The Arbor Blog

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

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Maddie Kilminster - 29 September, 2020

Category : Blog

The most secure and cost-effective way to procure systems for your trust

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.

What is the G-Cloud framework?

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.

How does G-Cloud work?

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

Why Arbor?

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.

James Weatherill - 21 September, 2020

Category : Blog

How to adapt to constant change and move forward after a crisis 

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!

James Weatherill

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

tellmemore@arbor-education.com | 0208 050 1028

Maddie Kilminster - 16 July, 2020

Category : Blog

How to collaborate and communicate across schools at scale during Covid-19 and beyond with Dave Noble, Director of Operations at Red Kite Learning Trust

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 tellmemore@arbor-education.com. Alternatively, you can call 0208 050 1028.

Dan Morrow - 8 July, 2020

Category : Blog

Switching MIS during lockdown: How Woodland Academy Trust moved to Arbor 100% remotely

Over the last few months, we’ve welcomed over 250 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

Over the last few months, we’ve welcomed over 250 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).

 

How have you found the support from Arbor during your move? 

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.  

 

How did the data migration process go? 

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.

 

How have you found the training you’ve had so far? 

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. 

 

Since Arbor has been live in your schools, how has it been received?  

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. 

 

Have you had any challenges? 

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.

 

What has it been like making the move during Covid-19? 

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. 

 

Is Arbor helping you manage your schools during Covid-19? 

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 tellmemore@arbor-education.com. You can also reach us on 0208 050 1028.

Rebecca Watkins - 24 June, 2020

Category : Blog

How to use benchmarking and performance analysis to inform data-driven decisions for your trust

Where do you look for data analysis across your trust? How do you pull this data together? What tools will you have to make informed decisions next year without 2019/20 performance data?  Although 2019/20 Analyse School Performance (ASP) data won’t be coming out for any schools in Autumn Term, the government is advising schools and

Where do you look for data analysis across your trust? How do you pull this data together? What tools will you have to make informed decisions next year without 2019/20 performance data? 

Although 2019/20 Analyse School Performance (ASP) data won’t be coming out for any schools in Autumn Term, the government is advising schools and trusts to use the last three years of performance data to build improvement plans.

In our webinar last week, with guest speaker Loic Menzies, Chief Executive of The Centre for Education and Youth (CfEY), we showed you how you can use the benchmarking and performance analysis in your free Arbor Insight portal to help you inform your strategy for next year. You can catch up on the webinar on YouTube:

What is Arbor Insight?

Arbor Insight gives you out-of-the-box, MAT-level dashboards which aggregate your academies’ latest performance data and benchmark your MAT against national and Top Quintile averages. The dashboards show multi-year trends, which are really important for forming next Academic Year improvement strategies. 

You can also drill down to see how individual schools, demographic groups or particular clusters of schools are affecting results. You can also remove schools from your analysis to see how that changes your overall performance. 

Also available in your Arbor Insight portal is your trust’s personalised Understanding Your MAT Report, which gives you a unique picture of the contextual factors affecting your trust’s performance, like local area demographics and pupil characteristics.

Access your free Arbor Insight portal here

Upcoming webinars

We have some very exciting webinars for MAT leaders coming up in the next few weeks. Click the links below to sign up for your free space:

Friday 3rd July, 3.30pm
MAT Centralisation vs School Autonomy during Covid-19
Kate Davies, CEO of the 13 school White Woods Primary Academy Trust, will discuss how she is bringing together a group of autonomous schools.

Friday 10th July, 11am
How to look after your most vulnerable students during and after Covid-19
Angela Ransbury, CEO of The Raedwald Trust will discuss how the parameters of education have changed, and the ways in which we fulfilled our teaching and caring commitments before Covid-19 are no longer fit for purpose. She’ll explain what mainstream schools can learn from AP, and how changing and adapting now will help Teachers, pupils and guardians in September.

To find out more about how Arbor’s cloud-based MIS can help you future-proof your school during Covid-19 and beyond, book an online demo. You can also call 0208 050 1028 or email tellmemore@arbor-education.com

The Harris Federation - 18 June, 2020

Category : Blog

How Harris Federation implemented a failsafe online learning strategy – Part 2: What they learned from their data 

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. 

 

How do you measure the success of remote learning? 

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. 

Report 1

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. 

Harris log data

Report 2

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.

usage data 2

Report 3

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. 

systems usage

Report 4

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. 

contextual analysis

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

The Harris Federation - 18 June, 2020

Category : Blog

How The Harris Federation implemented a failsafe online learning strategy – Part 1

Over the past few months, in our webinar series “Adapting to Change”, we’ve been speaking to leaders of Multi-Academy Trusts about how they’ve been adapting to lockdown.  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 –

Over the past few months, in our webinar series “Adapting to Change”, we’ve been speaking to leaders of Multi-Academy Trusts about how they’ve been adapting to lockdown. 

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!

 

Harris’s technical approach

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:

  • Centralise: Keep central control of system setup to reduce the amount of IT support needed at each school site
  • Integrate: Make sure data flows between systems so you don’t have to access everything separately
  • Consolidate: Make sure there is no duplication or errors in the data when it is brought in from different systems 
  • Automate: Make sure workflows and processes are automatic to save staff time and cut down on the number of people needed. This is particularly important when dealing with a large amount of staff and student data 

 

Using a data warehouse

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:

  • API: Harris makes sure that systems they integrate with (like their MIS) have a “read” and “write” API which means they can interact with their data warehouse
  • SSIS (SQL Server Integration Services): They use middleware that sits in between systems to connect them and allows IT to tweak the data as it moves between systems
  • MIM (Microsoft Identity Manager): This is a type of middleware they use for integrating with Microsoft Active Directory
  • SDS (School Data Sync) and Microsoft Flow: Allows them to push data up to Office 365 from their data warehouse and create Microsoft Team accounts
  • Microsoft PowerBI: A reporting tool which gives them insights into the information in their data warehouse 

 

How Harris responded to Covid-19

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:

  • Behaviour policy: Due to behaviour issues, they had to draw up a new Behaviour Policy and turn off certain capabilities for students, like switching off their cameras or not allowing them to create meetings themselves
  • Meeting formats: They looked at lots of different formats for remote lessons that Teachers could alternate between for best effect, for example a live “webinar” or “meeting”
  • GDPR: They had to navigate GDPR concerns for the recording of lessons, i.e. how long to keep the recordings before deleting
  • Remote support: Microsoft Teams was useful for IT teams to communicate easily with staff and give them support with systems, especially by being able to share their screen

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.

 

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

LEO Academy Trust - 15 June, 2020

Category : Blog

How to digitally transform your trust – the LEO Academy Trust story

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.

 

The journey towards digital transformation 

 

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:

  • Financial constraints
    We started from quite a bleak financial position so where we wanted to use technology to improve outcomes and opportunities for our pupils, we had to be mindful of the finances that would be needed to make it happen
  • GDPR
    When we started the project, GDPR was on the horizon, and there was quite a lot of scaremongering and uncertainty about what it might involve. We had to make sure that anything we introduced would be bullet-proof when the legislation changed
  • Loss of LA support
    A big impetus to our digital shift was our Local Authority central admin server being decommissioned. The cost of replacing the physical servers across our seven sites was estimated at £60,000. So this prompted us to make a new plan
  • We needed a way to collaborate
    Our staff across the seven sites wanted to work together and help each other, but unfortunately, our IT systems actually prevented that. We wanted to make sure that the systems we moved to enabled the whole trust to come together
  • We had no technology vision
    When we started, there was no joined up direction or strategy. Our approach to technology was basically if it’s there, it’s great. And if something breaks and we’ll just replace it

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. 

 

Our biggest wins of moving to the cloud

 

  • Online forms
    At the same time as introducing a central finance team, we created online Google order forms which are automatically sent to the right person to approve, then back to the School Office to process. This was important for auditory purposes but also allowed us to make sure budget holders didn’t feel they were losing control of their own budgets. We also find Google forms useful for staff to book their annual leave and to send surveys to parents

 

  • Joint calendars
    Having live calendars that all staff can feed into and look at has saved us lots of time and money. For every event this saves at least one email with people asking for details

 

  • Shared docs
    Using Google Docs allows all our staff, regardless of what site they work out or the device they’re using, to work on the same document at the same time. This really boosts collaboration and saves time

 

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.  

 

Moving to Arbor during Covid-19

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!

Mark Lacey - 3 June, 2020

Category : Blog

When the Strategic Plan just doesn’t cut it! Lessons for leaders in a global crisis from Mark Lacey, CEO of Diocese of Salisbury Academy Trust

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.

Maddie Kilminster - 1 June, 2020

Category : Blog

Breaking the link between deprivation and attainment in schools – article by Loic Menzies

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

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 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.

To find out about what’s included in the Understanding Your MAT Report, check out our blog.

Breaking the Link? Attainment, poverty and rural schools

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?

Implications

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 play 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:

  • Local labour markets and their history
  • Attitudes to education linked to the above and to their contrasting ethnic make up
  • Proximity to other schools
  • School size
  • Teacher labour market
  • The range of, and actual wealth levels, both in the school and the community (FSM is a binary which hides huge variation in deprivation levels)
  • The effect of school funding levels

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’.

 

Methodology notes

  • Thank you to Alice Luetchford for support with analysis
  • All data is from 2017-18
  • Calculations are based on three fields in DfE data: “PTFSMCLA” (This refers to ever 6 FSM and Looked after children) and ATT8SCR (Average attainment 8 for the school) and P8MEA (Progress 8 measure after adjustment for extreme scores)
  • Details of the area level classification can be found here
  • Schools without available data were excluded from the analysis, as were special school where attainment, progress and deprivation follow different patterns. This means that since PTFSMCLA is suppressed for schools with very low numbers of eligible pupils, schools with very low levels of disadvantage are not included in this analysis
  • Calculated averages are based on school rather than pupil level data

    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 - 27 May, 2020

Category : Blog

Managing a trust that is geographically dispersed – Mark Greatrex, CEO of Bellevue Place Education Trust (BPET) shares his strategy

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:

  • Education autonomy – the importance of developing Headteachers to take ownership of their organisation, and how to monitor this autonomy through a strong performance management programme and school improvement strategy
  • Financial alignment – the power of having central oversight of the trust’s finances and top tips for efficient financial management
  • Plans to expand – the “10, 40, 100” model that Mark uses to plan how the trust would need be run as it grows, and the strategies to ensure geographical distance does not become a barrier to success


Why is educational autonomy important for your trust?

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. 


How do you build successful Headteachers?

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

  • Learn: This curriculum objective is judged by the breadth of the curriculum and the richness of after-school provision. An example of a target within that is 60% of children attending an after-school club once a week 
  • Enjoy: This measures the effectiveness of the school and is judged by pupil numbers and attendance 
  • Succeed: This measures the quality of teaching and learning. Teachers are graded by “Outstanding”, “Good”, “Requires Improvement” and “Inadequate” (all of our Teachers are “Good”, and about 40% are “Outstanding”). We also look at pupil achievement here
  • Corporate target: This looks at what the Headteacher is doing across the organisation. Do they lead initiatives like learning reviews, collaboration groups, art projects or sports initiatives? 


How do you monitor school autonomy?

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.


How do you roll out your school improvement strategy?

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. 


How do you develop your staff?

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. 


Why is financial alignment important to your trust?

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 

What are your top tips for managing finances across your schools?

  • Give Headteachers access to cash. Our Heads have a procurement card with a monthly limit of £3000. This means they can buy supplies for breakfast clubs, make small purchases from Amazon etc. However, they don’t have bank accounts
  • Only have one bank account. If you have more than one account, ask yourself why? Why move money? It’s too much of a risk
  • Have one role instead of multiple. We have one payroll provider so everything is in one place when we need to do things like gender pay gap reporting. We also have only one catering provider and one ICT provider, and we’re moving towards having one facilities management provider
  • Go cashless. We use Arbor for meals and trips. We also use SchoolsBuddy for our schools who run lots of clubs, because it can rank clubs 
  • Think about your pension options. Because we’re based in London and our Teachers have large student loans, we offer a third pension option alongside LGPS and TPS, which has a 0% employee contribution for Teachers and 2% for Support Staff, and we pay an 8% employer contribution
  • Have a separate internal auditor so you know what you need to know and the external audit isn’t a surprise
  • Hire more efficiently. Some MATs have a Business Manager per school being paid highly for a mostly administrational role which only requires a small amount of financial expertise. At BPET, we have one central Finance Director who has complete control of the finances, and school Office Managers to do the admin work. This saves us around £5-10,000 per school which goes towards supporting the schools. It also gives me visibility of finances across our organisation, and means we can react very quickly to the needs of schools 
  • Procure large spend centrally. We procure any expenditure over £20,000 centrally, such as staff appointments. This means we can look at our spend across the whole trust. We work with Schools Buying Club who tender our contracts for us and hold them to account, which helps make sure we get real value for money across our contracts 

Is distance between schools in a trust a barrier?

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.


Do you plan to grow? What is your expansion model?

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. 


How have you adapted to managing your schools remotely?

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 hello@arbor-education.com or 0208 050 1028. Or alternatively you can book a web demo here

 

Dan Morrow - 17 April, 2020

Category : Blog

Dan Morrow, CEO of Woodland Academy Trust shares tips for nurturing staff wellbeing and mental health

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:

  • Treat your staff as people – build policies around their reality
  • Listen to staff – send out surveys to find out where they need support
  • Invest in mental health and wellbeing and reap rewards in the long term
  • Check in with staff during this difficult time – have good communication in place

A human approach to leadership

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” 

In times of crisis, recognise your staff’s realities

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?” 

Give staff a voice

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”

Prioritise mental health

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. 

Check in with staff during Coronavirus

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 tellmemore@arbor-education.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

Maddie Kilminster - 21 January, 2020

Category : Blog

What is BI and how can it help my trust?

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: 

  • Collect and store data 
  • Manipulate and process data
  • Represent data in a visual, easy-to-understand way 
  • Take action based on data

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.

MATBI

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 setupeveryone 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!

arborbi

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.

James Weatherill - 19 December, 2019

Category : Blog

Getting better at coping with constant change: A presentation by Arbor CEO James Weatherill

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: 

  • How much time are we saving staff? 
  • How much have we transformed schools for the better?
  •  How much better do schools understand their students as a result of having the system in place
  •  Do they like using it?

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 tellmemore@arbor-education.com.

 

Hannah McGreevy - 13 November, 2019

Category : Blog

10 question topics that are likely to come up for MAT leaders in Ofsted inspections this year

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?

 

2. Governors

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 tellmemore@arbor-education.com or give us a call on 0208 050 1028.

 

Paul West - 24 June, 2019

Category : Blog

The strategy behind a successful MAT merger

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

Paul James - 20 June, 2019

Category : Blog

Navigating the complexities of centralised and school-led leadership in a MAT

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

Martin Holyoak - 18 June, 2019

Category : Blog

The benefits of scaling your MAT with the help of technology

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.

Cosima Baring - 3 May, 2019

Category : Blog

How and why Ofsted created MAT Summary Evalutations

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!

Jem Jones - 11 April, 2019

Category : Blog

How to set S.M.A.R.T staff objectives

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)

Specific

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?

Measurable

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.

Attainable

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?

Relevant

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.

Timely

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.

Cosima Baring - 12 March, 2019

Category : Blog

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

Phoebe McLaughlin - 25 February, 2019

Category : Blog

How to audit your school or MAT’s IT systems

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.

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. 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.

The Audit Theory

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:

  • What does it do that no one else can?
  • What about it specifically do they like and not like?
  • Is staff engagement with that system high and if not, why?

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.

An IT systems audit

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?

The Outcome

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 tellmemore@arbor-education.com or calling 0208 050 1028.

Jess Windle - 31 January, 2019

Category : Blog

How to align staff development plans within your multi-academy trust

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:

  • It ensures that all your schools and staff are working towards the same overarching goals
  • It makes it easier for MAT staff to review and compare staff performance at different schools if all processes are on the same page
  • You can share best management and teaching practice between schools

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:

  • Who can appraise each staff member
  • How each staff member’s objectives will be weighted when they are appraised
  • What evidence should be required in an appraisal
  • How feedback should be dealt with
  • The frequency at which these performance reviews should be happening.

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.

 

Cosima Baring - 12 December, 2018

Category : Blog

7 highlights from Arbor’s MAT CEO conference in Manchester

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Arbor - 10 December, 2018

Category : Blog

Ofsted’s new framework & focused reviews of MATs

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

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

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

 

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

Chris Kirk - 4 December, 2018

Category : Blog

Phase 3 of MAT growth: Creating an Agile MAT (15+ Academies)

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.

Management style: collaboration

Overview

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.  

Benefits

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:

  • Releasing Principals to refocus on T&L through improved operations
  • Curriculum and assessment improvements through collaborative research & cross MAT roles
  • Teaching and learning improvements through improved use of data, CPD, shared subject appointments
  • Workforce improvements in terms of recruitment, retention, leadership support & career progression
  • Principals experience strategic challenge, clearer direction of travel, purposeful accountability
  • MAT to MAT support, provide the engine for a self-improving system, which is led from the middle and on a journey from ‘Good to Great’.
Chris Kirk - 29 November, 2018

Category : Blog

Phase 2 of MAT growth: Creating an integrated MAT (5-15 schools)

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”.

Management style: Growth through Direction

Overview

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.

Capabilities

Support

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.

Learn

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.

Assess

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!).

Communicate

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.

Develop

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.

Collaborate

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

Chris Kirk - 21 November, 2018

Category : Blog

Phase 1 of MAT growth: Putting the basics in place (2-4 schools)

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”.

Management style: Growth through creativity

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.  

Capabilities

Support

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.

Learn

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.

Assess

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.

Communicate

Communications from the Central MAT team are typically few; individual schools continue as the main point of contact with parents/ students.

Develop

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.

Collaborate

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

Chris Kirk - 14 November, 2018

Category : Blog

Six powerful principles to include in any MAT strategy

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

Chris Kirk - 8 November, 2018

Category : Blog

Why MATs need to sharpen their strategy

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:

  • Putting the basics in place;
  • Creating an integrated MAT;
  • Systematic collaboration.

Why MATs need to sharpen their strategy

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

Arbor - 4 November, 2018

Category : Blog

Is your MAT governance structure scalable?

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

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

 

We’ve talked about a number of stages of the MAT growth scale today. I’m going to focus on the governance aspect of that growth scale.

1. The type of governance required depends on the size of your trust

In the early phases, you’re likely to have a board that is dominated by legacy membership. You will have inherited the boards of your founding schools, and there will be many people who will assume that they should automatically graduate to the MAT board. This is a problem, as these people simply may not have the skills that your Trust board requires.

As you grow, you must create financial stability, steady state governance, and effectively evolve the quality of your governance.  Quality of governance is about three main things:

  • The quality of processes
  • The quality of structures
  • The most important thing is the behaviours and skills that the individuals on your board are going to bringStructures and processes aren’t that hard. It’s the people and how they behave and equip themselves in the role that really makes the difference between good, bad and outstanding governance.

    Once you reach regional trust size/stage, you need to ensure that your governance model works at scale. You need to have future-proofed it with the right people, the right processes, the right subcommittees, the right board-paper format, with a collection of people on your board who have the right skills, who are strategic thinkers, who work well together, and who all sit as front-benchers.

2. It’s a totally different ball game from LA maintained governance

This is quite difficult sometimes to make others realise, but it is something that you have to communicate to your members. There will always be an initial perception gap between you and your legacy members. After all, they’ve been on the board for 5 years and from their point of view, everything is going well. You need to try and explain to them that they were at the wheel of a ford fiesta, and now you’re driving a Ferrari. It’s a difficult question, but you need to find a way to have that conversation.

The lack of independence that comes when people graduate from a governing body/LGB straight to the Trust’s board is a problem. People often think that they are representing the interests of their school, but that’s just incorrect. The same applies to parents – I’d really advise against having parents on the Trust’s board. It is rare, and it’s rare for a good reason.

There will always be a culture challenge. People will say, ‘we’ve always done it like this, why do we have to do something else? The Local Authority used to do it all for us!’. What they don’t realise is that the LA-maintained context is so different from the MAT context because the reporting compliance requirements are so much greater.

3. Recruiting the Chair & your board

Recruiting the Chair is really difficult in any size MAT, whether it’s a 2, 5, 10, 20, or a 50 school MAT. Don’t underestimate this! It’s particularly hard if you’ve got turnaround challenges, because much more time is required, and very difficult if you’re in a high growth phase. The Chair really is in the hot seat. He or she is not paid, and they might be spending a day a week or even more on this. It is difficult to find a top quality Chair, but hang in there; don’t just hope for the best. You should be very picky!

So what should you look for in a Chair? You need someone with a social mission. The vast majority of governors & trustees do and it’s an absolute prerequisite. It’s a necessary but not sufficient condition however; they must also bring something to the party. It should be an identifiable, generic and transferable skill set – e.g. if you’re looking for a growth manager, you must look for someone who has experience in managing growth in an organisation moving from £10 to £20 million turnover (if those are the sort of numbers you’re talking about).

You should populate your board with people who understand the form and the function of governance. Ask the basic question: what are the objectives of this board? Fewer than 50% of people know what the answer to that question is. Try to find people who have had internal governance experience previously, as they’re more likely to understand the form, function and objectives of governance. It is not just something to put on your CV. It’s to support and challenge, to hold to account, to form strategy, and to act as a custodian of public funds and public policy. These are responsibilities that need to be taken seriously

A board structure that scales is the easy part…it’s working out the right scheme of delegation for your trust that is much more difficult. Read what Sarah had to say in the second half of her presentation here!

Cosima Baring - 30 October, 2018

Category : Blog

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Full programme for the day:

 

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

James Weatherill, CEO, Arbor Education

 

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

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

 

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

Andrew Cook, Regional Director for the North West, Ofsted

 

11:00 – 11:30 : Networking break

 

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

Will Jordan, Education Sector Manager, PS Financials

 

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

Claire-Marie Cuthbert, CEO at The Evolve Trust

 

12:40 – 13:40: Lunch

 

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

Luke Sparkes, Executive Principal at Dixons Academies Trust

 

14:10 – 14:50: Roundtable

Phil Crompton, Former CEO at Trent Academies Group

Karen Burns, CEO at Victorious Academies Trust

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

 

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

Speaker TBC

 

15:20 – 16:00: Networking break

 

Chris Kirk - 11 July, 2018

Category : Blog

How to build MAT central teams and services

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.

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:

  • A MAT shared service: An obvious option is to scoop up the roles (and, sometimes, parts of roles) involved in the same activity across the Academies, and then redesign a new shared service.  This will mean changing some roles, and moving the reporting lines for operations staff from local Academies to your central/ functional team. I’ve helped MATs significantly reduce the cost of Academy-level finance and other operations activities through this approach
  • A shared service with other MATs: If the business case for a shared service within the MAT is not strong due to lack of scale, consider whether you can create a service with other MATs.  This is particularly useful for high cost/low incident services such as aspects of SEN; for specialist activity, e.g. MATs sharing a Maths or Science programme; or for MATs who see benefit in sharing operations, but don’t want to merge fully
  • Purchase: It might be that rather than sharing a service, you just need to centralise the purchase of something – e.g. insurance, energy, catering.  This can give some rapid success compared to the restructuring options above
  • Professional management: Sometimes it is enough to give guidance and some systems at the centre, and leave delivery local.  This is a good option for activities that are hard to standardise, but the downside is adding central team cost without reducing local activity
  • Improve culture or skills rather than structure: Are the problems/opportunities actually the result of structure at all, or are there some cultural or capability improvements you need to make first?

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:

  • Share hard-to-find and expensive expertise to make the biggest impact
  • Centralise onto single systems, therefore improving speed and efficiency of service
  • Economy of scale by pooling requirements and resources
  • Reducing costs, by fitting the right expertise to the right task, rather than having routine tasks carried out by expensive people

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.

James Weatherill - 21 June, 2018

Category : Blog

3 ways of centralising data for schools, MATs and LAs

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

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 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.

3 ways for centralising your data, and when to do it

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.

1. Using Excel/manual exports [best for small schools; MATs with less than 5 schools]

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).

2. Standardising systems [best for large schools; MATs with more than 5 schools; LAs]

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.

3. Analytics layer [best for very large schools; MATs with more than 15 schools; LAs]

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!

How Arbor can help [click here for slides]

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.

Arbor - 6 June, 2018

Category : Blog

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Don’t disempower your LGBs

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

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

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

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

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

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

Five final points to leave you with:

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

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

2. Give plenty of consideration to your Scheme of Delegation

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

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

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

James Weatherill - 25 May, 2018

Category : Blog

Balancing MAT alignment vs. school autonomy

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

 

Alignment.png

 

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

 

Matrix.png

 

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 - 19 April, 2018

Category : Blog

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Arbor - 19 April, 2018

Category : Blog

How to procure effectively to achieve economies of scale

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:

  • Implementation
  • Support
  • Training
  • Maintenance

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:

  • What is it that you are wanting to get from the system?
  • What would you define as a success?

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:

  • What common tasks do you want to perform?
  • How long should these take to run, given a suitably trained operator?
  • How long does training take?
  • What level of training do you expect to get?
  • How often is the system refreshed or updated?
  • What effort is required from you to keep the system functioning day to day?
  • How fast does support respond to questions?
  • Do you have a knowledge base of common problems you can solve yourself?
  • What’s the cost per student over a 1/3/5 year period?
  • Can you add/remove users easily?
  • Can you gradually move to a self support model if you need to?

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

Harriet Cheng - 19 April, 2018

Category : Blog

How to scale your MAT sustainably

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hope to see you there!

Full programme for the day:

Agenda

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

James Weatherill (CEO at Arbor Education)

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

10.20-11.00: Strategies for scaling sustainably

Hugh Greenway (CEO at The Elliot Foundation)

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

11.00-11.30: How and when to standardise systems

Dominic Norrish (Group Director of Technology at United Learning)

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

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

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

Vanessa Ogden (CEO, Mulberry Schools Trust)

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

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

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

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

1.20-2.10: Lunch

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

Will Jordan (Education Sector Manager at PS Financials)

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

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

John Leonard (Independent Consultant)

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

3.10-3.50: Governance structures that scale

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

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

3.50 – 4.00: Final refreshments

 

Chris Kirk - 19 April, 2018

Category : Blog

6 phases of MAT growth, (and the crises that follow!)

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.

Arbor - 19 April, 2018

Category : Blog

How and when to scale systems within your MAT

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

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

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

How to decide when to scale systems within your MAT

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

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

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

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

When to scale systems within your MAT

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

The Honeymoon Period

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

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

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

The Rubicon of Regret

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

Before “crossing the Rubicon”, MATs should centralise:

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

At any time in your MAT’s growth

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

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

Click here to see Dominic’s presentation in full

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

 

Arbor - 19 April, 2018

Category : Blog

6 ways remote leadership can help MATs scale

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

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

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

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

Remote leadership for a MAT entails a number of things:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Arbor - 19 April, 2018

Category : Blog

The common barriers to scaling a MAT

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

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

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

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

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

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

Building the infrastructure to scale early on

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

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

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

Barriers to scaling a MAT

 

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

 

Arbor - 19 April, 2018

Category : Blog

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

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

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

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

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

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

Our values at Mulberry Schools Trust

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

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

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

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

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

Scaling culture as you grow

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

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

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

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

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

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

Arbor - 11 April, 2018

Category : Blog

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

7. Issue your tender to interested suppliers

8. Allow 30 days for tender clarifications, etc.

9. Close your tender and evaluate results

10. Announce the successful supplier

11. Provide feedback to all bidders

12. Allow a 10 day standstill

13. Start contract negotiations

14. Commence pilot (if applicable)

15. Test with your pilot group

16. Larger scale rollout

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

Where will the system go?

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

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

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

How do I start?

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

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

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

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

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

In Summary

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

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

 

James Weatherill - 19 October, 2017

Category : Blog

7 staffing measures your MAT or school could be tracking

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.

5) Complaints
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.

6) Retention/Vacancies
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.

James Weatherill - 22 June, 2017

Category : Blog

When do MATs change systems?

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?

Challenge.png

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.

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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.

mats changing.png

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 james@arbor-education.com and I’d be happy to connect you with one of our MATs or come out to show you our MAT MIS myself!

James Weatherill - 16 June, 2017

Category : Blog

How different MATs scale

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:

4 MAT types.png

Authoritative MAT
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.

Micromanaging MAT 
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.

Entrepreneurial MAT
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.

Assistant MATs

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 jweatherill@arbor-education.com or ask one of our MATs why they made the switch?

James Weatherill - 24 May, 2017

Category : Blog

The 4 MAT personality types

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

MAT matrix.png

Authoritative MAT

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.

  • Advantages: highly centralised process is cost effective, goals are clearly defined & measurable, MAT has the capacity to intervene where necessary and takeover the school
  • Disadvantages: morale of school staff can suffer due to lack of autonomy; allows for little variation in process even when a school ‘earns’ their autonomy

Assistant MAT

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

  • Advantages: the MAT can scale sustainably, whilst ensuring that this isn’t at the expense of school autonomy and morale. Standardisation is around core data, process and systems, with autonomy given to people in how they use these systems
  • Disadvantages: Where the boundaries of alignment are vague or poorly defined it can lead to ambiguity and confusion between the MAT and schools. This needs constant discussion as dialogue changes. Often not suitable for turnaround schools who can require systemic change led from the top

Entrepreneurial MAT

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.

  • Advantages: keeps things nimble whilst the MAT is growing, with the minimum viable process and procedure. Gives room for experimentation as the MAT finds out what works and what doesn’t
  • Disadvantages: hard to scale this model beyond a small MAT, as once you reach ~5 schools the central team is overstretched, and managing diverse systems, processes and data means the MAT has poor oversight

Micromanaging MAT

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!

  • Advantages: the MAT is very close to the source of the problems in the school, and can fix them quickly
  • Disadvantages: stressful for both the MAT team and the schools. Processes are very manual, often staff require a lot of chasing. Not sustainable as a strategy to onboard or maintain more than a handful of schools

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 - 27 April, 2017

Category : Blog

6 phases of MAT growth by MAT characteristic

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

  • Discuss actively within the MAT leadership team and schools which phase you are in now, and where you might be headed.  Self-awareness is a powerful tool.
  • Consider whether any of the signs of crisis are present.  Do these resonate with the phase of growth you are in? If so, you should consider what it would take to move to the next phase.
  • Don’t be tempted to think you can easily cut out stages because a later one sounds more appealing.  ‘Collaboration’ is naturally attractive in our sector, but it is only the appropriate HQ style in the last phase of growth because of all the systems and capabilities that were put in place before that.  Otherwise you may simply be in the creative phase, but without the systems of the Directive phase that support sustainable growth. This doesn’t mean people don’t collaborate with each other until that stage – it is about the overall management style of the HQ.
  • Like all models, this framework is a useful prompt for open discussion, but is not the whole truth.  Whilst the Growth Model has long standing provenance in other industries, it has not been directly tested in the MAT sector (to my knowledge).  You may find some parts of it useful, and that your MAT has characteristics of several different stages of growth.
  • When facing clear signs that the current management style is becoming outgrown, don’t take it personally.  This is a necessary part of growth, and as individuals we all have preferences and capabilities that suit us more to one phase than another.  So be prepared to make the necessary changes for good of the organisation.