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Arbor - 13 December, 2018

Category : Blog , Uncategorized

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

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

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

 

Leading through aligned autonomy: Introduction

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

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

Core principles

At Dixons we have 6 core principles:

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

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

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

A different MAT model

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

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

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

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

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

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

According to Netflix:

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

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

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

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

And so it seems like there are 3 bad options:

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

But, there is a fourth option.

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

Dixons Structure

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

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

Agile way of working

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

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

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

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

The Dixons Story

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

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

Why Aligned (at Dixons)

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

Why Autonomy (at Dixons)

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

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

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

Strong backbone vertebrae

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

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

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

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

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

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

Scaling agile at Dixons

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

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

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

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

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

These are the 3 critical moves to unleash talent:

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

2. They must be free from bureaucratic structure

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

Conclusion

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

 

Cosima Baring - 12 December, 2018

Category : Blog

7 highlights from Arbor’s MAT CEO conference in Manchester

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Arbor - 10 December, 2018

Category : Blog

Ofsted’s new framework & focused reviews of MATs

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

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

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

 

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

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.

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.

 

Cosima Baring - 19 November, 2018

Category : Blog

5 things to see at the Academies Show

With just a few days to go until the Academies Show Birmingham, we’ve done a quick round-up of 5 of the most informative talks you should go and see whilst you’re there. Image 1: The Schools & Academies Show 2018 will be held at the NEC in Birmingham 1. Panel Discussion: Now we really need

With just a few days to go until the Academies Show Birmingham, we’ve done a quick round-up of 5 of the most informative talks you should go and see whilst you’re there.


Image 1: The Schools & Academies Show 2018 will be held at the NEC in Birmingham

1. Panel Discussion: Now we really need to talk about Funding

Speakers: Stephen Morales, Chief Executive of Institute of School Business Leadership (ISBL), Tom Goldman, Deputy Director of Funding Policy Unit at the DfE, and Debbie Clinton, CEO of the Academy Transformation Trust

When: 10:00 – 10:40

Where: Main Stage

What: If you’re unsure of exactly what the National Funding Formula will mean for your school & schools across the country, this is a great chance to hear from the experts. Panelists will discuss concerns surrounding the formula’s implementation, including whether pupil premium should be ring-fenced, what effect the proposed 3% limit on annual funding increases will have, and the continuing role of Local Authorities in directing additional funding. Speakers are a mix of business professionals, education experts & practitioners, so this should be an interesting and informative debate!

Chaired by: Tom Clark CBE, GovNet Education Advisory Board

 

2. Presentation: The Importance of MATs            

 Speaker: Dominic Herrington, Interim National Schools Commissioner

When: 13:45 – 14:00

Where: Main stage

What: In one of his first speaking engagements in his new role, Dominic Herrington, Interim National Schools Commissioner, will be talking on the main stage about the importance of MATs in delivering school improvement. Drawing on his experience as Regional Schools Commissioner for South-East England and South London since 2014, he’ll discuss how the DfE plans to raise school standards in England through academy sponsorship & better provision for MATs. Whether you’re already in a MAT, thinking about joining one, or have yet to make up your mind on them, this is a great chance to hear from a highly-placed decision-maker about future plans for MATs in England.

 

3. Presentation: Transforming Schools through the MAT System

  Speaker: Wayne Norrie, CEO, Greenwood Academies Trust

When: 15:40 – 16:10

Where: MAT Summit

What: Wayne Norrie was appointed the CEO of the Greenwood Academies Trust (GAT) in 2016. GAT currently has 34 academies (23 primary, 8 secondary & 3 special), all located in areas of the East Midlands with the highest levels of social deprivation. With over 10 years of experience supporting schools in challenging circumstances, Wayne will discuss how joining a MAT can provide academies with additional support and how incorporating failing schools into a successful MAT can help improve pupil outcomes.

 

4. Presentation: The MAT Landscape – State of Play

  Speaker: Leora Cruddas, CEO of Confederation of Schools Trust (CST)

Where: MAT Summit

When: 13:10 – 13:40

What: Leora Cruddas has over 15 years experience in the Education sector. Currently CEO of Confederation of School Trusts (CST), she has previously held positions in two London Local Authorities as Director of Education, as well as Director of Policy and Public Relations for the Association of School and College Leaders. Leora will share her take on the current MAT narrative in England, as well as how she believes we can change that narrative through ‘Factfulness’.

 

5. The Arbor Stand!

When: All day

Where: Stand D52

What: Don’t forget to visit us at stand D52 in the Exhibitor Zone between talks! If you’ve got any questions about moving to Arbor’s simple, smart, cloud-based MIS and how it could transform the way your school or MAT operates, this is your chance to come and chat to us. Feel free to stop by to watch one of our live demos throughout the day, or just drop by and pick up a free brochure to have a flick through on your way home. If you can’t make it, don’t worry – there’ll be plenty more chances to come and meet us over the course of this year. Keep an eye on our blog for updates on events that we’ll be attending.

If you haven’t already, don’t forget to book your ticket to our free MAT Conference next month on strategies for sustainably scaling your MAT! Click here to see the full agenda and reserve your free place

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.

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.

Arbor - 4 November, 2018

Category : Blog

Is your MAT governance structure scalable?

This blog is a transcript of a talk from our 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 talked about a number of stages of the MAT growth scale today. I’m going to focus on the governance

This blog is a transcript of a talk from our 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 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 bring
  • Structures and processes aren’t that hard. It’s the people and how they behave and equip themselves in the role that really makes the difference between good, bad and outstanding governance
  • Once you reach regional trust size/stage, you need to ensure that your governance model works at scale. You need to have future-proofed it with the right people, the right processes, the right subcommittees, the right board-paper format, with a collection of people on your board who have the right skills, who are strategic thinkers, who work well together, and who all sit as front-benchers

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

  • This is quite difficult sometimes to make others realise, but it is something that you have to communicate to your members. There will always be an initial perception gap between you and your legacy members. After all, they’ve been on the board for 5 years and from their point of view, everything is going well. You need to try and explain to them that they were at the wheel of a ford fiesta, and now you’re driving a Ferrari. It’s a difficult question, but you need to find a way to have that conversation
  • The lack of independence that comes when people graduate from a governing body/LGB straight to the Trust’s board is a problem. People often think that they are representing the interests of their school, but that’s just incorrect. The same applies to parents – I’d really advise against having parents on the Trust’s board. It is rare, and it’s rare for a good reason
  • There will always be a culture challenge. People will say, ‘we’ve always done it like this, why do we have to do something else? The Local Authority used to do it all for us!’. What they don’t realise is that the LA-maintained context is so different from the MAT context because the reporting compliance requirements are so much greater

3. Recruiting the Chair & your board

  • Recruiting the Chair is really difficult in any size MAT, whether it’s a 2, 5, 10, 20, or a 50 school MAT. Don’t underestimate this! It’s particularly hard if you’ve got turnaround challenges, because much more time is required, and very difficult if you’re in a high growth phase. The Chair really is in the hot seat. He or she is not paid, and they might be spending a day a week or even more on this. It is difficult to find a top quality Chair, but hang in there; don’t just hope for the best. You should be very picky!
  • So what should you look for in a Chair? You need someone with a social mission. The vast majority of governors & trustees do and it’s an absolute prerequisite. It’s a necessary but not sufficient condition however; they must also bring something to the party. It should be an identifiable, generic and transferable skill set – e.g. if you’re looking for a growth manager, you must look for someone who has experience in managing growth in an organisation moving from £10 to £20 million turnover (if those are the sort of numbers you’re talking about)
  • You should populate your board with people who understand the form and the function of governance. Ask the basic question: what are the objectives of this board? Fewer than 50% of people know what the answer to that question is. Try to find people who have had internal governance experience previously, as they’re more likely to understand the form, function and objectives of governance. It is not just something to put on your CV. It’s to support and challenge, to hold to account, to form strategy, and to act as a custodian of public funds and public policy. These are responsibilities that need to be taken seriously

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

Arbor - 4 November, 2018

Category : Blog

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

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

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

Creating something from nothing

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

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

Question 2: Are the outcomes good enough?

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

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

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

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

The benefits of good governance

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

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

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

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

For example:

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

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

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

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

No roadblocks or concentrations of power.

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

Arbor - 4 November, 2018

Category : Blog

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

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

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

Introduction: The job of a MAT CEO

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

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

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

We set out to build this with three core ideas:

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

So – how’s it going?

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

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

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

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

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

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

How do you scale without the money to scale?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

James Weatherill - 2 November, 2018

Category : Blog

4 practical ways to centralise school data & back office ops

— I recently spoke at the MAT Summit in Brighton on how culture beats strategy when MATs start thinking about centralising data, operations and people. At Arbor we talk about 4 (broad) types of MAT cultures, and how the degree of MAT alignment vs school autonomy dictates how you approach scaling systems, processes and people.

I recently spoke at the MAT Summit in Brighton on how culture beats strategy when MATs start thinking about centralising data, operations and people.

At Arbor we talk about 4 (broad) types of MAT cultures, and how the degree of MAT alignment vs school autonomy dictates how you approach scaling systems, processes and people. What we see more and more from the 40 MATs who we provide MIS systems to, and the 100s more we are speaking to is that centralisation of school back office functions such as data, HR, finance and operations is the general direction of travel for all MATs. The debate is centred around the degree, style and pace at which this happens.

We’ve gathered feedback about the 4 different ways MATs go about scaling decision making, curriculum & assessment, systems & processes and their central team in the presentation below. See what you think and whether you fit into 1 or more of the categories I describe.

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…

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

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 - 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?

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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.

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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!