size and complexity the leadership style needs to flex, else crises can occur.
Below Chris has summarised what type of MAT fits into what phase of growth, as well as what early warning signs to look out for to avoid the 6 common crises he highlighted from occurring.
Summary: What to look out for, and what to consider doing about it
Five practical tips
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