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Centralising Operations | MAT Operations | webinars
Category : Blog
In our latest webinar for MAT leaders, we were joined by Derek Hills, Head of Data and Andy Meighen, IT Director from The Harris Federation. In our previous blog, we explained Harris’s unique approach to IT and how they were able to enable remote learning for their 36,000+ students when the Covid-19 crisis hit. In
In our latest webinar for MAT leaders, we were joined by Derek Hills, Head of Data and Andy Meighen, IT Director from The Harris Federation. In our previous blog, we explained Harris’s unique approach to IT and how they were able to enable remote learning for their 36,000+ students when the Covid-19 crisis hit.
In this blog, Derek and Andy share how they analysed their data across the trust using Microsoft Power BI, so they could measure how well students and staff were engaging with the online learning tools they’d put in place.
Once remote lessons got underway at The Harris Federation, questions soon arose around how it was all going; how many Teachers and students were engaging and what the quality of the interactions were. It was easy for Teachers to get insights about their classes from Microsoft Teams, but it was difficult to get useful information at a departmental, academy or trust level. To combat this, the IT team developed reports using Power BI to analyse usage data across the trust.
Below is a standard Power BI template they used to see all trust digital activity over a period of time, such as where users were logging in from and which files they were accessing. This was useful as it meant they could look at huge quantities of log data (10 million rows a day) during lockdown.
This image shows a different report they used to look at log information showing all online student activity. This allowed them to easily see the peaks and troughs over time, which helped them identify anyone they should follow up with.
The below report showed them usage of systems during the Covid-19 period. Office 365 is orange, SharePoint is pink, OneDrive is grey, purple is Teams and yellow is Exchange (email) (not many students).
They could see that in March, there was a big increase in email use as students and staff needed to communicate more than ever before, but Teams soon overtook email as remote lessons became regular. Use of Onedrive dropped, potentially because students and Teachers were storing and accessing assignment files within Teams instead.
They also used Power BI to get important demographic information for safeguarding purposes. They also had to keep Governors and the Board of Trustees up-to-date with stats such as attendance.
Covid-19 has drawn attention to just how important having a strong IT infrastructure has been for teams across Harris. It has allowed the IT team to continue business as usual for the large part, and respond to the huge number of data requests they’ve received during lockdown.
Though they’ve been able to learn a lot about the quantity of their online learning data, e.g. the peaks and troughs of usage, which parts of the system were being used and by whom, but what they haven’t been able to analyse is the quality of what was actually going on in the classroom.
We’d be interested to know how and what you’ve learned from your online learning data at your school or trust, and the lessons you’ll take forward as you continue with a blended learning approach. Post a comment here or on the Arbor Community forum.
You’re invited to join us for the next webinar in our “Adapting to Change” series tomorrow (Friday 19th) where we’ll be demonstrating how to use benchmarking and performance analysis to drive smart strategy at your trust. Sign up for free with the link below.
Friday June 19th 2020, 11:00am
Using Arbor’s benchmarking and performance analysis to inform data-driven decisions for your trust
Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash
Over the past few months, in our webinar series “Adapting to Change”, we’ve been speaking to leaders of Multi-Academy Trusts about how they’ve been adapting to lockdown. Recently we invited Derek Hills, Head of Data and Andy Meighen, IT Director from The Harris Federation – a trust of 48 academies in London and Essex –
Over the past few months, in our webinar series “Adapting to Change”, we’ve been speaking to leaders of Multi-Academy Trusts about how they’ve been adapting to lockdown.
Recently we invited Derek Hills, Head of Data and Andy Meighen, IT Director from The Harris Federation – a trust of 48 academies in London and Essex – to talk about how they rolled out an online learning programme for their 36,000+ students.
They explained how when Covid-19 hit, their flexible, cloud-based setup allowed them to quickly and easily give all students access to online education, which would not have been possible using a legacy, server based system. You can read more below about Harris’s unique IT approach and how they responded to Covid-19.
Check out our next blog to find out how they analysed their online learning data!
With 4,500 staff and 36,000 students across primary and secondary, Harris uses a centralised and standardised IT set-up designed to give everyone the same experience across the trust.
The focus of Derek and Andy’s roles is making IT work for everyone across the trust with systems that are as efficient and cost effective as possible.
The key principles of their IT approach are:
The IT team at Harris manages data centrally through a combination of their own data warehouse and cloud-based systems. They created a data warehouse so that they could hold all their MIS (Management Information System) data on premises and develop systems on top of it.
Using a data warehouse also means that when they bring in a new system, for example Microsoft Teams, it can set up user accounts for all students and staff automatically. Admin Staff simply add the student names, then the data warehouse puts them into the right groups, saving the central IT team time.
Whenever they design new systems or processes, Derek and Andy ensure they can be used across all academies. They want to make sure all staff and students have the same technology options at their fingertips. At the same time, it’s also important to give Teachers the freedom to use digital tools in a way that suits the particular lesson they’re giving. For this reason, the IT team doesn’t advise that staff teach in a certain way, or use a certain VLE (Virtual Learning Environment) such as Google Classroom. From experience, without top-level buy in from trust leadership, initiatives like these are rarely successful.
Harris uses Microsoft systems across the trust which are set up to communicate with their data warehouse. These are some of the key parts of the puzzle that help the systems interact:
As schools began to close and remote working became necessary, Harris was able to respond quickly, using lessons they’d learned from a recent snow day. On that day, phone lines couldn’t cope, staff ran out of SMS credits and the web connection crashed. They therefore had already solved these issues, and increased their supply of laptops for students and staff to take home when Covid-19 hit.
Setting up remote teaching and learning was also a smooth transition because staff were already using Microsoft Teams and Show My Homework to record lessons and set assignments. The only difference was that staff had to adjust to doing much more on Teams such as leading live lessons. The IT team also needed to set up lots more users on Teams – in March alone they set up 20, 000 accounts which took two weeks as Microsoft struggled to cope!
Click here to see the four steps the IT team took to set up users on Microsoft Teams using their data warehouse
Although they were smooth to set up, remote lessons brought some challenges. IT worked quickly with Teachers to adapt the ways students interacted with Microsoft Teams. For example:
Check out our next blog to find out what Harris has learned about their online learning programme from analysing their data in Microsoft Power BI.
MAT Operations | webinars
In our webinar series for MAT leaders “Adapting to Change”, we recently heard from Mark Lacey, CEO of Diocese of Salisbury Academy Trust, who shared his strategies for leading his trust through the challenges of Covid-19. Mark had some really useful advice for fellow MAT leaders around how having strong foundations through your strategic plan,
In our webinar series for MAT leaders “Adapting to Change”, we recently heard from Mark Lacey, CEO of Diocese of Salisbury Academy Trust, who shared his strategies for leading his trust through the challenges of Covid-19.
Mark had some really useful advice for fellow MAT leaders around how having strong foundations through your strategic plan, business continuity plan and risk registers, as well as a strong set of digital tools, can help you pivot flexibly in a crisis. Most importantly, Mark highlighted the need for realism and compassion for staff.
As you’re planning your exit strategy from the current Covid-19 crisis, you might find it helpful to take a look at Mark’s planning document which he kindly shared with us. As you’ll see, the document addresses key risk scenarios and outlines the trust’s response, with space for the individual schools to complete their responses. Click here to download the PDF.
We’ve summarised Mark’s conversation with Arbor’s CEO James Weatherill below.
How well prepared were you for the Covid-19 crisis?
I don’t think anyone was prepared for what has happened, but what we benefited from is we have a clear strategic plan, business continuity plan and risk register which gives us a strong backbone and allows us to adapt and flex when external events occur.
We also pride ourselves on having an adaptive culture at the trust. We recognise that we don’t always have all the answers, but that it’s more important to share best practice, collaborate, and be open to admitting when we’re doing something wrong. This allows us to change direction fast.
How did you adapt to the crisis?
Earlier in the year, we had already experienced a large challenge – we went through 7 Ofsted inspections over a period of 10 weeks – which forced us to adapt quickly. This served as a test in some ways for what was to come with Covid-19 and we were able to learn important lessons so we could easily switch to a new rhythm of working.
Given our schools are spread over quite a wide geographical area, we made sure above all that we worked tightly as a Central Team and that we set a clear direction. It was important that we were responsive in relaying information as soon and as clearly as possible to schools, and that we were accessible for whatever schools needed.
What have you learned about being responsive in a crisis?
The speed at which we’ve adapted to ensure emergency provision has shown us just how much potential we have for change. It’s also proven to us the importance of building into our strategic planning a focus on people more than process. We know staff will continue to feel vulnerable sometimes going forward and we believe taking a compassionate approach and prioritising wellbeing is really important.
When you return to more normal operations, how will your “people over process” approach change the way you work?
Putting people first is a difficult thing to measure and be certain about, but there are some concrete measures we can put in place. For example, we’ve seen that easy-to-use shared IT systems like Office 365 take a lot of burden away from staff and can help them feel connected. We also try to gauge how staff are doing through sending out digital forms and bringing representative groups of staff together to discuss certain issues. We aim to use the feedback we get from staff to build into our policy making going forward. A big emphasis across the trust is also social and personal development.
How do you monitor wellbeing when working remotely?
A big focus of ours as a Central Team is looking after our Headteachers. Our Academy Improvement Team members have each taken responsibility for a group of Heads who they meet with every week using Microsoft Teams (video chat). Every meeting starts with questions about their wellbeing – it’s been important for us to understand all the different struggles Heads are dealing with at the moment, such as spouses who are key workers or having children at home. We’re learning a lot, and fast, about how to sense how staff are doing from their body language and tone over video. Many of the tensions Heateachers found with staff at the beginning involved miscommunications over email, so we’ve actively encouraged video chat to bring a personal approach.
Keeping regular lines of communication has also been really important. We’ve converted our monthly bulletins to weekly bulletins focused on wellbeing, in order to make sure everyone has access to helpful resources.
How has your leadership style changed during Covid-19?
The most challenging thing we’ve faced as a Central Team has been working remotely and not being physically in each school. Whilst my natural leadership style is collaborative and approachable, this has been essential to emphasise even more, making Headteachers aware I’m here if they need.
Of course, we’ve been direct and interventionist where it was necessary. For example, we felt it was important to bring some schools together into hubs so that we had greater control of emergency provision and more staff could shield, despite some resistance from Headteachers.
How have you been using tech to adapt?
Because we’ve invested quite considerably in digital tools over the last two years, we didn’t have to suddenly bring on lots of new systems to cope with remote working. This crisis has shown us the real value of having systems like Arbor’s cloud-based MIS and Office 365 in place to rely on. It’s meant we can share data within and between schools easily, and communicate with parents using tools staff are comfortable using already. Some of our schools weren’t using some of the communications features before the crisis, but Arbor switched these on swiftly for us.
We’ve also seen the benefit of Arbor in our financial management during the crisis. We were able to set up our own Free School Meal voucher scheme and get all the data we needed from Arbor.
Setting up students on Microsoft Teams has also made a lot of impact. Going forward, we’re going to ensure everyone has access to a remote learning platform.
Has this crisis challenged your expectations on how quickly you can implement change?
It’s shown us the importance of being clear about what we all need to do together and what will have the most impact. It’s given us conviction and belief to step into changes more boldly in future.
What are your future plans?
Having learned from this current situation, we’re going to be cautious about making too many plans going forward. Being able to adapt is much more important. We’ve got to be realistic about what can be achieved over the next year, given schools will need time to recover.
In terms of planning towards wider school opening, we’re trying to make neutral decisions by weighing up the polarised spread of views out there. We’ve put together a risk assessment and planning document for our exit from the Covid-19 situation* which outlines key questions and issues, and the trust responses to each of them. It also provides space for schools to add their responses.
* You can download Mark’s “Risk Assessment: Planning for Exit from COVID-19 Emergency Period” document here.
What are your key takeaways from the Covid-19 crisis?
I hope we will all go forward with a greater appreciation for what we have and more compassion for each other. I have been incredibly impressed with everything our staff have achieved and will not forget it.
As a Central Team, we will aim to take collective responsibility for who we are as a trust and move forward with a strong moral compass.
The next webinar in our series “Adapting to Change” is coming up on 12th June. James will be talking to Derek Hills, Head of Data, and Andy Meighen, IT Director at Harris Federation, about how to monitor and enable online learning across a MAT. Sign up for free to hear how Harris Federation rolled out their online learning to over 36,000 pupils during lockdown, and what they’ve learned from looking at their data.
12th June, 11-11:45am
“How to monitor and enable online learning” – In Conversation with Harris Federation
Click here to sign up for free
MAT Operations | School Improvement
Preview of the new Understanding Your MAT Report – special article In partnership with the Centre for Education and Youth (CfEY), we’ve created a new free report for MATs across the country – the Understanding Your MAT Report – to help you see your trust in a new light. Built especially for your trust, your
In partnership with the Centre for Education and Youth (CfEY), we’ve created a new free report for MATs across the country – the Understanding Your MAT Report – to help you see your trust in a new light.
Built especially for your trust, your report brings together key measures like your schools’ ASP performance statistics, alongside your MAT’s size and local demographics, to help you understand the unique makeup of your trust compared to others in England.
The report is out soon but you can sign up to our waiting list to get early access to your report now!
As a preview, we wanted to share with you the leading article from the report, written by Loic Menzies, CEO of The CfEY. The article introduces you to the contextual analysis the report gives you and the kinds of conversations your report might bring up in your next strategy meeting.
To find out about what’s included in the Understanding Your MAT Report, check out our blog.
by Loic Menzies
The relationship between disadvantage and attainment varies considerably between different parts of England. Combining datasets shows that poverty has a particularly pernicious effect on educational attainment in some area-types, particularly the rural areas shown in green, below.
Free School Meals aren’t the only ingredient
In recent years there has been increasing recognition that the relationship between deprivation and educational achievement is not as simple as we once thought. Researchers like Simon Burgess have shown that the interaction between disadvantage and ethnicity / migration status, for example, is often underestimated.
At LKMco we’ve had a longstanding interest in ONS area classifIcations (see “The Two Kingstons – what FSM does and doesn’t tell us” and “Maybe it’s because I’m a Londoner”). These classifications combine a range of characteristics of different areas, including industrial and employment data; demographics and qualification levels.
Combining these classifications with school data reveals striking differences between patterns of school performance in different area types.
Affluent England and London in the lead (surprise, surprise)
At the most basic level, we see that area types differ considerably in their attainment and deprivation levels.
Areas described as “Affluent England” achieve most highly, but “London Cosmopolitan” and “Ethnically Diverse Cosmopolitan” areas are not far behind – despite having two or three-times the same level of deprivation.
However, once we plot FSM levels against attainment, the results get considerably more interesting – and the worrying situation in rural schools is revealed.
A variable picture
Firstly, notice how, apart from a small cluster of very-low-deprivation, very-high-attainment schools on the far left, pink dots dominate the top of the distribution. These represent “ethnically diverse cosmopolitan” areas (most of which are in Greater London). This shows that regardless of their deprivation levels, pupils tend to do best in these areas. Meanwhile, red dots are concentrated in the top right-hand corner. These represent high-achieving, high-deprivation central-London schools.
How strong is the link between deprivation and attainment…? It depends on the area
Switching our attention to the trend lines and R-squared values (representing the strength of the relationship between poverty and attainment), we see that the angle of the lines differs considerably – as does the strength of the correlation, even though all eight correlations are significant.
Notably, in rural areas the relationship between poverty and educational outcomes is particularly strong. So although pupils in rural schools with low deprivation attain highly, schools in deprived areas are really struggling.
It seems that rural schools have particular difficulty breaking the link between poverty and low pupil attainment.
What about pupil progress?
Switching the measure to pupil progress paints an even starker picture of pupil outcomes in disadvantaged rural schools.
In general, the relationship between FSM and Progress is much weaker than when looking at attainment (r squared values of <0.2 in most area types).
This is unsurprising, since how well pupils achieve at KS2 (which is taken into account in Progress 8), already depends a lot on their deprivation level.
However, in rural schools, we find that a moderate relationship returns. It therefore seems that low attainment in rural, high-deprivation secondary schools is not just about pupils having low starting points. Instead, there is an important link between school deprivation level and progress rates.
Why is pupil progress in disadvantaged secondary schools worse in rural schools than in other parts of the country?
When considering how to break the link between poverty and education outcomes, it is crucial to take a nuanced view of poverty. Geography, demographics and community/economic context play a critical role in moderating the relationship between poverty and educational outcomes.
Studies of the factors affecting schools in different area types are therefore urgently needed, since these would help schools understand how best to respond to their circumstances.
Key factors to explore could include:
Find out more about this analysis in Schools Week.
Loic Menzies is Director of The Centre for Education and Youth (CfEY). He specialises in education policy and research, youth development and social enterprise. He was previously a tutor for Canterbury Christ Church’s Faculty of Education, an Associate Senior Manager and Head of History and Social Sciences at St. George’s R.C. School in North West London and a youth worker. He has authored numerous high profile reports and works with policy makers to communicate the implications of research, for example presenting to the Education Select Committee on White Working Class Underachievement or presenting to civil servants on teacher recruitment, retention and development. He is currently editing CfEY’s first book with Routledge entitled ‘Young People on the Margins’.
For descriptions of all the area types in England, as defined by the Office for National Statistics (ONS), take a look at the ONS website.
Arbor MIS | MAT Operations | School Operations | webinars
Spring Term has brought a great deal of change for schools and trusts, with staff having to quickly adapt to every new challenge and requirement that came their way. As we move into Summer Term, change is set to be the new normal, and we’ll have to keep adapting in lots of new ways. Since
Spring Term has brought a great deal of change for schools and trusts, with staff having to quickly adapt to every new challenge and requirement that came their way. As we move into Summer Term, change is set to be the new normal, and we’ll have to keep adapting in lots of new ways.
Since partial school closures were announced, we’ve been working hand-in-hand with schools to build out our MIS (Management Information System) to ensure schools can continue to run flexibly. Because we can move schools to Arbor 100% remotely, lots of schools have taken this opportunity to get up and running on our cloud-based MIS to help them access the information they need wherever they are.
As experts in school operations and data, with many former teachers in the Arbor team, we’ve been sharing practical support and guidance over the last few months, designed to help schools adapt. In case you missed anything, we’ve put together a round-up below so you have one handy guide to managing your school flexibly.
1. Using Arbor MIS to manage your school remotely
2. Expert guidance on key topics on our blog
3. Advice from schools and MATs in our webinars
4. Hear from the Arbor Community
Here’s how to find everything …
We’re firm believers that you should be able to lean on tools like your MIS to pick up the slack when you find yourself pulled in lots of different directions. Arbor takes the hassle out of important tasks like following up with vulnerable children, planning staff rotas, and communicating with your students and parents, wherever you’re working from. Plus, we’re making updates every day to make sure you’re covering all the new government requirements.
Here’s a list of some of the features we’ve developed to help you manage your school or MAT during Covid-19:
You can find more detailed guidance and all the support you need from the dedicated Covid-19 page on our Help Centre. Don’t forget, our Support Team is always there for you on the phone, email and web chat.
Find out about the government grant you can apply for to get support with setting up G Suite or Office 365 at your school or trust on our blog.
Over the last few weeks we’ve been blogging about some of the top priorities for school leaders right now – from keeping in touch with students and parents, to nurturing staff wellbeing. We’ve gathered advice from across the Arbor team, guest experts, and schools and MATs in our network, designed to give some practical tips on how to adapt to change – whatever your role.
Check out the topics that interest you below, there’ll be more to come! Look out for links to useful resources in the blogs if you want to learn more.
From the Arbor team:
From guest experts:
From schools and MATs:
We’ve also been learning a lot from listening to our schools and how they’re coping during lockdown, and the strategies leaders have put in place. We’ve been asking questions like “How do you plan for change, support your students, and manage staff wellbeing when you’re working remotely?” and “How do you keep adapting as new guidance comes out?”
We’re running two free webinar series that have been really popular:
If you’d like to listen to the recording of any of our past webinars, get in touch at email@example.com.
Across our network of schools and MATs, we’ve seen some inspiring responses to an extremely challenging situation, with schools finding new and innovative ways to connect with their students. English Martyrs Catholic Primary School were straight out of the gate with their virtual PE lessons, as were LEO Academy Trust with their distance wellbeing sessions. Hoyland Common Academy Trust have been promoting mental health awareness and Avanti Schools Trust have been offering free yoga sessions!
As staff and students are working in totally new ways, it’s more important than ever to reach out and connect. When we shared some of our work-from-home stations and morning routines on Twitter, we were pleased to discover lots of our schools also wanted to share their creative ways to make the most of lockdown.
In what continues to be a difficult period, the Arbor team is always here to help and support where we can. We wanted to share a few pieces of feedback we’ve got lately from schools and partner organisations that we’re really proud of.
“Arbor’s been pretty essential to the distance learning program here and I’m confident we have a system that is really strong. We log daily checks with our students and have been able to use this to get to the stage where we can say we have contact with 100% of our students every day.”
Phil Jones, Head of Academy Services at Pool Academy
As a school we could not have accomplished half of what we have with our previous MIS. Arbor’s cloud based MIS has not only allowed remote working within what is a challenging, time sensitive period; but also given the exact information required without the need for additional query templates to be set up.”
Simon Brown, Headteacher at, Blaydon West Primary
“It’s refreshing to know that Arbor listen to what schools need and respond so quickly and also that priorities change depending on the current situation.”
Susan Scott, Education ICT, Bradford Metropolitan District Council
“We wouldn’t have known what to do without Arbor this week, it’s been an absolute godsend being able to access school info from the Group and all the other inbuilt reports we can access, as well as accessing remotely!”
Vicky Harrison, COO at Hoyland Common Academy Trust
“We just don’t know how we have managed before we had Arbor. We are all in this together and should ensure people know how much we appreciate Arbor helping us get through this difficult time.”
Jackie Blaikie, Bursar at Acresfield Primary School
“I’ve found it great to be able to use Arbor while working at home. I’ve sent instructions for parents about how to resolve issues with students logging into Show My Homework and how the students can access their school email accounts from home.”
Joanne Hedges, Data Manager at Manshead CE Academy
We’re moving schools to Arbor every day, 100% remotely. If you’d like to find out more about how Arbor MIS could help you manage your school or remotely and flexibly, get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 0208 050 1028.
Mark Greatrex has had a rich history in education; having held senior positions in three academy trusts and serving ten years at the DfE, his current position is CEO at Bellevue Place Education Trust (BPET), where he’s been for five years. BPET is geographically spread out, made up of eight primary schools in eight different
Mark Greatrex has had a rich history in education; having held senior positions in three academy trusts and serving ten years at the DfE, his current position is CEO at Bellevue Place Education Trust (BPET), where he’s been for five years. BPET is geographically spread out, made up of eight primary schools in eight different Local Authority regions across London and Berkshire.
Mark joined us for a brilliant webinar in our series “Adapting to change”, where he shared with fellow MAT leaders his strategies for leading a geographically dispersed trust, and how these strategies play out during the challenges of Covid-19.
You can read Mark’s conversation with Arbor’s CEO, James Weatherill, below. Here’s a quick summary of the three main strategic areas Mark talked about:
We’re very passionate about the breadth of provision we offer. We want the children to leave having real independence and confidence. Not only is the curriculum broad, but it’s delivered in an exciting, engaging and purposeful way.
The most important thing for us is educational autonomy. We create the culture of the organisation centrally, and do have some policies that are approved centrally, such as safeguarding, first aid, health & safety and HR. But all our educational policies are approved at a local level.
In the autonomy model, the role of the Headteacher is key. I’ve wanted to make sure that they have full ownership of everything that goes on in the institution they lead. It’s the middle leaders and the Teachers too, who are the engine room of the school. They own the curriculum content and the delivery of it. Because we serve schools across a diverse group of affluent and not so affluent areas, the curriculum needs to meet the needs of the local community that we serve.
The first thing I did as the CEO was put a very strong Headteacher performance management policy in place so that I can properly hold them to account, and that the metrics are shared and understood across the organisation. If we are pushing accountability, we need to reward so our Headteachers are eligible for discretionary bonuses every year of 2-8%.
Headteacher objectives and targets are linked to our trust goals: Learn, enjoy, succeed.
We make five two-day visits a year to review each of our schools. In the visits, we look at the school development plan, the safeguarding audit. The essential element is the learning review where we look at a particular piece of teaching and learning.
Our review cycle is modelled on “C.O.D.E.” (Challenge, Ownership, Dialogue and Engagement). Each school chooses one area to be reviewed on each year. For example, under “Ownership”, we review childrens’ engagement in their own learning. This drives a powerful teaching and learning conversation within our schools. I wouldn’t recommend doing the whole Ofsted review cycle, because if the Central Team has got leadership right, and we’ve got teaching and learning right in schools, everything else will fall into place.
Systems like Arbor MIS and Civica (our finance system) are invaluable to us as a Multi-Academy Trust, as they make those conversations a lot more focused. Five years ago, when I was going into schools with school improvement advisors, we’d spend a whole hour just trying to agree on a figure. Now we can immediately identify where the challenges are, for example persistent absences or behavioural issues. Arbor and Civia take us to the right places to focus our discussions and move the schools forward at pace.
As part of our school improvement strategy, we produce performance reports every term that are similar to the “school on a page” reports that some trusts use. These are two-page reports with RAG ratings covering attainment, quality of teaching and learning, leadership, attendance, safeguarding, behaviour, resources, staffing and engagement with the community. These consistent documents share the dialogue and increase visibility and accountability, bringing everyone into the conversation of improvement.
As a Central Team, we then plan strategic improvement interventions. As David Blunkett said “Intervention should be in inverse proportion to success.” We believe the system is improved by working on our worst performing schools.
Depending on internal capacity, we sometimes commission organisations such as Local Authorities or expert private providers to do a piece of work with a clear scope e.g. improve attendance in one of our schools.
We’re lucky to have an “Enrichment fund” which we use for certain passion projects across our schools, such as “Philosophy for Children” staff training, or hiring a Maths advisor five days a year for each school.
Our CPD offer is critical. We’ve developed new Headship, Senior and Emerging Leaders programmes. We run one trust-wide INSET day a year in one of our schools, with about fifty one-hour taster sessions in different areas e.g. having courageous conversations with parents. These really drive enthusiasm and give staff tools and techniques they can take back to their schools. They’re also aimed to continue to fire their enthusiasm for teaching and learning.
We also make sure we do safeguarding every year for new staff or those who need a refresher. It’s possible to do things centrally but you can’t do it as often and you need to use remote formats. Going forward, we plan to do 4 out of 5 of our collaboration sessions per year virtually.
Where we give our schools educational autonomy, the opposite is true in terms of how we’re structured financially. By managing finances centrally, I want to invest funds in the schools that need it the most. That’s not to say we pool school funding. Each school retains their budgets based on the school funding letter.
We’ve set three key financial performance indicators:
1) No school will go into deficit. Those who are in deficit have a goal to be out by the end of the year
2) Staffing should be no greater than 75% of each school’s budget. This has allowed us to prioritise our numbers of staff
3) 95% of invoices should have a purchase order. We want to ensure a formalised process where all committed spend at school level is raised in our finance system (Civica) as a purchase order. We then process all invoices centrally in weekly payment run across all schools. This ensures all our suppliers are paid against their payment terms
Since 2011, the MAT market has been growing and evolving exponentially. The question of proximity was only really brought up by Lord Nash when he recommended an hour’s journey time between schools. Hopefully the way we support our schools will give confidence that distance doesn’t have to be a barrier, but we take responsibility for our growth, not only in numbers, but in geography, and work hard to make sure we don’t have any true outliers.
A management consultant once introduced to me the rule of “10, 40 100”. If you think of these proportions applied to an organisation – it could be the number of employees, or the turnover – organisations with 10, 40 and 100 need to be run in very different ways and probably need very different CEOs. In our case, we think of this in terms of number of schools. Our aim is to grow to 15 schools, but if we’re successful at 15 and the trustees want us to grow to 40, that will be a very different business model.
However, where operational alignment works well for 15 schools, the question is, is it scalable within the 10, 40, 100 rule? I don’t know. If we grow, Regional Directors and hubs might be an option. We could also split the Finance Director role into four hubs. What we’d have to think about, however, is how we’d bring those hubs together to maintain consistency.
Over the past few weeks we’ve been thrown into web calls; we use Zoom for all of our conversations with Headteachers. Normally, having a meeting with a school can take two hours out of everyone’s time, so doing them virtually is really powerful. I think having a blend of the Internet and meeting in person is important – Zoom is something the finance and operations teams use quite a lot anyway, and have been for a few years now. But you can’t deny the power of personal contact. I think we’ll always continue our physical meetings with Headteachers four times a year.
Look out for more webinars in our series “Adapting to Change”, where we’re interviewing MAT leaders about how they’re adapting to partial school closures and all the changes that are happening at the moment. You can catch up on one of our recent webinars with Dan Morrow, CEO of Woodland Academy Trust all about “Nurturing Staff Mental Health and Wellbeing” here.
If you want to find out more about how Arbor MIS could help your trust work flexibly and remotely, get in touch at email@example.com or 0208 050 1028. Or alternatively you can book a web demo here.
Arbor MIS | MAT Operations | webinars
Arbor’s CEO James Weatherill caught up with Vicky Harrison, COO at Hoyland Common Academy Trust (HCAT), about how she’s adapted to change over the last few weeks Why did you decide to move to Arbor? Last year we had significant growth, acquiring a large secondary school with over 2000 pupils and two more large primary
Arbor’s CEO James Weatherill caught up with Vicky Harrison, COO at Hoyland Common Academy Trust (HCAT), about how she’s adapted to change over the last few weeks
Last year we had significant growth, acquiring a large secondary school with over 2000 pupils and two more large primary schools, as well as working with a school in Barnsley as an associate MAT member. We were previously using Capita SIMS but it wasn’t working for us as an expanding trust, so that was the main reason we decided to move to Arbor in February.
In general, it’s not been about challenges, it’s been about successes. There were a lot of unknowns, so we had to react to the daily information from the Government. We’ve used the central team really well, which has freed up our schools to concentrate on the key worker kids, student wellbeing and chasing up vulnerable children.
Arbor helped us alleviate some of the burden on teachers and admin staff having to create staff rotas and track free school meal pupils, because we could access all the free school meal data via the MIS from our central office, and upload it to the Edenred site. To get the FSM data, I could easily log into everybody’s Arbor and create a simple report with the names of pupils, their contact numbers, addresses and email addresses, then send out a blanket message to them asking them for the supermarket of their choice. We’ve also created a whole raft of letters and emails centrally that we’ve rolled out across the trust. That just wouldn’t have been possible before.
One of the things we’ve found useful is that Arbor has been very reactive to the situation. You react as soon as something happens, and being a cloud-based system, updates are instantaneous. Like with the free school meals report, for example, it was there ready to go within a day. Also, initially we were doing the registers at a trust level – logging on every day and putting the hashtag code in but Arbor soon created a fix in the system that automatically put in the hashtags, which saved us another thing to think about.
The ability to use Arbor at home has been especially helpful to our teachers and headteachers. On Capital SIMS, we had to rely on something called Forticlient which teachers had to have installed on their laptops and didn’t always work. With Arbor, teachers have been able to log on at home to contact their class through a safe portal. It’s also been really easy to use for any staff who are “anti-ICT”.
It was really seamless. We made the decision to move to Arbor in February because we still had until the end of March with Capita SIMS. This was so if anything had gone wrong, we could still use Capita. Initially I was kind of dreading it. I was thinking all our data was going to be lost, and that we wouldn’t be able to find anything but it’s been really straightforward and simple and really supportive from the Arbor team as well. We were using SchoolComms and Parent Pay and initially planned to roll Arbor out in phases, but because staff found it so easy to use at a school level, we decided to roll with it from day one. Even if you’re not particularly ICT-savvy, it’s so straightforward and you can see where you’ve got to go to get the information you need. If you don’t, Arbor’s live chat and the Arbor Community forum have been really useful.
When we were using Capita SIMS, we relied on our local authority to write reports because it was so difficult to work out where you needed to go to get the information. Then when we wanted to send a communication to a parent, we had to log into a separate text messaging service and there was no log of communications. With Arbor, staff are able to readily access children’s contacts without having to rely on somebody back at the office. You can track what you’ve sent out (for example the messages to FSM families I’ve sent during Covid-19) and see if they get back to see you – and parents can see too. Then if you do need to chase it up, you can send a text out again.
Because the system is so easy to use, they’ve not needed much training. When we first rolled it out, we did initial training on core things like how to take the register, how to manage dinners etc. And they all picked it up. Then we just sent an easy, simple crib sheet to staff with how to contact Arbor if they needed. Prior to school closures, we did a staff briefing on how to contact parents and how to get the information they needed.
Our associate school is local authority maintained and still on Capita SIMS at the moment but because we’re having to keep contacting them to get all the information we need, we’ve decided to roll out Arbor for them while Covid-19 is going on. So it won’t really be a barrier to rolling out Arbor any further.
I don’t think so. If we’d have known about Arbor sooner, we’d have moved sooner!
At the moment everything is unknown. We don’t know what Boris is going to announce when he does. If he decides, for example, to send back families, Arbor will give us that ability to quickly find out what families we’ve got in school and what year groups they’re in, so we can concentrate on the timetabling. It’ll also mean we can do rotas flexibly, for example if staff are in on odd days.
If you’d like to hear from more MAT leaders about how they’re managing their schools remotely, we’ve got lots more free webinars coming up. Check out our schedule of remote working webinars here. We’ve got a special webinar this Friday with Jonathan Bishop, CEO at Cornerstone Academy Trust. Jonathan will be discussing how to make online education a success at scale. You can sign up here for Friday.
For all the guidance on how to use Arbor during Covid-19, it’s all here.
Arbor Insight | MAT Operations | MATs
We’re excited to announce our new, free report for Multi-Academy Trust leaders – the Understanding Your MAT Report is coming out this month! Launching soon to MAT leaders across the country, the Understanding Your MAT Report will allow you to see your trust in a new light. The report brings together key measures like your
We’re excited to announce our new, free report for Multi-Academy Trust leaders – the Understanding Your MAT Report is coming out this month!
Launching soon to MAT leaders across the country, the Understanding Your MAT Report will allow you to see your trust in a new light. The report brings together key measures like your schools’ ASP performance statistics, alongside your MAT’s size and local demographics, to help you understand the unique makeup of your trust compared to others in England.
Want to see your personalised report before the rest of the country? Click here to join the waiting list
Your report will give you the metrics and benchmarks at your fingertips to see your MAT’s specific strengths and challenges, without waiting on spreadsheets or trawling through online tables.
Created in partnership with the Centre for Education and Youth (CFEY), the report helps you put your performance in perspective. In one, easy-to-read report, you’ll have for the first time:
With clear, visual charts and expert analysis, the Understanding Your MAT Report is perfect to share with your key stakeholders. Shape smart strategy and find new ways to improve results for staff and students today!
We recently launched a new series of webinars to show schools and MATs how a cloud-based MIS like Arbor could help support you and your team through Covid-19. We’ve already had some great sessions (attended by over 30 schools!), so we’re expanding our repertoire with some more helpful topics over the next few weeks. Next
We recently launched a new series of webinars to show schools and MATs how a cloud-based MIS like Arbor could help support you and your team through Covid-19. We’ve already had some great sessions (attended by over 30 schools!), so we’re expanding our repertoire with some more helpful topics over the next few weeks.
Next up in our webinar series, we’re teaming up with Hoyland Common Academy Trust (HCAT), who’ll share how they’ve been using Arbor to help their 4 primaries and 1 secondary make the transition to fully managing their students, staff and wider communities from home.
Join Vicky Harrison, COO, along with one of HCAT’s Headteachers, on Monday 4th May, as they discuss some of the ways a cloud-based MIS like Arbor has been invaluable in supporting them as they navigate this unfamiliar landscape. From being able to easily stay in touch with parents, staff and students, manage new attendance codes and spreadsheet registers, to monitoring staff sickness/absence and seeing which staff are in school or working remotely, Vicky told us that having a cloud-based MIS like Arbor has been “a godsend” since Covid-19 hit.
As well as hearing from Vicky, we’ll also demo some of the features we’ve added to make managing your school remotely that bit easier. If you’re not already using Arbor, this is a great chance to see if our system could be a good fit for your school, and to hear first hand how it compares to HCAT’s previous, server-based system. If you’re already using Arbor, you’re also more than welcome to come along – we’d love to hear some of the ways you’ve been using Arbor since you’ve been working remotely!
There’ll be plenty of time for discussion at the end of the session, so it would be great to hear about any obstacles you’ve come up against whilst managing your school or MAT remotely, or any successes you’ve had that you think others might benefit from.
Hope to see you there!
If you can’t make Monday’s session, you can click here to see our full list of upcoming webinars – they’re all free, so bring a member of your team to see if Arbor could be a good fit for you school
MAT Conference | MAT Operations | MATs
Sign up to our upcoming webinar with Jonathan Bishop CEO and Executive Head Teacher at Cornerstone Academy Trust There’s been a lot of change in the education sector over the last three years, but a huge amount of change in the last two weeks. With continued change set to stretch further into the summer, we’re all
Sign up to our upcoming webinar with Jonathan Bishop
CEO and Executive Head Teacher at Cornerstone Academy Trust
There’s been a lot of change in the education sector over the last three years, but a huge amount of change in the last two weeks. With continued change set to stretch further into the summer, we’re all going to have to get better at adapting to it.
So far in our webinar programme “Adapting to Change”, we’ve heard from MAT CEOs, COOs, Trustees and sector experts sharing their strategies for coping with this challenging time. We’ve been discussing leading in a crisis, digitally transforming your trust, staff mental wellbeing and managing a trust that is geographically dispersed.
Next up in the programme, we’re excited to be launching a series of interviews between MAT Leaders and Arbor’s CEO James Weatherill. These “In Conversation With” talks are bite-size webinars where James will be discussing with trust leaders what remote management means to them and the strategies they’re putting in place to manage constant change.
These conversations are a great opportunity to get an insight into how fellow trusts are adapting. You’ll take away new ideas, processes and leadership styles that you can implement in your own trust. It’s also your chance to ask questions and share your own ideas, too.
If you’re a MAT Leader, this could be a perfect time to take a pause, consider and share ideas, then go back, hopefully with a little bit more knowledge and a preparedness for the next term and beyond.
Click the links below to sign up for our next session on Friday 15th May. Look out for more webinars over the next few weeks.
Friday 15th May, 11-11:45am
“Adapting to Change: Don’t Compromise on Quality – how to make online education successful” – In Conversation With Jonathan Bishop
CEO and Executive Head Teacher at Cornerstone Academy Trust
If you have any questions about the webinars, or about how Arbor MIS could help your trust, you can get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org, or give us a call on 0208 050 1028.
To find out how to manage and report on the Coronavirus situation in Arbor, you can read our latest blog, or find practical advice on our Help Centre.
data | MAT Operations | MATs | Schools
You might have heard of Microsoft Power BI, Google Data Studio or Tableau. But what is Business Intelligence (BI) and what does it mean for schools and MATs? We’ve put together this handy guide to help you navigate all things BI. What is BI? BI stands for “Business Intelligence”. In simple terms, this means the
You might have heard of Microsoft Power BI, Google Data Studio or Tableau. But what is Business Intelligence (BI) and what does it mean for schools and MATs? We’ve put together this handy guide to help you navigate all things BI.
What is BI?
BI stands for “Business Intelligence”. In simple terms, this means the technology used by companies (or schools and trusts!) to analyse their data. BI tools are used to do these things:
How is BI used in schools and MATs?
Schools are swimming in data. But data is only helpful when you can learn from it. Without a way to understand their data so they can turn it into actions, schools can find themselves “drowning in data” (Education Technology). This is where Business Intelligence tools come in – they help SLT monitor the health and progress of their schools (e.g. Which of my schools is performing most highly?), inform strategic decisions (e.g. Which subject should we invest in more next year?) and report to governors, parents and trustees.
Why are schools using external BI tools?
Schools and MATs are turning to external BI tools more and more in order to analyse their data. This is usually because their management information system (MIS) doesn’t give them an easy way of visualising their data in the way they need. BI tools free schools from having to manually build reports in spreadsheets which is time-consuming and doesn’t present an overall picture. For multi-academy trusts especially, BI dashboards allow them to see a “single source of truth” in order to monitor and assess the performance of all their schools, rather than having to piece together and compare the data themselves.
The size of your trust will affect the type of data analytics and BI tooling that’s right for you. Larger MATs may have the resources to employ data and software professionals to create a bespoke BI solution. We’ve put together a diagram below showing how the size, degree of centralisation, existing systems and data strategy of a MAT might affect what they need from BI.
The problem schools are facing with external BI products is they’re expensive, complex and require setup by trained staff. Many tools don’t work with schools’ existing management information systems, which means it takes a long time for staff to take actions on the data. Plus, as most tools are not suited to groups of schools, MATs have to rely on products such as Microsoft Power BI to bring all their data together.
Arbor’s BI solution
At Arbor, we have built “out of the box” Business Intelligence solutions into the fabric of our MIS through clear, detailed and relevant dashboards. This means there’s no need for configuration or setup – everyone working at your school can see and manipulate the data they need in a few clicks. Plus, you can go deep into the detail of your data and take actions without needing to be a data expert or to hire one!
What makes Arbor different?
Whilst Arbor provides detailed, powerful, “out of the box” analysis for schools, we also know that you sometimes need to analyse data outside of your MIS. That’s why Arbor MIS supports all major BI providers, giving you the freedom and flexibility to choose and define your own BI approach for your group. It’s easy – using Arbor “Live Feeds”, you can export live data from Arbor MIS into your external BI tool.
We’ve built powerful yet simple Business Intelligence into Arbor MIS, Group MIS and Arbor Insight. You can book a demo today or come and chat to us at BETT – we’re at stand NM30. We’re also hosting lunch (on us!) at Tapa Tapa restaurant (on the DLR walkway outside the ExCel centre) – sign up for your free spot here.
Our CEO, James Weatherill, opened our fourth MAT Conference in Manchester by talking about the growing sense of confidence in the MAT sphere as trusts become better at coping with constant change. We’ve transcribed his presentation below! This is the fourth conference in a series we’ve run to try and bring together MAT leaders from
Our CEO, James Weatherill, opened our fourth MAT Conference in Manchester by talking about the growing sense of confidence in the MAT sphere as trusts become better at coping with constant change. We’ve transcribed his presentation below!
This is the fourth conference in a series we’ve run to try and bring together MAT leaders from all around the country to exchange good ideas. Today, we’ll talk about your successes, as well as advice on what to avoid, and you should take home some practical, implementable tips to share with your wider central team.
The reason why we do this kind of event is this: we’ve been travelling around the country and speaking to each of you, and we kept on finding that we were being asked the same questions. What this generally meant was that people weren’t exchanging ideas between each other. So, we want this to be a safe space for you to come together and hear about what different MATs are doing, both well and not so well, so you can avoid mistakes and exchange good ideas.
I think in the early formation of any industry, it’s really important that people get together and talk a lot, so that’s the basic format for today. Hopefully you’ll go away having learned something new, having met some peers, having built some good relationships and ultimately having new ideas to take back to help your MAT scale better and more sustainably. That is the goal of today.
We try and come up with a different theme for each conference, and for this I chose “getting better and coping with constant change” – I’ll run you through my rationale for that. This is a quote I came across that illustrates my point by Dorothy Parker, the American poet and author:
“In youth, it was a way I had,
To do my best to please.
And change, with every passing lad
To suit his theories.
But now I know the things I know
And do the things I do,
And if you do not like me so,
To hell, my love, with you.”
What’s nice about this is that I think of multi-academy trusts as a group, and as people we’re still at the start of a journey. I think that journey is now a few years in. The feeling I get from going around and meeting lots of multi-academy trust is that we’re at the end of the youth phase, where perhaps we were all finding our way, listening to what schools had to say and giving quite a lot of autonomy around decision making. I’m sensing a growing confidence in each of you about having tackled the basics.
We’re now moving on to some perhaps more cultural, personal things that you’re trying to tackle in your trusts – more specific issues. Some of the bigger,systemic problems are being tackled, like: “How do we scale? What size do I need to be? What do my staffing structures look like?” These issues are broadly being solved (though not completely) and we’re moving on to the second stage where there’s this growing confidence.
The last line of the Dorothy Parker quote perhaps doesn’t resonate with everyone. You can’t quite be that direct with everyone. And perhaps that’s too much confidence. But, nonetheless, I think we’re somewhere in the middle of those two verses now as trust leaders.
Coping with constant change
The MAT backdrop has been one of massive change, huge change, political change, funding change, technological change – so much more in the last five years than I’ve seen for a very long time. I think as CEOs, you’ve got better at coping with that. You start off with one or two schools, you get better, you get hit by a few problems and your goal is trying to stay on track without falling off (the GIF below illustrates this process quite well!). I think people are steadily getting better at riding that wave of change and pushing through progress in that way.
Group MIS: One system to streamline all data and workflows
So a little bit about Arbor: we’re a Management Information System for schools and trusts. We work with over 800 schools and 75 MATS. We have a group MIS which you can learn about here.
Fig 1: Arbor’s cloud-based MIS for MATs is the hassle free way for trusts to get work done
Our Group MIS pulls all of your data together into one one place and allows you to get a MAT-wide view benchmarked against national data as well. You can drill down all the way from a MAT level. It gives you out of the box analysis on regions, on your primary and secondaries and you can go all the way from MAT level to student level – with no setup required as long as your schools are running our MIS system. It also allows you to work on how you can operate better as a MAT. Group-wide workflows, for example, like setting assessment policy centrally and pushing them down to schools, mean you can get work done without having to go into each individual school’s MIS.
School MIS: A hassle-free way to streamline your schools
We also run a school MIS. This is a simple, smart system that brings all of your data together at the school level. This video shows us an overview of behaviour and reform:
Fig 2: Arbor’s cloud-based MIS for schools
So, you can start to see your data making sense, both from a student level and on a school level. Again, this comes with out of the box analytics and you can drill down and action things. The goal is about automating all of the admin in your school to save your staff time, bringing all of your data together and pointing your staff to the children who are most in need.
Over 1,000 schools will switch MIS this year
There’s been a lot of schools switching MIS. Over 1000 schools have switched this year. We’re slightly different as a company in that we care about the impact that we have. We have a board and it’s my responsibility to report to them. These are the metrics that matter to them:
The answers to all of these questions is shown in the data below, which is taken from the 800+ schools who use Arbor:
Fig 3: At Arbor, we have specific impact metrics that help us make sure we’re doing what we’re supposed to be doing
Over 800 schools and 75 MATs have switched to Arbor
We work with lots of different types of MATS:
Fig 4: A slide from James’ presentation showing the different types of MATs Arbor works with
We work with MATs from the very large (over 60 schools) all the way down to the very small (1 or 2 schools). That’s where some of the learnings come from today. At different stages of the journey, you have different problems and there’s different ways of solving it. We’ve seen a lot of it. Take the Isle of Man, for example, which has its own government – they have very different problems. So hopefully, we’ll be able to play back some of these learnings today.
Centralising data and your back office
We also have lots of partners that we work with. We don’t just do the job ourselves:
Fig 5: A slide from James’ presentation showing how we work with our partners
We have two sponsors today: P.S. Financials and RS Assessment. We integrate with both and we’ll talk about that today. You’ll find out how you can get a holistic overview of all of your students and how you can see your benchmark assessment data alongside your attendance and behaviour in Arbor. The whole goal is around centralizing the back office, so that everything works seamlessly.
School Autonomy vs MAT Centralisation
In previous conference, we’ve talked about the general theme of, “Where do you sit on the balance between school autonomy and MAT centralisation?” and a few speakers today will talk about their experiences with this.
Fig 6: A slide from James’ presentation showing school autonomy vs MAT centralisation amongst different MATs
We’ve run surveys and some of you will have been called about where you sit on the scale. These green blobs show a sample of where this room sits on each of these different areas. I’ve also highlighted in light green where the moving average is. So, what about MATs across the country? How centralized are they across all of these different things? The picture that’s emerging is that it’s kind of settling down. People know what they know and now they’re moving forward more slowly.
The first few conferences that we did, when we benchmarked this data, it was all over the place. Some people were more centralized, some people were less. But what we can see now is that assessment models in primaries and curriculum in primary-led MATS are being more centralized.
In secondaries, it’s still a way off. Governance has been pretty highly-centralized across MATS, and there are different models for that. It’s the same with school improvement – sometimes there is a function set up for that centrally. Some MATS around the tables here are doing that particularly well. Pedagogy less so – left up to the schools to a degree.
But in terms of policy systems and back office, we’re moving towards greater centralization and control at the MAT level. And this is an evolving picture. So we keep on playing this back to the room, but I think the trend has always been more to the right. MATs are taking more ownership of the more non-teaching elements so that schools can focus more on the business of teaching.
Beacons of excellence
There are beacons of excellence in this room. A question we tend to ask you is: “What one thing you do particularly well in your MAT, and what one thing could others perhaps learn from?” These are a few snippets from the calls that we had with some of the people sitting here.
Fig 7: Quotes from MATs about what they do well
The interesting and quite rewarding thing here was that lots of people are talking about their culture being something that they do particularly well. Another common theme is being confident to share the collective idea of our Trust, not the Trust – a shared, authentic identity across all schools. Safeguarding is another one, and one MAT talks about their approach to people(i.e. how HR and talent management can be a competitive advantage). We’ve also heard about how culture can be used to attract schools.
The Biggest Challenges
So now, onto challenges. And there are loads. That’s also what today is about:
Fig 8: Quotes from MATs about some of the challenges they face
One challenge is around parental engagement amongst vulnerable students. Also systems, and integration in a general sense. Head teachers who are wedded to how things used to be done, rather than how things are done now, perhaps? And finance is an ongoing problem. These are some common challenges that I hope will ring a few bells with a lot of you. That’s why I want to give all of you time throughout the day to explore the challenges that each of you have in your respective trusts. That’s it for me – thanks for listening!
If you’d like to find out more about how our hassle-free, cloud-based MIS could help transform your MAT, contact us. You can also book a demo by calling 0207 043 0470 or email email@example.com.
At Arbor’s MAT conference on 8th November in Manchester, Debbie Clinton, CEO, and Vince Green, Principal and Regional Director for Education, shared their experiences of turning around Academy Transformation Trust over the past year. To read part 1 of their presentation, click here. It’s scary, isn’t it? How these edifices can collapse really, really quickly in
At Arbor’s MAT conference on 8th November in Manchester, Debbie Clinton, CEO, and Vince Green, Principal and Regional Director for Education, shared their experiences of turning around Academy Transformation Trust over the past year. To read part 1 of their presentation, click here.
It’s scary, isn’t it? How these edifices can collapse really, really quickly in our sector. So how have we fixed it? What have we actually done? I suppose we’ve done a lot of obvious stuff, really. First, I went on a grand tour – it had to be done. I don’t know how you can do it any other way as a new Chief Executive. You’ve got to get into these academies and get to know them, smell them, breathe them – just to feel what they feel like.
So I said to the principals, “I’m going to carry out 22 section 8 inspections over a two term period.” That went down well. But it was actually really, really helpful. I did this because, with the absence of effective school improvement strategy and an effective MIS, I didn’t have intelligence I could trust. I didn’t feel that I could trust what I was being told across all 22 academies. On reflection it was useful because you see things that vary in quality from superb to rubbish.
It’s important to decide this: what are our priorities? A delivery plan was absolutely vital, because there was no culture to hold people to account whatsoever. While I am surrounded by lots of talent in the league of Vince, one of the problems that I had was that the absence of effective systems meant that quality assurance just wasn’t happening on a routine basis.
So the executive leadership team complete an annual delivery plan and decide the following: here’s our strategic priority, here’s what I am going to do and here’s what that will be. Now, if only getting the structure right led to rapid school improvement – wouldn’t we all be happy?
I appreciate that I’m now in year two. Year one was spent doing that. And now in year 2, my trustees will say, “Okay then. Let’s see the impact of these significant changes.” It’s a fair enough question. But I hope what you see is a coherence; an approach to regionalisation; an approach to mirroring directorates that look like each other, which helps in terms of becoming one entity.
(Image 1: A slide taken from Debbie Clinton’s presentation showing how she will act on her three year strategy to improve Academy Transformation Trust)
People development is perhaps an obvious thing to bring up, as is the urgent need for the assessment of safeguarding and risk. We’ve appointed a Director of Safeguarding because we didn’t have one before. One of our schools went into category last academic year on the back of a very serious safeguarding criminal case. We’ve moved on quite a bit since then, but one of the reasons for it was that we just really weren’t understanding the complexity and the vagaries of safeguarding. I think Ofsted upped their safeguarding game remarkably in the past 12 months (about time, mind) and we don’t always agree with them, but actually, in light of that, it means that someone’s got to be driving safeguarding.
Governance is also really important. Our governance trust board had been radically reformed with the DFE’s involvement before I got there. They’re very impressive. Local academies were all over the place – outstanding through to absent, basically, because there’s no approach to governance. There’s no coherent approach to understanding what governance means in our trust.
We appointed a head of corporate affairs which was crucial. Neutrality is also really important. I know that Andy will happily whistleblow about me at anytime because he’s very clear that he is accountable to the chair of the trust. So, although he’s a salaried employee, he operates in a neutral way.
We’ve taken a lot of time to think about the style with which we bring about the recovery. This is perhaps a bit blindingly obvious, but actually I’ve inspected too many MATS and schools to know it isn’t always: “What leadership technique and strategy will I use in this meeting, this workshop, this line management, this performance development compensation, etc.?”
(Image 2: A slide taken from Debbie Clinton’s presentation showing the style of her three year strategy to improve Academy Transformation Trust)
It’s also important to be humble. Humility: you can’t underestimate that. But you know that already. CEOs are famous for their egos aren’t they? I hope I park it as much as I can. There’s too much ego in our system already. We need to acknowledge that around us, we have so much talent. Tact: I’m mostly tactful, but I also don’t mess around. If someone’s not done a good job, they do know it.
I am patient mostly and ethical always. You can look at my expense plan. You can look at my salary. I’ve worked really hard and I spent a long time with my P.A. and one of our finance team talking about the management of my expenses accounts and how it was going to be; how it would be quality assured.
Then the other stuff is obvious. Communication practices: the most obvious thing. We haven’t got that right. In fact, we’re not very good at that yet. It’s getting better, but we need it. We do need an effective communication strategy. You can’t just by accident run a MAT of our size. You’ve got to be consciously thinking about how you get it all behaving as one entity. How will you constantly revisit what we are and what we say we are?
(Image 3: A slide taken from Debbie Clinton’s presentation showing how her strategy has started to improve outcomes for Academy Transformation Trust)
So as you would expect, there are some quantitative and qualitative examples of the impact of all of this activity so far. We ended last year with a £2.9 million deficit. We ended this year in surplus for £2 million. We still have a historic debt, which won’t be settled until summer of 2021. But in a year, we’re down to £2 million. So despite everything, despite ruthless financial leadership, we still did that because we were spending amounts like £200,000 on an army of goodness knows what. I’m out of time now, but I think that the rest speaks for itself.
At Arbor’s MAT conference on 8th November in Manchester, Debbie Clinton, CEO, and Vince Green, Principal and Regional Director for Education, shared their experiences of turning around Academy Transformation Trust over the past year. We’ve transcribed part 1 of their presentation below! Debbie: I’m Debbie Clinton, the Chief Executive Officer of Academies Transformation Trust and
At Arbor’s MAT conference on 8th November in Manchester, Debbie Clinton, CEO, and Vince Green, Principal and Regional Director for Education, shared their experiences of turning around Academy Transformation Trust over the past year. We’ve transcribed part 1 of their presentation below!
I’m Debbie Clinton, the Chief Executive Officer of Academies Transformation Trust and I have been in post since September of 2018. A bit about my background: Secondary headteacher (named in the House of Commons!) and all these accolades that actually were very precious to me at the time. And then I left all of that to join the dark side and become an HMI (forgive me!) but it was very useful. Then I went over to the Diverse Academy Learning Partnership in the East Midlands to be the deputy CEO and then acting CEO of a much smaller trust than the one I work with now. And then, obviously I mentioned that I started at ATT just over a year ago, and I’m loving it. But it’s also a bit loony, which we’ll come to.
I’m Vince Green and I’ve been a principal within the Academy Transformation Trust since 2014. It’s my 6th year with the trust and I’ve really experienced the interesting journey that our trust has been on during the last 5 years – very much ups and downs all along the way. I was principal for 5 years at Bristnall Hall Academy in Sandwell. But this year, I’m in a fortunate position. Having worked with Debbie for just over a year, I’m now Regional Education Director for Secondary West and also Executive Principal over Bristnall Hall and two other academies in the West Midlands.
First, we’ll do the boring bit. So this is us. We are big. We have 22 academies, 10 primaries and secondaries, 1 special school and 1 FE College. We operate across 2 regions, 10 local authority areas, 10 lots of schools forums, 10 lots of CED funding models, 10 high-needs funding models. It’s just great. We have a turnover of over 8 million – not enough, but obviously a significant budget to manage. We have 13,000 students and around 2000 colleagues. If I had had my old HMI hat on – and there’s at least one other former HMI in the room – I would have put our multi-academy trust straight into category for all sorts of reasons, and we’ll come to those now.
(Image 1: A slide taken from Debbie Clinton’s presentation showing key stats from the Academy Transformation Trust)
The main reason is actually very simple: the multi-academy trust was not behaving as a multi-academy trust. It was behaving as a set of 22 individual entities, some of whom, like Vince’s old academy, were fairly high-performing and doing quite well. So, they kind of just got on with it and thought “the trust is just a pain so I’ll just park that to one side.” As a formerly strong Head, I would’ve done the same. But others, of course, were desperate for the structure and support and challenge that lies at the heart of an effective multi-academy trust – and they weren’t getting any of that. So, everybody lost.
There’s a theme we hope that you pick up running through our presentation: the need to behave as a trust, but then defining what that actually means. We had the following problems: significant debt, 4 CFOs in as many years, management that wasn’t fit for purpose (I’m not talking about the individuals, actually, because many of them are still with me – which is actually a great testament to how far we’ve come). But the structures were just all over the place. Very poor systems. We’re still unearthing things now that are news to some of my senior leaders. Very poor control. Almost absent control at all levels, actually.
Then there’s risk management. I can say this now, because we’ve got one. We didn’t have a risk register. Can you imagine my reaction when I arrived to that? And the trustees were being told that everything was actually tickety-boo when it certainly wasn’t. Some academies had a risk register, so they were compliant, and in some cases quite good registers. But there wasn’t one in the centre. This was a huge problem.
(Image 2: A slide taken from Debbie Clinton’s presentation showing key financial problems within the Academy Transformation Trust)
Can I just add from a principal’s point of view that within our trust during that time, it was quite a strange scenario. About a year in, lots of our academies with financial issues were in positions where there had to be restructures and redundancy processes. We very much did those off our own backs, because we had worked with principals or head teachers before who’d always done the right thing: cut their crop accordingly. If you haven’t got enough money moving forward, you have a redundancy process. But many didn’t, and it wasn’t imposed on them by the Trust at all.
At times, it would appear to most of us principals that financial people didn’t really know when these problems were coming. So, the only academies that were addressing this were those that had good financial systems and managers within their academy already. We realised this during a major redundancy process at my own academy at the time and I remember turning around to my SLT at one time and saying, “You know what? I reckon today we could go out and spend £100,000 on stuff for this academy and I think we’d get away with it.” Unfortunately, it’s taxpayers’ money, because otherwise it would be great fun. That was the kind of world we lived in at the time.
Absolutely. It’s a picture that I recognised from my inspection life as well. With regard to operations, you’ve got to think about the context. 22 academies, 10 local authority areas across East and West regions, massive geographical challenges and a massive geographical understanding that needs to be grasped that wasn’t. So, we’ve done quite a lot with H.R., which is getting there and ICT, which wasn’t regionalised – I mean how do you not regionalise IT and MIS? How can you not actually make sure that the very architecture on which you build your MAT has been properly regionalised?
We also had poor procurement leadership; there was a Procurement Director. I have no evidence of the impact of that job at all. We had poor MIS leadership – absent, in fact. When you’re looking at areas like risk management and control systems, you need to be really clear on performance with regard to finance, operations and education. We don’t just do education in MATS – of course we don’t. We’re a multi-million pound business! How did we actually know what was going on? Well, we didn’t. And that’s kind of the point. Classic left hand, right hand stuff: too many people.
If you look at old versions of our website, you will see that there’s all these people employed at the centre doing goodness knows what. And morally, I have an issue with that. So one of the first things we’ve done is try to drive ethical leadership culturally through the organisation. We have to be absolutely clear. What is that job that isn’t either a teacher, head teacher or member of associated support staff? What do they do? What is the point of me? What is the point of a job like this? And how do we continue to evidence the impact of these fairly highly-paid people?
“What do you do?” That was a question that couldn’t be answered effectively by quite a number of people in those roles. Then there was an equally large problem: no approach to people development. There was no strategic, deep understanding that the most important thing you ever do as a trust – as any large organisation – is look after your people. Develop them. Challenge them. Bring them on. Make them feel like they want to be part of the journey.
(Image 3: A slide taken from Debbie Clinton’s presentation showing key operations problems within the Academy Transformation Trust)
I agree. In terms of education, there were some pockets of great practice going on within many of the academies and actually within our central team. We’ve had a lot of different staff that have worked separately for our trust over the 5 years I’ve worked with ATT. We’ve had some great individuals within those groups, but it’s never been joined up. And what it has resulted in is these academies pretty much working in silos, occasionally collaborating with other academies because the principals have taken it upon themselves to do it. But it’s been very much them and us.
So that brings me on to where we are now. We are one organisation. We are one trust. I think what attracted me initially to work for ATT – to take on my first headship with it – was the fact that I was clearly going to have huge amounts of autonomy, which was very attractive at the time. I could bring in the people I wanted, which was great fun, and so on. And that worked well, even in my environment. I’m not just saying that because it’s me necessarily, because I had a number of other great things in place, but this did not work well in other academies where that wasn’t the case.
We had, as I’ve said, uncontrolled spending. We had crazy staffing structures in some places and things not driving on educationally as one would want. Another big issue was definitely our people development strategy. In terms of talent mapping, capacity mapping and skill mapping, it was only done well in some academies. In others, we’ve lost some fantastic people along the way and I see them doing great things now in other trusts and in other organisations. And really, you know, our kids are missing out on those people now because it wasn’t mapped out properly at the time.
You know, Sir David Carter, as he left his role as National Schools Commissioner, talked about the spectrum of autonomous alignment and standardisation. What do you tightly control? What do you not really care about and what do you need to make sure you align? We did a lot of work on that, which is nowhere near finished, but we have begun a very important piece of work in our Trust about that.
One of the things that most fascinated me in my interview for ATT was the total absence of this. There were about 8 trustees involved in my appointment. During the interview they asked, “Have you got any questions?” And I said, “Talk to me about your school improvement strategy,” and they couldn’t tell me anything. It was disgraceful.
In fact, the trustees were quite clear that this was one of their main worries that they felt unable to articulate. That classic Ofsted question: “Talk to me about how you improve academies.” What do you do? What’s your model? How do you know it works?
So defining that was was really, very important indeed. When I arrived, they were spending £185,000 on consultants. So I asked to see the 16 contracts for these 16 consultants. Not a single KPI on any contract. One of them is charging around £800 a day (to fund his villa in Spain, clearly). I could not see any KPIs in any of those contracts, so they’ve all gone.
(Image 4: A slide taken from Debbie Clinton’s presentation showing key education problems within the Academy Transformation Trust)
Just to conclude, I mean, we will all be very aware of what’s happened with certain other high-profile MATs that no longer exist. And I think the bottom line was that ATT was in a position which was seen externally as relatively healthy. It was a MAT that had been allowed to grow – in a crazy way, really. If you look at the geography of a lot of our academies, we had at the time very rapidly declined, in a way that could have basically forced us to cease to exist.
Click here to read the next instalment of Debbie and Vince’s presentation, in which they talk about exactly how they approached turning around Academy Transformation Trust.
Arbor MIS | MAT Conference | MAT Operations | MATs
Now that 72 MATs are using Arbor’s MIS to manage and collaborate more efficiently with their schools, we looked at the 4 key reasons MATs decide to switch to us. Stay connected to all your schools Arbor MIS for MATs brings all your schools’ data together so you can instantly see how your students are
Now that 72 MATs are using Arbor’s MIS to manage and collaborate more efficiently with their schools, we looked at the 4 key reasons MATs decide to switch to us.
Stay connected to all your schools
Arbor MIS for MATs brings all your schools’ data together so you can instantly see how your students are getting on, and jump in if you need to. Act on everything important, fast – and all from just one system, so you and your staff can get on with focusing on what matters most.
Follow up centrally
Arbor lets you log into your schools’ MIS systems in one click, meaning jobs like chasing absent students, following up on behaviour incidents and investigating overdue marks are simple, painless, and take far less time. You can even set up escalations and workflows to get things done automatically, and track progress using standardised or non-standardised assessment frameworks.
Never ask for data again
Reporting in Arbor is as painless as it should be. Use our Report Builder to create reports for stakeholders in minutes (not days!) and send them out daily, weekly or termly to suit the needs of your Central Team. Stakeholders have the information they need without having to ask all the time, and can make better-informed decisions as a result.
A smooth transition with human support at every step
Having helped over 72 MATs and over 800 schools make the switch, we understand the importance of making sure your new MIS is a success for your schools and your Central Team. We’re on hand to answer questions every step of the way, and our phone lines are open 8am-5pm every day of the week.
“Arbor’s simple interface is easy to use, and we love the MAT reporting tool – the ability to see MAT data in one place without having to contact all schools individually has saved us so much time!”
Lisa Sarikaya, Deputy CEO at St Bart’s Multi-academy Trust
Join our Community of MATs
Over the course of this year, we’re bringing MATs from across the country together to discuss how to successfully centralise data and operations – we’d love to see you at an upcoming event!
Image 1: The Bridgewater Hall in Manchester, where our fourth conference will be held
8th November 2019
Scaling Sustainably: Our fourth MAT Leaders Conference
See the full agenda and sign up for your free ticket here: https://scaling-your-mat-sustainably-19.eventbrite.com
13-14th November 2019
Schools & Academies Show Birmingham
Visit us at stand F30 for a chat and a free demo to see if Arbor’s cloud-based MAT MIS could be the right fit for your trust. Don’t miss our live session on day 2 in the Business & Finance Theatre on Arbor’s free dashboards, which give you clear, aggregated, out-of-the-box analysis of your schools’ latest performance data.
31st December 2019
Give your MIS provider notice if you want to switch
If you’re planning to move all your schools to a cloud-based MIS like Arbor, most MIS providers (e.g. SIMS) need at least three months notice if you want to switch this school year.
22-25th January 2020
BETT 2020 at The ExCel
We’ll be at stand NM30 in the main area from Wednesday through Saturday! Drop by to see our MIS in action, come watch our talk at the Tech in Action arena or join us at Tapa Tapa restaurant for a free lunch & glass of wine each day.
27th March 2020
Arbor’s Spring MAT Conference
We’re holding our 5th MAT conference at Kings Place, a ten minute walk from London Kings Cross Station. Put the date in your diary, and stay tuned for more details from us soon.
If you’d like to find out more about Arbor’s MIS for MATs, these events are all great opportunities to see if Arbor could be a good fit for your trust. Don’t forget, we also come to you – email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or call us on 0208 050 1028 to arrange a free demo.
MAT Operations | MATs | Ofsted Inspections
This September, Ofsted’s new inspection framework came into effect, putting more of an emphasis on curriculum as opposed to just academic results with their new “quality of education” grade. A consistent theme in teachers’ feedback to inspections so far seems to be that Ofsted have become more rigorous; rather than settling for a surface level
This September, Ofsted’s new inspection framework came into effect, putting more of an emphasis on curriculum as opposed to just academic results with their new “quality of education” grade. A consistent theme in teachers’ feedback to inspections so far seems to be that Ofsted have become more rigorous; rather than settling for a surface level view, they now want to dig a little deeper into how schools and trust operate and why.
According to Tes, some leadership and teachers have described these new inspections as intense and stressful, while others say it provides a fairer, more balanced view of how you work. Either way, we can safely say that it definitely wouldn’t hurt to prepare to tackle some tough questions about your MAT.
To help you prepare, we’ve put together this useful list of questions that you might be asked during an Ofsted inspection this year. Our list is by no means exhaustive, but acts as more of a checklist for you and other MAT leaders to read ahead of any upcoming inspections.
Questions are based on inspections that other schools have experienced this year. Many of these questions can be credited to governingmatters.wordpress.com who posted this useful article to help governors prepare for Ofsted inspections.
1. MAT structure and values
Ofsted are very likely to ask you at least one question about your MAT’s values and the aims that you have for your pupils. Consider why your trust operates the way that it does and how you think this will help to shape your students’ education overall.
A. How is your MAT structured and why?
B. What are your priorities for your schools?
C. What are your ambitions for your children?
You’ll be expected to provide some information on your governors, including their training and the role they play. Think about how you can show that your governors are adequately trained and appropriately contributing to how your MAT is run.
A. How does the MAT board work with Local Governing Bodies?
B. What role do your governors play in school leadership? How do you recruit new governors?
C. What training do your governors receive?
3. Headteachers and SLT
Have a think about how often you hold your headteachers and SLT members to account for how their schools are performing. Be sure to have some proof that you can present to Ofsted ahead of your inspection! In Group MIS, it’s easy to check how your different schools are performing by looking at your data dashboards when you first log in to your portal.
A. How do you hold your headteachers and SLT to account?
B. How do you ensure that you are not just relying on information provided by the head?
C. Can you give an example of how you challenged the head and brought about a change?
Image 1: A screenshot of the main Dashboard when you log into Arbor Group MIS
4. Staff performance and wellbeing
Be ready to provide examples of how you handle both positive and negative staff performance, as well as how you make sure the staff across your MAT are well looked after and happy. In Arbor MIS, you can use our Staff Development function to track staff appraisals and training.
A. How do you ensure staff wellbeing? Can you give any examples?
B. What is the link between teacher appraisal and pay?
C. How is teacher underperformance dealt with in your trust?
5. Measuring progress and school improvement
Think about how you’ve analysed your KS1 & KS2 performance data so far and whether you’ve effectively pinpointed where your MAT is performing well and where it could be doing better – click here to find out how you can do this using our free Group Insight reports and dashboards.
A. What do your schools do best and what could they do better?
B. How do you contribute to and monitor your school improvement plan?
C. Please describe the MAT’s journey since the last inspection. Have you made an effort to fix issues that were picked up last time?
6. Curriculum planning and tracking
Ofsted is putting more emphasis on the curriculum than ever before with their new inspection framework. Use Arbor’s curriculum tracker to manage the way you deliver the curriculum across your MAT, and our analytics to inform your methodology. You can also read our helpful blog on curriculum planning and improving student outcomes.
A. How do you monitor your schools’ curriculum and how do you know it matches the national curriculum?
B. How do your students do in foundation subjects?
C. How do leaders discuss the sequencing of curriculum development? How do your teachers know what to teach?
7. Education equality
Consider the provisions you have in place for your disadvantaged pupils and how you make sure they have as many opportunities as their fellow students and that they are treated equally. Remember – you should be able to show how you measure the impact of these provisions! In our Group MIS, you can use our “By Demographic” function to keep track of disadvantaged students and work out where to intervene; you can also use our Interventions tracker to monitor any progress made.
A. How do you meet the equalities act? How do you know diversity is being taught in your schools?
B. What do you know about the performance of your SEN/EAL/disadvantaged pupils?
C. How do you use Pupil Premium and Sports Premium monies and what impact has this had? How are pupil premium children progressing and what do you have in place to ensure higher attaining Pupil Premium students are challenged?
Image 2: A screenshot of attendance by demographic in Arbor’s Group MIS
8. Data monitoring
It’s possible that Ofsted will also ask you about the way you monitor and measure the data you receive from schools across your MAT. You need to be prepared for questions about the accuracy of this data; do this by collecting tangible evidence ahead of time. In, you can use our helpful data dashboards to diagnose any potential errors before your inspection.
A. How do you know that the data you get from your schools is accurate?
B. How do you measure pupil attendance in your schools?
C. How do you monitor pupil behaviour in your schools?
9. Safety and GDPR
We’re pretty confident that you’ll be asked about the level of safety in schools across your MAT. Make sure you have evidence to show that you’re compliant with GDPR regulations and that you have all the necessary procedures in place to keep your students safe. Visit our website to see how you can keep your data safe with Arbor.
A. Are children safe in your schools?
B. Do you have safeguarding training? Are safeguarding audits carried out regularly
C. Are you aware of and happy with the lockdown procedure in your schools
10. Parental engagement
Finally, you may be asked about your schools’ relationship with parents and how this relationship is maintained. You might want to check out our blog on “5 ways to boost parental engagement at your school” to see how you can effectively keep in touch with your parents.
A. How do you communicate with parents?
B. Are parents supportive of the schools in your trust?
C. Can you tell me more about your parent questionnaires?
As we’ve mentioned in a previous blog, our new “Understanding Your School Report” will help you prepare for the new Ofsted inspection framework by allowing you to benchmark your schools’ performance data against the national average, top quintile, and schools with a similar demographic intake. Download our new report to help your schools prepare for the next inspection: https://login.arbor.sc/auth/register
Hope you find the list helpful!
Arbor MIS for MATs brings all your schools together so you can instantly see how everyone’s getting on, and jump in if you need to. To find out more about Group MIS, get in touch via the contact form on our website, email us at email@example.com or give us a call on 0208 050 1028.
Arbor Insight | MAT Operations | MATs | Ofsted Inspections
We’re excited to let you know that all your KS1, KS2 and Phonics Analyse School Performance (ASP) data has been added to your Group Insight portal. We’ve crunched your schools’ 2019 data ahead of the DfE and used it to build free, interactive dashboards which you can use to explore aggregated statistics for all your
We’re excited to let you know that all your KS1, KS2 and Phonics Analyse School Performance (ASP) data has been added to your Group Insight portal. We’ve crunched your schools’ 2019 data ahead of the DfE and used it to build free, interactive dashboards which you can use to explore aggregated statistics for all your schools. Keep reading to find out more about Group Insight and how you can use it to plan your MAT’s improvement approach for next year.
What is Group Insight?
Group Insight is a free performance analysis tool for MATs to help you analyse your schools’ latest Analyse School Performance (ASP) data. We automatically analyse your MAT’s latest school performance data and present it back to you in easy-to-understand PDF reports and personalised dashboards, so you don’t have to spend hours aggregating and analysing the raw data yourself.
Fig 1.: A screenshot of a Group Insight dashboard displaying KS2 data across a MAT
How do you present my schools’ KS1 & KS2 data?
Your dashboards are great for helping you spot trends over the past three years, identifying which schools are driving over (or under) performance, and benchmarking your academies against national and top quintile averages. You can also use them to view each of your schools’ outcomes side by side, drill down into individual school outcomes and show impact over time when reporting to trustees.
Fig 2.: A screenshot of a Group Insight comparing a MATs school results by cluster
We’ve also updated our popular pre-paid PDF reports analysing your schools’ attainment and progress, highlighting areas to close the gap, and exploring patterns between your trust’s outcomes and the context of your unique demographic intake in our new Understanding Your School Report, which you can download via your portal.
Click here to log in & access your 2019 reports and dashboards: https://login.arbor.sc
Fig 3.: A screenshot of a Group Insight comparing a MATs results by demographic
“Clear, saves us time, available sooner than DfE MAT data, and is extremely well presented, making reporting to Trustees very straight forward”
– Paul James, Chief Executive Officer at River Learning Trust
How do I sign up?
Click here to sign up to your MAT’s free Arbor Insight portal: https://login.arbor.sc/auth/group-register
When will you add KS4 data to my portal?
We expect to receive your 2018/2019 KS4 data from the DfE very soon – so watch this space! If you’re already signed up, we’ll email you automatically to let you know when this happens.
Do you offer training on how my schools can use their Arbor Insight portal?
Yes! We run a free Arbor Insight Roadshow each Autumn Term offering free, in-person training to help your schools’ central teams to get the most out of Arbor Insight. Click here to sign up
Where can I hear more about Group Insight?
You can hear our CRO, Phillippa De’Ath, talk about how you can use your ASP data to drive school improvement across your MAT at the Schools & Academies Show in Birmingham. She’ll be speaking in the Business & Finance Theatre from 10:10-10:30 on 14th November 2019.
Can I use Group Insight alongside the DfE’s ASP service?
Yes! Arbor is an accredited supplier of ASP data, which means we receive secure, early access to all your school performance data from the DfE as soon as it’s released. So far over 10,000 schools have signed up to use us. Lots of schools and MATs use us instead of the DfE’s ASP service, but you can also use our reports and dashboards as a companion to the DfE’s analysis.
You haven’t answered my questions! Can I contact you for help?
Absolutely. You can reach the Arbor team at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling us on 020 8050 1028.
This November, we’re also holding another of our popular MAT Conferences in Manchester. Over 80 MAT leaders from over 50 MATs have already signed up! Click here to book your free place before they sell out
Following three sold out conferences in London and Manchester last year – attended by over 200 MAT leaders representing 157 trusts – we’re very excited to announce that the fourth conference in our popular series will take place on Friday 8th November in Manchester! Fig 1.: The Bridgewater Hall in Manchester, where our fourth conference
Following three sold out conferences in London and Manchester last year – attended by over 200 MAT leaders representing 157 trusts – we’re very excited to announce that the fourth conference in our popular series will take place on Friday 8th November in Manchester!
Fig 1.: The Bridgewater Hall in Manchester, where our fourth conference will be held
Our fourth conference will bring together MAT CEOs, COOs, and CFOs at Manchester’s Bridgewater Hall to discuss different strategies for scaling sustainably. Our speakers will share practical advice (based on their own experiences as CEOs) on how best to scale central team processes, governance, reporting, culture and more – to help you plan for the growth of your own trust.
We currently have 6 speakers confirmed, with more to be announced soon:
Speaker 1: Lauren Thorpe
Job title: Head of Data & Systems Strategy at Ark
MAT: Ark Schools
Lauren will speak about: How Ark manages the spread of data managers across its schools
Speaker 2: Ian Hunt
Job title: Director of Education Standards & Effectiveness
MAT: St Barts Multi Academy Trust
Ian will speak about: Scaling reporting to a MAT board
Speaker 3: Richard Sherrif
Job title: CEO
MAT: Red Kite Learning Trust
Richard will speak about: Communicating change to your schools
Speaker 4: Tom Banham
MAT: Hoyland Common Academy Trust
Tom will speak about: How to make sure each of your schools remain sensitive to their local context
Speaker 5: Debbie Clinton
MAT: Academies Transformation Trust
Debbie will speak about: TBC
We’ll be confirming our final 3 speakers and the topics of their presentations soon! In addition to our main speakers, there will also be an open roundtable discussion between MAT COOs, free breakfast & lunch, and plenty of networking breaks during which we’ll match you up with similar sized MATs to help you learn from each other and exchange best practice.
Click here to sign up for your free place for you and a member of your SLT: scaling-your-mat-sustainably-19.eventbrite.com
Want to move your schools to a cloud-based MIS? Click here to learn more about how Arbor’s Group MIS could help to transform the way you work with your schools
Centralising Operations | MAT Conference | MAT Operations | MATs
At our most recent MAT conference, Paul West, Chief Executive Officer at Spencer Academies Trust, shared his experience of the trust’s recent merger with Trent Academies Group, and how other trusts considering a similar move can make sure they’re doing it right. Check out his presentation below to see how Spencer Academies Trust navigated this
At our most recent MAT conference, Paul West, Chief Executive Officer at Spencer Academies Trust, shared his experience of the trust’s recent merger with Trent Academies Group, and how other trusts considering a similar move can make sure they’re doing it right. Check out his presentation below to see how Spencer Academies Trust navigated this important process:
Fig. 1: Click on the the arrows to flip through Paul’s presentation
At our latest MAT conference in London, Paul James, Chief Executive of River Learning Trust, talked to us about the importance of “working together to achieve excellence in education”. His presentation, which you can view below, explores different approaches to leadership and emphasises the necessity of teamwork. Fig. 1: Click on the the arrows to
At our latest MAT conference in London, Paul James, Chief Executive of River Learning Trust, talked to us about the importance of “working together to achieve excellence in education”. His presentation, which you can view below, explores different approaches to leadership and emphasises the necessity of teamwork.
Fig. 1: Click on the the arrows to flick through Paul’s slides from the day
At our recent MAT conference in London, Will Smith, Chief Executive Officer at Greenshaw Learning Trust, spoke about the importance of defining your Trust and how building strong foundations and principals is key to running a successful organisation. We’ve transcribed the beginning of his presentation below. What do we mean by “Trust”? A couple of
At our recent MAT conference in London, Will Smith, Chief Executive Officer at Greenshaw Learning Trust, spoke about the importance of defining your Trust and how building strong foundations and principals is key to running a successful organisation. We’ve transcribed the beginning of his presentation below.
What do we mean by “Trust”? A couple of years ago, as I walked around schools and spoke to my relatively small central team, I would hear things like “the Trust are coming in; the Trust have asked for this information.” We seemed to exist in some ivory tower headed up by me in some sort of draconian dark suit wielding some sceptre of power that was “the Trust”. We needed to bust that myth.
We moved away from the notion of “the Trust is coming in”. I went round and made it our number 1 performance managing objective to get it clear to local governing bodies and head teachers that “The Trust” is everyone. We challenge people when they refer to the Trust central team as “The Trust”. They are included in that Trust.
This has created an understanding of who we are as an organisation and has allowed me to develop true school-to-school collaboration, because we are all in one Trust and that’s been a massive thing for us. That’s why I focus very much on defining that Trust.
Click on the slides below to learn about Greenshaw Learning Trust’s strategy in more detail:
At our latest MAT Conference in London, Martin Holyoak, Education Product Specialist at PS Financials, spoke about the benefits of standardising systems across your MAT as you scale. Read what he had to say below. Let’s talk about using technology to strengthen your position when centralising. When we read into the whole centralising process, there’s a
At our latest MAT Conference in London, Martin Holyoak, Education Product Specialist at PS Financials, spoke about the benefits of standardising systems across your MAT as you scale. Read what he had to say below.
Let’s talk about using technology to strengthen your position when centralising. When we read into the whole centralising process, there’s a lot to consider. One of the first considerations should be the technology we use. What you should try to do is to use 1 product across all the schools in your Trust. When some schools first join the Trust, they try to take their systems with them. They can use anything up to 15 different systems – just for the basics. It’s actually more cost-effective when you start breaking contracts and just using one system.
Fig. 1: Click on the the arrows to flick through Martin’s slides from the day
Looking at accounting, HR, procurement, communications – whatever it may be; if you have multiple sets of software that don’t work with each other, it’s not helpful. If you just use these spreadsheets and systems, making an error could mean that hundreds of messages could be lost. You’re not going to see the full picture with these spreadsheets – and it’s a lot of work as well! So, if you can have 1 of everything, that will strengthen your Trust’s position and help you with scaling up as new schools join.
Where do you sit?
This brings me to your centralisation journey, wherever you are on it:
1. Autonomy: we work autonomously at first, holding only ourselves accountable and hiring who we want
2. Standardisation: when I look at the information in my Trust, I see differences without seeing lots of processes – standardisation is the next step
3. Centralisation: once everyone is doing step 2, it’s easier to put everything into a central site
But with centralisation, there are quite a lot of issues. I have seen schools in Trusts for years that are still autonomous; they all do their own payrolls, hire who they want, run their own bank accounts. I’ve seen a lot of centralising as well, but you do have 2 separate directions to choose from. Ours is more controlled. By controlled, I mean we have a core team of specialists. Every MAT central team should have a core that covers finance, Hr, IT – to name just a few. They work together, not across business units, but across all schools. This way, you are getting efficiency and uniformity, which will help you to scale up when new schools join the Trust.
What are the positives of going central?
It’s very, very efficient. Let’s look at an individual business unit like the finance function, for example. When running a 10-school trust, that’s 10 banknotes, 10 payment runs – it all takes time. Or we could just have 1 of everything. That seems a lot easier, doesn’t it? Improving financial reporting also really needs core specialists. We get what we can out of the system and all the schools in the Trust get included.
And that’s just in finance. Let’s look at HR: people are always the most expensive part of your budget and that will never change. It’s also the place with the least visibility in all the schools I’ve been to. We’ve introduced our core specialists to HR to control and harmonise processes across our schools. We can onboard people quickly and capture their data.
If we’re going to scale up, it comes down to 3 things and the main thing is people. Getting the right technology is also really important, but it’s about process as well. You can have the most sophisticated software in the land – but if you use it incorrectly, what’s the point?
How does GAG Pooling fit in?
I will bring up GAG pooling, although I have no opinion on the matter. With many Trusts, even centralised Trusts, their schools manage their own premises, IT, administration and much more. The Trust then covers a small margin that handles things like legal, overheads and whatever else. The idea of GAG pooling is that the opposite would happen – the Trust would manage the majority of these school operations. All the ethical stuff, contracts and the like would be taken care of by a core team of specialists. This leaves the school to come back to their main focus: education. That’s something you can do with the right technology.
Is it right for your audience?
One of the concerns you have with centralising is your audience. We all crave reports. I know you’ve got governor reports, trustees, SLT and everything else. There’s lots of reports to produce. With the right technology in the hands of the right people, you can turn great looking things into something tangible. Fantastic work, but is it right for your audience? Again, the right people in the right positions in the central team working together can produce information that is going to make a difference moving forward.
MAT Conference | MAT Operations | MATs | School Improvement | School Operations
Today I will share with you the principles that keep REAch2 together. We call them our touchstones. These are the things that are common and that are important for us as an organisation. We call them touchstones because a touchstone 500 years ago was a measure of quality. It’s a standard by which we are judged.
Today I will share with you the principles that keep REAch2 together. We call them our touchstones. These are the things that are common and that are important for us as an organisation. We call them touchstones because a touchstone 500 years ago was a measure of quality. It’s a standard by which we are judged. Hence, their importance can be felt across our organisation.
They’re also a barometer of how we’re doing. As a director of HR, I can assure you: when we have challenging conversations, this is what we come back to. As I’ve said before, REAch2 isn’t a Starbucks where every coffee shop is the same. We’re the equivalent of a bespoke coffee shop, where quality is absolutely paramount. No teacher is the same; no two schools are the same, but we share these guiding principles.
So what does this mean in practice?
Let me give you some good examples:
We make time to meet. If you take everything else away, apart from aligning with your culture and your purpose, this is paramount. It’s the easiest thing to disappear out of your calendars. We enjoy working together. We are vibrant when we work together.
We don’t have head office, so we’re all in lots of different locations. We’ve gotten really good at Zoom or Skype calls and work hard at making it feel like we’re all in one room. Making time together is really important. That’s the senior leadership team, head teachers and teachers.
You’ll see on the website that we talk about the REAch2 family. That may sound corny to some, but we mean it. Being a family means that we actually hold each other to account. We have a chart that reminds us of who’s responsible for what: how central team is going to work with schools, what support they’re going to get. We challenge each other when things aren’t going so well.
One of the things we remind our headteachers and SLT about is “raise extra purpose”. We have to ensure that everyone understands why we do what we do. If you go onto our website, then you’ll see our 5 year strategy document, which outlines that REAch2 stands for ‘reaching educational attainment’. Under that, we’ve got 3 headings:
Image 1: REAch2 uses touchstones to stay focused on their guiding principles when on-boarding new schools to the MAT
Another key element: people. When I first joined REAch 2, I was clearly the executive. My focus would be leadership, leadership, leadership coupled with location, location, location. You can imagine that, having 60 schools, we’re not looking for the same head teacher for every single one. Our smallest school in East Anglia has 75 pupils, while our largest in London has over 1000. We’ve appointed every single one of our head teachers apart from 3. It’s not a ruthless statistic: it’s the results of painstaking clarity in what we’re about and what works.
When you think about it, it’s not difficult. Know what you’re looking for when you interview. Our first questions are about the ‘REAch2 fit’, not about experience. Our on-boarding plan for every single person on the central team is 6 months. It’s very specific, it’s very clear and the line manager takes ownership of it. We have an induction event, which is not just for head teachers, but for any of their SLT whom they wish to bring along. We have 3 regional teaching conferences a year, and we have one larger headteacher conference where everybody comes together.
It’s important to get people together to reinforce messages. When it comes to leadership and culture:
Practice is important. If our touchstones are non-negotiable and we’re clear about our mission, then actually it takes practice. Communicating something via a poster or on a website and doing it once won’t accomplish anything. It’s about reinforcing it on a daily basis. Over the last 6 months we’ve been looking at our own growth to make sure we maintain our purpose and principles when we add more schools. We’re not standing still.
One of the reasons why REAch2 is really keen to be at Arbor’s conference today is because our sector is still relatively new. This is a good reason to support each other. Don’t forget that whilst we’re all working on our own individual culture, people outside our sector will be looking at us. They will say: ‘what’s it like working there?’ So, your culture (our culture) is important. It will define us as a good place to work: a sector for a career and a sector which means business.
Today I’m going to talk about how to scale culture across your MAT whilst giving schools individual identity. I’m Sue Northend, Head of HR at REAch2, and I wanted to start by telling you a little bit about the trust and the journey we’ve been on so far. REAch2 is the largest primary academy trust
Today I’m going to talk about how to scale culture across your MAT whilst giving schools individual identity. I’m Sue Northend, Head of HR at REAch2, and I wanted to start by telling you a little bit about the trust and the journey we’ve been on so far.
REAch2 is the largest primary academy trust in England, and we have 60 schools scattered across 200 miles of geography. Our schools tend to fall into one of two specific categories; they’re either rural and coastal, which has its own set of challenges, or they’re in central towns and cities. Part of REAch2’s DNA is taking on schools that are in particular situations where there is a lot of social deprivation.
82% of our academies were sponsored when they came to us with severe issues of performance. We’ve got 20,000 children and 4,000 staff, and of the 60 schools we’ve got today, 17% of them were in special measures when they came to the trust. I’m really delighted to be able to say that 6 years later, 82% of our schools are now rated “Good” or above. There’s no doubt that it’s a journey, and part of the culture that we embed in our schools is to make sure that they know that we’re not looking for results over a 12-month period, because we want those results to be sustainable.
My background is in finance, so coming into education was a learning curve for me! Despite this, I think I bought some fresh thinking to REAch2 when I arrived. Really, any organization in the commercial sector that is growing in the way REAch2 has done (which is about 50% in three years!) would think it was utter madness. But what we’ve learnt along the way is that we don’t get it right all the time, and I think we as a central team have had to accept that it is a learning journey. What I want to share with you today is a bit about where we are, what our culture looks like, and how we reinforce it.
First of all, let’s take a look at what it takes to create and organise a culture.
One of our first steps when taking on a new school is to do what we call “facilitating a path”. When a MAT is small, alignment is easy – after a few conversations by the water cooler, a decision is made, steps are agreed, and we’re on the same page. As the MAT grows, that gets more difficult. It becomes all the more important to be clear and consistent, and to communicate what it is we do & what we’re about on a daily basis. So when a school joins the trust, we clear the path for the REAch2 culture, and some of this is really practical, as you might expect. We look at things like structure, accountability, and whether the school has the right talent (although we don’t sack the headteacher!). We have conversations with all the teachers about what REAch2 is about, and our CEO, Deputy CEO, COO & Leadership team make time to go out and spend time in the school so that the teachers can ask us questions and can see that we really care about the path that we’re clearing.
There are a lot of CEOs, COOs and CFOs here today, and make no mistake – culture is your responsibility. It has to start at the top. When we clear the path, we focus on supporting the school leadership by balancing what’s core and consistent across all our schools, with what’s individual to that specific school. I think that’s one of the attractions of REAch2 to all the primary schools that join us – we don’t insist that all schools have the same vision. We don’t impose a curriculum or a uniform – headteachers are headteachers because they enjoy the leadership, the ownership and the success that they bring to their own schools. We understand that.
So we’re very careful about what is core and what’s not. We’re not the Starbucks of the education world, and not every latte, frappuccino or mocha is the same. We see the trust and central team as being the enabler and the empowerer, facilitating and supporting change or improvement.
In order that we can understand what needs to change, we hold inductions. And during that induction, we introduce our Headteachers to “Oh, the places you will go”, by Dr Seuss (one of my favourite philosophers!). It’s a simple book, but it’s got some fantastic philosophy in there. When you first join the trust, it feels like this line in the book:
“You’ll be on your way up. You’ll be seeing great sights. You’ll join the high flyers who soar at great heights.”
However, we’re really clear about this to the Headteachers in our senior leadership team – for all of us there will be times when, as Dr Seuss says:
“When you’re alone, there’s a good chance you’ll meet some things that scare you right out of your pants. There are some down the road between hither and yon, that will scare you so much you won’t want to go on.”
Image 1: REAch2 use The Places You’ll Go by Dr Seuss to onboard new schools joining the MAT
For me, part of the culture of REAch2 is making sure that all of our schools know that we are there when things are going well and when the chips are down. And, let’s be realistic – that can be a daily occurrence.
Before I talk more specifically about REAch2’s culture, I’m going to talk a little bit about what the word culture actually means. We tend to our schools in the same way that a farmer might tend to a field, or a parent might tend to a child. We’re there through the good weather and the bad weather, thick and thin, and no matter what the time is; I’ve been supporting teachers with cases over the weekend and during the evening. It’s important that they know we are there. Every school is individual – not only because of the location – but because no two pupils are the same. So why would our schools be the same? The DNA may be alike, but they’re more like siblings, not clones. Most importantly, the culture spans across all aspects of the organisation, from our trustees to our governors, our headteachers to our pupils, and we share our vision with parents. We tend to our staff through CPD, and coaching is available to all leaders, without restriction. For pupils, our Eleven Before Eleven programme means that children from disadvantaged backgrounds get to cook a meal together, sleep out under the stars, or travel on the train – things they’ve never had the chance to do before.
These are the kind of things that excite us. These are the kind of things that mean the curriculum is not core – it’s differentiated for school to school. So before I talk specifically about REAch2, I’m going to ask you a really easy question. Grab a pen and paper off the table, and I want you to score yourself in answer to these two questions (top marks is 10, and 1 is really low):
You should have found those questions easy to answer. Now I’m going to move onto a harder question.
My guess is probably not (unless you’ve just done a session on this exact topic). But this is the work that you need to do, because those words will affect the way you’re behaving. No matter if your senior leadership team is 3 of you, 10 or 15 of you – if your behaviour is reinforcing different cultures, different words and a different purpose, you can imagine how your sphere of influence will dissipate as the organisation grows.
MAT Operations | MATs
We recently talked about the importance of an aligned staff development framework in your school or Trust, and our first point was to make sure your objectives are SMART – Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Timely. SMART objectives are a common project management tool, and can be set for an individual staff member, for a
We recently talked about the importance of an aligned staff development framework in your school or Trust, and our first point was to make sure your objectives are SMART – Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Timely. SMART objectives are a common project management tool, and can be set for an individual staff member, for a department, a school, or even as a vision for an entire Trust. So, what are the benefits of SMART objectives for staff management, and how do you make sure you’re getting them?
(You can also click here to read & download a handy PDF checklist for SMART objectives)
Specificity is important because it means your staff will always have a clear sense of direction. Wanting to improve attendance may be your overarching goal, but your staff will be listless and their attempts to do so may rub up against one another if they each have that as their own personal objective. A more specific school objective would be “improve on last year’s attendance across the board in every year group”. Then, your Heads of Year would have even more specific attendance objectives such as “meet with the parents of every persistent absentee in Year 5, to create personal attendance strategies“.
In this way, your staff all know how they’re contributing to your targets. This will give their daily tasks a sense of genuine purpose, and help them prioritise their time. To check if your staff objectives are specific enough, ask yourself; is this objective focused on this one person’s role in the school? Am I confident this objective won’t be misconstrued?
Measurability is important to consider for practical reasons. You need to know if your efforts are effective so that you can build on them next term or next year, and you can’t know that unless you’re somehow measuring them. When you set a staff member’s objective, consider how it will be reviewed in three months time. Try not to set objectives that will require a significant admin burden to measure – it’s best to use metrics which are already recorded by the tools at your disposal. For instance, the Head of Year target above, to meet with the parents of every persistent absentee in Year 5, would be very difficult if you didn’t already have a way of reporting on persistent absentees by year group and easily making their meeting records.
Remember that ‘measurable’ doesn’t necessarily mean ‘measured by hard data’. A classroom teacher, for instance, might have a target of achieving positive feedback in every lesson observation that year. If you decide how you’re going to measure your targets up front, you remove any disputes and headaches from the performance review process, and ensure that staff members always know how well they’re doing.
It’s important to make sure your objectives are challenging, yet realistic. Give your staff members something aim for, but make sure the target is within range. Getting to a 97% attendance average this term is a very specific and measurable goal for your school, but could end up being pretty demoralising if your current attendance is 85%. If a goal is overwhelmingly optimistic, it’s harder to work out where to start, and stressful to invest energy into any one approach.
Individual staff abilities should also be considered – do they have enough training in their role to complete this objective? Will they need any help? Do they feel confident that they can succeed, and if not then how can you as a manager instill that confidence in them?
Making sure your objectives are relevant has obvious surface level benefits – there’s no point telling your staff to do something that has nothing to do with the school or its students. Relevance has a more refined meaning though; individual staff objectives should be relevant to their team’s current objective, which should be relevant to the school’s current overarching objectives, and so on. At the top level, creating a very clear improvement plan will help all of your school or Trust’s line managers to set relevant individual goals for their staff.
If staff goals are all very relevant, the right person will always be completing the right task. Relevant objectives also help staff improve their skills in their chosen career. To test whether an objective is relevant enough, ask yourself if it’s contributing both to the goals of the school and the purpose of that individual’s job role.
Every objective should be time bound, both to make sure there’s a defined end or review date, and to make sure your staff member is performing tasks at a relevant time in relation to their context. In a school or Trust context, this generally means binding objectives to the academic year. You should be able to decide whether an objective is a short term goal which should be finished by the end of term, such as to support students in achieving their mock exam target marks, or whether an objective is a longer term project that could take all academic year with termly check ins, such as to improve homework submission rates across a department.
The benefit of this is that your staff member will have the time they need to achieve their objective and will be achieving them in time to contribute to your broader goals for the school. To check if an objective is timely, ask yourself; is this the right time of year to attempt this objective? Have I provided enough time to succeed? Will it be complete in time to fit in with our overall improvement plan?
However you track your staff performance, whether through Arbor MIS or any other system, SMART is a useful framework to keep in mind. The best performance objectives will instill a sense of purpose, make task prioritisation easy, and give your staff a clear direction for the year ahead. Download a PDF checklist of this advice here, or read more advice on improving school and Trust operations here.
MAT Conference | MAT Operations
We’re excited to announce that on 2nd May 2019, Arbor & PS Financials are bringing together MAT CEOs and senior leaders from across the country for the third installment of our MAT conference series! The conference will build on the success of our MAT conferences in London and Manchester last year, attended by over 200
We’re excited to announce that on 2nd May 2019, Arbor & PS Financials are bringing together MAT CEOs and senior leaders from across the country for the third installment of our MAT conference series! The conference will build on the success of our MAT conferences in London and Manchester last year, attended by over 200 Executive Leaders representing 150 MATs nationally.
Image 1: Kings Place, Kings Cross, where this year’s conference will take place
Entitled Scaling sustainably: How, when and if to centralise, the conference will cover various different strategies for achieving sustainable growth. Delegates will hear from established MAT CEOs & Senior Leaders about how they’ve scaled their strategy, operations, central team process, systems, reporting, governance & culture. You can read about some of of our speakers below:
Cathie Paine, Deputy CEO, REAch2:
Appointed in 1998 to her first headship in a large and socially deprived school in “special measures”, Cathie was at the time the youngest headteacher in England and led the school to become “Good” in just four terms. Cathie’s headship career went on to span 15 years across three key stages and schools in a variety of challenging circumstances across the 3-11 age range. As Deputy CEO of REAch2, the largest primary MAT in the country, her vision is the belief that school leadership at its heart is about transforming lives. Cathie will share her advice on how to scale culture across a MAT whilst giving schools individual identity.
Will Smith, CEO, Greenshaw Learning Trust:
Will is judged by Ofsted to be an outstanding and inspirational school leader. He has worked as a senior school leader for over 15 years and was a national leader in education as leader of the PiXL network, supporting half of the secondary schools in England and Wales. Will was headteacher at Greenshaw High School for five years where he oversaw improvement in outcomes at GCSE and A level. His talk will draw on his experience of scaling from 1-13 schools in 3 years, and will include practical and implementable tips for MATS at a similar stage of growth.
Claire-Marie Cuthbert, CEO, The Evolve Trust:
Claire-Maire has over 15 years of leadership experience in some of the country’s most challenging schools including both primary and secondary contexts. Awarded Advanced Skills Teacher status in 2002, from there Claire-Marie became a trouble shooter for failing schools and departments across the region and also advised the DfE and QCDA on innovative curriculum models and personalised pathways for students. She has been recognised nationally by TES Teaching Awards for her outstanding contribution to challenging urban education, and has recently been awarded the prestigious EMWA award for outstanding contribution to public life and exceptional leadership. During her presentation, Claire-Marie will talk about how to improve collaboration within your MAT and across school phases.
Paul West, CEO, Spencer Academies Trust:
Paul West is a teacher, school leader and National Leader of Education with twenty-five years of experience in schools, and a ten-year record of outstanding leadership in first tier education trusts and corporates. Paul has worked across maintained and independent schools and has led at both primary and secondary level, and his leadership has been judged as outstanding in successive Ofsted inspections. He has practical experience of developing rapid school improvement strategy, opening start-up Academies, establishing Free Schools, Additional Provision Schools, and managing significant change, and will draw on this experience to talk about what to do right and what to avoid when merging MATs.
Paul James, CEO, River Learning Trust:
Paul James is a qualified teacher with over 20 years of experience in schools, including in senior leadership roles in a range of secondary education settings, and as a primary school governor and IEB member. Until recently he was a Headteacher of a comprehensive school of over 1800 students, which is a National Teaching School. He is currently a National Leader of Education alongside being Chief Executive of the River Learning Trust. Paul will discuss how to define non-negotiables across your trust whilst building in agency for your headteachers.
In addition to the speakers and talks listed above, there will also be an open, round-table discussion between MAT COOs about how they’re scaling different sized MATs, including any challenges they’ve come up against in the process and anything that’s worked particularly well. You’ll leave with lots of ideas and tips to take back to your MAT to help you as you scale.
Similarly to our previous conferences, we’ve scheduled various breaks throughout the day, during which we encourage delegates to network, exchange stories about scaling, and share good practice with one another. There will also be breakfast pastries on arrival, free lunch served, and tea & coffee throughout the day. Hope to see you there!
Click here to sign up for your free ticket to Arbor’s MAT Conference: https://scaling-your-MAT-sustainably-2019.eventbrite.com
To get an idea of the sorts of topics we’ll be covering on the day, why not have a look back at the presentations from previous MAT conferences that we posted on our blog? Click here to read them
Arbor MIS | MAT Operations | School Operations
More and more schools and MATs are choosing to move MIS, with 1,000+ schools and MATs predicted to switch this year, and we’ve definitely noticed interest in our own products and services increasing. We now work with over 600 schools spread across hundreds of MATs and Local Authorities, driven by a desire to transform the
More and more schools and MATs are choosing to move MIS, with 1,000+ schools and MATs predicted to switch this year, and we’ve definitely noticed interest in our own products and services increasing. We now work with over 600 schools spread across hundreds of MATs and Local Authorities, driven by a desire to transform the way they work, save teachers time, and improve outcomes. However, while it seems ever clearer why you might want to move to simpler, smarter, cloud based systems, we still often hear from schools wondering exactly how they buy something as complex as a Management Information System.
This is always the first step! Email email@example.com or call us on 0208 050 1028 and we’ll connect you with your local Arbor Partnership Manager. Your Partnership Manager will come and visit you to learn more about your requirements and give you a demo of our MIS. They’ll also answer any of your questions while you decide when you’ll switch, including a written proposal so you can feel confident in your decision and share it among other stakeholders.
When you’ve had time to evaluate your options and decide which package suits you best, they’ll send your contract and introduce you to your dedicated Customer Success Manager, who will personally walk you through your kick-off plan and data migration. This is definitely the simplest way to get started on Arbor MIS, and is perfect for customers from individual schools to smaller and medium sized trusts.
You can also buy Arbor through several trusted frameworks, giving you the peace of mind that due diligence checks have already been made on our product and company. Arbor is a member of the government’s G-Cloud 10 framework for approved cloud suppliers, and the ThinkIT framework.
To use a public framework, check their website carefully as the rules for each are different. Generally you’ll be able to send us your requirements and have a demo, before signing using the framework’s contract template.
For example, for G-Cloud 10, a standard process would be:
Both of these frameworks are suitable for customers of all sizes, and allow you to buy direct without running your own process, though they do provide you with a little less flexibility than coming to us directly (see above), or going to tender (see below).
If you’re a medium/large MAT or a larger school with more complex needs, you might want to take the time to write a tender outlining your requirements. We can still give you a demo whilst you work out your requirements, and once you go to tender we’ll respond to all your questions and outline the contract we think will be right for your school or Trust.
When writing your requirements, it can help to think about what you need your system to do, rather than just listing specific technical features you like the look of, as different MIS providers may have different solutions to the same problem. So long as you follow this rule of thumb, functions over features, tendering doesn’t have to be intimidating – you know what your school or Trust needs, and it’s up to suppliers to prove how they can provide that for you. You can find lots of great procurement advice online from the Crown Commercial Service, including a list of MIS functions you might want to ask about in your tender. Click here to see their list of suggested areas to consider.
If you think your MIS lifetime contract value will go over £181,302 you’ll need to run a formal public tender, which comes with its own set of rules and guidelines – tender expert John Leonard has written a blog that thoroughly outlines this process. Otherwise, just make sure your questions are clear, that you’ve outlined how you’ll be scoring products and pricing, and that you’ve given a reasonable amount of time for suppliers to respond to you. Don’t forget to give yourself enough time to properly evaluate the systems, as well – it’s better to tender sooner rather than later.
All this is especially important to consider at this point in the financial year, as some of your contracts may be coming up for extension. The DfE has confirmed in recent advice that moving to a cloud based product should be considered enough of a contract change to run a new procurement exercise, even if the new product is with the same provider. If you’d like to see what else is out there and look into Arbor MIS or Group MIS for your school or Trust, you can fill out our contact form, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or call us on 0208 050 1028 to get in touch!
MAT Operations | MATs | School Operations
Why run a systems audit in the first place? Over the years, many schools accumulate a variety of IT systems or software. These systems were initially installed to help make things run more smoothly across the school but, over time, they’ve inevitably become outdated and no longer fit with the day-to-day running of the school.
Over the years, many schools accumulate a variety of IT systems or software. These systems were initially installed to help make things run more smoothly across the school but, over time, they’ve inevitably become outdated and no longer fit with the day-to-day running of the school. In many cases, school leaders can forget to question whether a piece of software is continuing to help improve the school, or whether it’s there simply because it worked in the past.
When a school or trust tells us about all the third party products they use, we always like to ask why they chose that particular system:
For example, a school may have been using a behaviour tracking software outside of their MIS for many years and are happy with how it charts points over time, but they don’t use any of the other features that the software offers. In cases like this, and with many other systems that are an added cost, it’s worth questioning if there are alternative ways of working within one system to consolidate both time and funds.
We encourage schools to create a side-by-side price comparison of the cost of each third party product to prompt an internal conversation about the practicalities and usefulness of each system, and whether it can be replaced by a new system altogether. This practice promotes the importance of an audit in deciding if there are added benefits to keeping a specific system, or if it’s time to part ways.
Image 1: How we encourage schools to approach an IT systems audit
This is how we would recommend running an IT systems audit:
1. Ask members of staff from all areas of the school when running your audit – don’t assume that one person will know everything that everyone is using!
2. Start by listing out all the systems people use for the core functions in your school, like attendance, assessment, behaviour and communications, and how much you pay for them annually
3. Move on to listing the rest of your systems and costs – if you don’t have to pay for something annually and you already have it, you can mark the cost as £0
4. Make sure to list separate software products from the same company as being separate – one might be more useful than the other
5. Then go back down your list and note each software’s functionality – not just what you’re currently using it for, but what it could do if you used every module and feature in it
6. You’ll probably have come across several overlaps by now. This is the tricky part: for everything that overlaps, consider which really has the greater value, and which you can think about cutting down
This value judgement can’t entirely be based on price, although that is important – you also have to question why you had several systems in the first place. Is one of them more user friendly? Is it quick to train new staff on? Does it save your teachers a lot of time? Will you really get the best deal just by picking between these two programs, or if you’re switching anyway should you choose an entirely new system altogether?
It’s quite possible that with a change in mindset, cutting down your third party systems may open more doors than it closes, and create opportunities to improve how you work.
We understand that this takes time, but we’ve also seen first hand how many schools love the fact that Arbor can bring all of their data and systems into one central system, meaning that the number of logins (and passwords!) for staff can be cut down. This results in increased productivity as it ultimately saves staff hours of time manually transferring data between systems – because everything you need is all in one place!
If you’re not yet an Arbor MIS customer, you can request a free demo and a chat with your local Partnership Manager anytime through the contact form on our website, or by emailing email@example.com or calling 0208 050 1028.
Arbor MIS | Assessments | MAT Operations | School Operations
As I’m sure you’ve heard, School Pupil Tracker Online (SPTO) will be closing down at the end of this year. If you currently use SPTO, you’ll be looking for something to replace it with the same (if not better!) level of functionality and analysis, so this is a great opportunity to look at how you’re
As I’m sure you’ve heard, School Pupil Tracker Online (SPTO) will be closing down at the end of this year. If you currently use SPTO, you’ll be looking for something to replace it with the same (if not better!) level of functionality and analysis, so this is a great opportunity to look at how you’re using your current MIS system as a whole. To help you, we’ve written this a short blog explaining how schools & MATs use the integrated assessments module of Arbor’s simple, smart, cloud-based MIS to track, analyse and report on pupil progress.
Let’s start with the basics. Like SPTO, Arbor’s assessments module covers the following:
1. Formative Tracking: In Arbor, teachers can enter marks against curriculum statements and view formative analysis. This helps inform lesson planning and differentiate learning based on students’ understanding of the curriculum. You can either use preset or imported curriculum frameworks, or create your own custom curriculum framework in the system:
Image 1: A teacher marking a formative reading assessment
2. Summative Tracking: You can also access marksheets, enter marks for summative & ad hoc assessments, and view and export analysis for summative, ad hoc and 3rd party standardised assessments (such as PiRA and PUMA tests from RS Assessments by Hodder Education)
Image 2: Grade distribution dashboard analysing a summative assessment
Arbor also has some more in-depth, out-of-the-box analysis tools to help you dig deeper into your assessment data:
3a. Attainment over Time allows you to see how many students are achieving each grade during different assessment periods. The date chosen provides a breakdown of the available grades at that given point in time:
Image 3: Measuring Attainment Over Time
You can also choose to group students by demographic, in order to compare grades. For example, you can compare girls to boys and identify that girls currently require more support in this subject:
Image 4: Comparing students by demographic
3b. Below, At or Above: The Below, At or Above page allows schools to see the percentage of children who are below/at/above their targets for each assessment period:
Image 5: Tracking pupil progress using Below, At or Above, and clicking on a record to retrieve a slideover of students
3c. Analysis at MAT level: Some assessments, like PiRA & PUMA, even push up to Arbor’s Group MIS for dashboard analysis across schools:
Image 6: A screenshot of aggregated data in Arbor’s Group MIS
Image 7: A plain-text callout explaining your data
4. Most importantly though, the biggest benefit of using assessments in Arbor MIS is that it’s a fully-integrated module that syncs up with all the other data in your MIS system. This means:
Interested in finding out more about how Arbor’s simple, smart, cloud-based MIS could transform the way your school works? Get in touch with us via the contact form on our website or give us a call on 0208 050 1028
It may seem like a challenging task, but aligning your multi-academy trust’s staff development processes and policies should be high on your agenda – especially with the DfE’s new teacher retention strategy shining a light on how schools and trusts support their staff. We’re all aware of how effective performance management and staff development can
It may seem like a challenging task, but aligning your multi-academy trust’s staff development processes and policies should be high on your agenda – especially with the DfE’s new teacher retention strategy shining a light on how schools and trusts support their staff. We’re all aware of how effective performance management and staff development can be in not only recognising but encouraging high performance among staff, but also in improving quality of education in the schools across your MAT.
So why does having an aligned policy with set processes in place across your trust matter? You’ll probably be asked why you want to change things which are already working for your individual schools’ current performance/development plans. However, having alignment and a centralised policy is important for a number of reasons:
A trust that puts staff development at the heart of what it does should see improvements in teaching and learning as well. In order to do this, you’ll need a reliable system to carry out staff development activities and appraisals, which can help to easily highlight development needs and track performance & growth across staff (and see the impact this is having on student outcomes).
So, what are the first steps to aligning your trusts processes?
1) Make sure all staff have SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, relevant & timely) objectives that are clear and are explicit in what needs to be done to achieve them. Understanding across the trust how objectives should be created, and ensuring that they are SMART, means each staff member’s individual targets will be consistent with the trust’s wider improvement plans or overall trust/school objectives.
Fig. 1 – Setting a staff member’s development objectives in Arbor MIS
2) Set up a regular cycle across the trust that completes the appraisal policy. You should make sure that it is clear:
This helps to set the basic foundations of a good appraisal policy and ensures that all staff across the trust always know what they are going to be measured on, and how long they have to achieve their goals.
Fig. 2 – A staff member’s Appraisal page in Arbor MIS
3) Finally, it’s important when aligning your trust’s development processes that you share best practice throughout each school. If staff at one school seem happier with their professional development, find out why and see if you can use that expertise to help you improve the process across all your schools. Running an effective development structure should be an iterative process, and it’s a great chance to learn what works best for your trust and your schools.
If you’d like to find out more about how Arbor’s simple, smart cloud-based MIS could transform the way you run your MAT, get in touch via the contact form on our website, email us at tellmemore@arbor-education or give us a call on 0208 050 1028.
MAT Operations | School Operations | Teacher Workload
With the new Teacher Recruitment and Retention Strategy now published, we’ve boiled down its many new ideas and policies into 3 of the core goals the DfE want to accomplish. Improve early career support Attracting people to the profession in the first place is a big part of increasing teacher numbers, and to this end
With the new Teacher Recruitment and Retention Strategy now published, we’ve boiled down its many new ideas and policies into 3 of the core goals the DfE want to accomplish.
Attracting people to the profession in the first place is a big part of increasing teacher numbers, and to this end a ‘one stop system’ for teacher training is being piloted to make the process simpler. For increased recruitment to benefit student outcomes on a long term basis, these new teachers also need better career support to make sure they have time to develop, instead of becoming overwhelmed and dropping out of the sector.
The ‘Early Career Framework’, a two year training package for new teachers, will support this aim, as will additional bursaries and financial incentives for performance. The Early Career Framework has £130 million already earmarked for its funding, in addition to £42 million from the Teacher Development Premium. The biggest change schools should initially experience is that new teachers in this framework will have a reduced teaching timetable. The idea is that their extra time will be spent in their ECF teacher training, meaning their career has a more gradual buildup of workload in line with the buildup of their expertise.
This aim could fundamentally change how a lot of teachers progress in their career and how a lot of schools think about staffing. A ‘job-share’ service is set to be launched to both help schools share staff with specific skills between them, and to help people remain in their professions while working part-time. To make sure this new level of flexibility doesn’t just move workloads from teachers to school administrators, free timetabling tools will be released by the DfE to help schools manage the new process.
It’s likely that this will benefit a lot of smaller schools who no longer have the budget for a dedicated staff member in every area, as well as MATs who are already starting to centralise job roles so specialist staff can work across several schools. Specialist NQTs will encourage teachers to focus in on their areas of interest and provide new avenues of career progression beyond the traditional steps up into school management.
Flexible working should also benefit the teachers themselves. The concept includes not only part time schedules, but also ideas like working from home when not needed in the school, that a lot of employees now expect in other sectors. Using cloud-based software could become key to offering these options, as it allows your staff to work securely from anywhere.
This is an issue very near and dear to our hearts, as saving teachers time has been a core tenet of Arbor’s social mission since the beginning. As our culture has become more data-driven, the time teachers spend on non-teaching tasks has increased. We’ve known this since 2010 – the results of the DfE’s last teacher workload survey are below.
Source: Teacher Workload Diary Survey 2010 (DfE)
That’s why Arbor focuses a lot of our product development on simplifying and automating administrative tasks for teachers, so they have more time to spend interacting with students to improve their outcomes. A key concept in the reduction of teacher workload includes making sure they have only one point of data entry (i.e. if you have more than one application doing essentially the same job twice, or you don’t have any integration between your MIS and your other providers, you may need to rethink your systems).
The strategy will apparently involve “working with Ofsted to ensure staff workload is considered as part of a school’s inspection judgement”, so this aim will be key for schools to consider alongside the new Ofsted framework, to make sure their improvement plan doesn’t rely on unrealistic expectations for teachers.
There are plenty of other specific plans and policies, from simplifying school accountability to developing housing near schools, that you can read about in the full strategy here. Overall, the strategy aims to make the day to day lives of teachers, as well as their overarching career progression, more manageable and more fulfilling – so talented teachers stay in the profession longer and perform better while they’re there.
You can find out more about how Arbor MIS saves teachers time to help them improve student outcomes by getting in touch here.
At our Manchester MAT conference on 5th December 2018, Frank Norris, Director of the Trust at Co-Op Academies Trust, spoke about the highs and the lows of trust’s journey so far, focusing on how they’ve created a shared culture and endeavoured to make sure schools are fully onboard with that culture. He began by drawing
At our Manchester MAT conference on 5th December 2018, Frank Norris, Director of the Trust at Co-Op Academies Trust, spoke about the highs and the lows of trust’s journey so far, focusing on how they’ve created a shared culture and endeavoured to make sure schools are fully onboard with that culture. He began by drawing a series of thought-provoking comparisons between the structures of the big banks that went down in the 2008 financial crisis, and the structures of multi-academy trusts today. We’ve transcribed the first half of his presentation below.
Image 1: Frank Norris addresses the delegates at our 2018 Manchester MAT Conference
The Co-Op Academies Trust have a row of desks on the eighth floor of this building. There are no private offices. The CEO of the company was here this morning at the coffee shop, queuing up with everyone else. We had a chat, and he wanted to know what I was doing this morning, so I told him I was going down to speak at Arbor’s MAT conference. It’s a very open environment.
As a trust, we have become immersed in the Co-Op, and what I want to do today is tell you a little bit about the journey that we’ve been on in order to get where we are now. I won’t pretend there haven’t been pitfalls – it’s not been easy, and there have been some really bad things that have happened within Co-Op that have had an impact on us – but there have been some great moments, too. This idea of a journey is something I want to focus on.
We are the largest business-sponsored academy trust in the country, and we have 18 schools at the moment. The Co-Op have invested £3.6 million into our trust at a time when they’ve taken £100 million pounds out of the business, so they’ve made a big commitment. The CEO of Co-Op, Steve Murrells, was on BBC Radio 5 yesterday morning, explaining why they made the decision to sponsor us (you can listen here). We’re hoping that this will be a model that other ethically-minded businesses (of which there are some!) may want to follow.
James has invited me today to share a little bit about our culture here at the Co-Op, but I want to start by talking about the financial crisis of 2008. When the crisis came about, I was fascinated in finding out why banks like Northern Rock, Lehman Brothers, RBS, Britannia Building Society & the Co-Op bank all fell over during the financial crash, and the reasons why no-one’s been sent to jail for this.
And so I’d like us to watch the trailer for the film “The Inside Job”. Now, none of you are going to be earning the sorts of salaries that you’re going to see in the clip below, and I’m not suggesting that any of you are, but there is a reason for watching it, which I’ll explain in a second:
I would urge you to watch this film in full, because it highlights the reasons why things went wrong. I came across a bit of research by someone called Marianne Jennings, who is professor at Arizona State University, who also looked at the reasons why those major companies went down (bear in mind the Co-Op Bank was one that nearly went down!). Her research showed that actually, you only needed a combination of the following factors for your business to go down, and I think we can relate this to the MAT world, too:
1. Pressure to maintain numbers:
There is always a pressure to maintain numbers. In MAT terms, that could be GCSE results, KS2 results, or how many schools you’re going to get to by the end of the year.
2. Fear & silence
Some boards are completely scared of the trust’s CEO. I can safely say that if this is the case, no effective decisions are ever going to be made.
3. Young ‘uns, and a bigger-than-life CEO
Young people in the business world often think they have the silver bullet. I’ve seen young CEOs with a larger-than-life character that could railroad the entire business forward, but this then sets up a problem for the board who are unable to confront that person. It’s dangerous territory.
4. A weak board
If your board isn’t pushing back on you as a CEO at least 3 times in a meeting, they’re not doing their job. So think about the last trust board meeting you had. How many times was your CEO challenged about an issue? We’ve got a trust board meeting tomorrow, and trust me, it’s a tough day!
5. Conflicts (of interest)
We don’t buy any products or services from the Co-Op, and there are no third-party transactions between us and the Co-Op. It would be easy and we’d probably be able to save quite a lot of money, but we don’t do that because we can see the difficulties that would emerge over time. It’s a cultural thing.
6. Innovation “like no other”
Lots of people think that they have the answer, because they’ve innovated somewhere else and it worked. 9 times out of 10, they’re wrong.
7. Goodness in some areas atoning for evil in others
People have been willing to overlook bad behaviour in lieu of other good qualities. This can’t be allowed to happen.
To sum up, you only need 2 or 3 of the issues above on your board, according to Jennings, and you are looking at a big problem. Those are the reasons why the banks went down. The chairman of the Co-Op Bank was a methodist minister, who knew nothing about finance, but nobody on the board said anything. They were scared, and they were under pressure to get the numbers.
The moral of the story here is that if you don’t get the culture of your board right, your trust won’t survive. In the Co-Op Trusts’ case, the strength of our Trust is down to the quality of the people that we have on our board.
For more tips on creating your experience and skills criteria for MAT board members, you can read Sarah Pittam’s speech from our last MAT conference. To find out more about the demographics and performance of your Trust, log into your free ASP Group Insight dashboard here
Category : Blog , Uncategorized
At our MAT CEO conference on 5th December, Luke Sparkes, Executive Principal of Dixons Academies Trust, gave a thought-provoking presentation that challenged traditional thinking about the structure of MATs. He spoke about how DAT has looked to looked to entertainment giants Spotify and Netflix to develop a model that moves away from a “no-interference” approach to
At our MAT CEO conference on 5th December, Luke Sparkes, Executive Principal of Dixons Academies Trust, gave a thought-provoking presentation that challenged traditional thinking about the structure of MATs. He spoke about how DAT has looked to looked to entertainment giants Spotify and Netflix to develop a model that moves away from a “no-interference” approach to its high-performing schools. We’ve transcribed his presentation below!
I’ve been asked to share our thinking on the concept of ‘aligned autonomy’ – the optimal balance between consistency and self-determination that can empower agility.
I must start by stressing that aligned autonomy is a process, not a destination, and, as a Trust, we are very much at the start of the process. This is only the second time we have talked about our ideas externally; we aren’t sure how they will be received, but we hope to disrupt thinking.
At Dixons we have 6 core principles:
The most important is that we are values-driven. Every decision we make, every conversation we have, every lesson we plan is absolutely rooted in our values.
In the last 12 months, we have started to organise our Trust around the concept of aligned autonomy.
A different MAT model
As a growing Trust, we are constantly grappling with our organisational development. The received wisdom from other Trusts includes:
At Dixons, our model had developed differently. In particular, as Principals, we’d grown used to having a lot of autonomy. As a Trust, we talked about the concept of earned autonomy – if a school is performing strongly it should have freedom and the Trust shouldn’t interfere.
However, we started to realise that we were storing up problems for the future, because the Trust had almost become a holding body for a series of largely autonomous units.
Of course, the strengths and identity of academies should be respected, but the whole point of a Trust is to enable schools to ever more deeply engage with, learn from and support each other. We knew we’d reached a point in our growth that we had to think and act differently. We needed to develop a different Trust model.
I think Dixons has always had a reputation for being fairly cutting-edge (in some circles) and has learnt quite a bit from industry over the years (not least from Dixons electricals in the early years). When shaping our new model, we looked at how leading organisations across the world (in a range of industries) are managing their growth. A series of slides from a Netflix presentation – which has described as Silicon Valley’s most important document – really resonated with us:
According to Netflix:
Process brings seductively strong near-term outcomes – a highly successful company or Trust:
But then the market shifts, due to technology or competitors; or, in a MAT’s case, due to curriculum or accountability changes. The organisation is unable to adapt quickly and can grind into irrelevance.
And so it seems like there are 3 bad options:
But, there is a fourth option.
We believe that the agile organisation is dawning as the new dominant organisation paradigm. Organisations will no longer be ‘machines’ with top-down hierarchy, but ‘organisms’ with agile leadership.
Freedom from hierarchy doesn’t exist anywhere in nature (not least in schools), but no one would argue that all hierarchies are good. With that in mind, we’re trying to design our flatter, less hierarchical organisation as a distributed, interdependent, continually evolving system.
Leadership shows direction and enables action, but “boxes and lines” are less important. An agile organisational culture puts people at the centre, which engages and empowers everyone in the organisation. They can then create value quickly, collaboratively and effectively. Leadership in agile organisations serves the people in the organisation, empowering and developing them. They create space for teams to discover new opportunities and effectively respond to change.
Agile way of working
Agile is not a methodology; it’s a way of behaving, it’s a culture, a mindset. Autonomy of agile teams is a must but it’s not sufficient, as teams also need alignment. This grid is a useful way to explain the relationship between autonomy and alignment:
At one end of the spectrum you have low autonomy and low alignment. This results in a micromanaging organisation and an indifferent culture – there is no higher level purpose, and schools are told to “shut up and follow orders”.
On the other hand, there’s low autonomy and high alignment. This creates an authoritative organisation and a conformist culture, where employees are told which problems need to be solved, but also how to solve them. Arguably, a number of Trusts are taking this approach, but, as those companies are finding, we believe this approach will stifle innovation and drive talent out.
High autonomy and low alignment can result in an entrepreneurial organisation, but leads to a chaotic culture.
The Dixons Story
As a Trust, we were heading towards chaos. We were starting to see divisions – rather than working for Dixons, staff increasingly talked about working for City, Kings, Trinity or Marchbank. We were autonomous, but starting to sub-optimise, with each school only working for its own success and keeping things to themselves. As a relatively small Trust with some exceptional Principals (who were quick to respond to curriculum changes), we were securing great educational outcomes, but there was confusion, we had limited turnaround support and our central systems were inefficient (some still are).
We realised that to scale agile, we must continue to enable autonomy for our teams, but ensure alignment with the organisation.
Why Aligned (at Dixons)
Why Autonomy (at Dixons)
Aligned autonomy will deliver a more agile and less hierarchical organisation:
Strong backbone vertebrae
A core element of an agile organisation is a fixed and stable backbone that evolves slowly. In order to minimise workload and maximise impact, elements of the backbone must be as efficient and spare as possible. This also allows room for further elaboration and development in response to a leader’s own drivers and context.
Again, I must stress that aligned autonomy is a process, not a destination. A component of the backbone one year may be dropped in another because it outlives its usefulness, or because it is a time for further innovation and testing.
For each element, we have started to create clarity by stating which aspects are aligned across the organisation and which aspects teams have autonomy over:
And so, this fourth option, this new MAT model, is focused on avoiding chaos as you grow with ever more high performaning people – not with rules.
The key to this is to increase talent density faster than complexity grows. And with the right people, instead of a culture of process adherence, you can cultivate a culture of creativity and self-discipline, freedom and responsibility. Leadership is about context, not control. Agility means building a structure that allows people to react in real time. In our current age of urgency, we have to take the principles behind agile and use them a little differently. Let’s call them the three “insteads”:
Scaling agile at Dixons
The following models help to show how we have started to scale agile at Dixons:
Each academy (or what agile organisations in industry would describe as a tribe) is made up of squads or departments that are built around end-to-end accountability and share the same long term mission. The Principal is the Academy Lead and is responsible for setting the context and providing the right environment. The Principal is supported by an EP who acts as an Agile Coach. Together they provide leadership that shows direction and enables action. Senior and middle leadership groups (described as chapters in industry) promote collaboration and cross pollination of ideas across departments. They are also responsible for developing people.
Finally, we have started to develop cross-cutting teams that act like guilds. These are groups of people from across the organisation who want to share knowledge and practices, innovate and develop new ideas (in all areas – curriculum, support, and operations). Each cross-cutting team has a coordinator and teams can form, dissolve and reform as resources shift and priorities change. They can also be used to secure alignment. A people-first organisation relies on true work of small, cross cutting teams:
Scaling agile in this way through squads, chapters and guilds will help us to create a talent-driven organisation. At Dixons, we believe talent is king. Talent, even more than strategy, is what creates value. Hierarchy can isolate and bury talent. Flattening the organisation and pushing power down will stimulate personal growth and create speed. Leading a talent-first organisation requires agility. It requires enough ego to be comfortable with making the hardest decisions and enough humility to defer to the brilliance of other people.
It means living with the idea that the talent will determine the direction and strategy of the organisation.
These are the 3 critical moves to unleash talent:
1. Most vital people must be in roles where they can create significant value
2. They must be free from bureaucratic structure
3. They must be afforded the training and opportunities to expand their skills
We believe that the agile organisation is dawning as the new dominant organisational paradigm. Agile groups can thrive in an unpredictable, rapidly changing environment. They are both stable and dynamic. They focus on customers (or in our case, students), fluidly adapt to environmental changes, and are open, inclusive, and less hierarchical; they evolve continually and embrace uncertainty. An agile organisational culture puts people at the centre. And all of this is only possible through high autonomy – that is a must – but also high alignment. We must continue to enable autonomy for our teams, but ensure alignment with the organisation.
On 5th December, we held our second MAT CEO conference in Manchester at the Co-Op Academies Trust HQ, organised in partnership with PS Financials. With over 70 MAT leaders in attendance, our speakers delivered a series of thought-provoking talks throughout the day, drawing on their experience of growing their respective trusts sustainably. Image 1: James
On 5th December, we held our second MAT CEO conference in Manchester at the Co-Op Academies Trust HQ, organised in partnership with PS Financials. With over 70 MAT leaders in attendance, our speakers delivered a series of thought-provoking talks throughout the day, drawing on their experience of growing their respective trusts sustainably.
Image 1: James Weatherill giving the opening address at the conference
Arbor’s CEO and a trustee of the Langley Park Trust, James Weatherill, was first on the agenda and began by talking about the importance of MATs in today’s education system & their potential to transform it. He went on to discuss 4 different strategies for centralisation, concluding that the general trend is definitely towards more MAT alignment & standardisation. Click here to see his slides.
Frank Norris, Director of the Co-Op Academies Trust was next with a speech about the Co-Op’s values and the importance of embedding a shared culture into everything you do as a trust. He spoke about the challenges of making sure that every joining school is fully onboard with your values and principles. Frank was joined on stage by Jo Farnworth, Co-Op Co-ordinator at Co-Op Academy Failsworth, who gave some great examples of some of the ways that the Co-Op’s collaborative culture manifests itself in everyday school life. You can read their joint presentation here.
Image 2: Frank Norris discussing the Co-Op’s culture & values
Next on stage was Ofsted’s Regional Director for the North West, Andrew Cook, who delivered one of the first public addresses about the new inspection framework. He highlighted its stronger focus on the importance of curriculum, and Ofsted’s desire to reduce the burden on teacher workloads that inspections have caused in the past. He also explained plans to change the way Ofsted inspects MATs, and described how focused reviews of MATs will now become ‘summary evaluations’. Click here to read the slides from his presentation.
Will Jordan, Education Sector Manager at PS Financials, spoke about how to achieve greater efficiency and control within your MAT back office team, the benefits of financial alignment (see his slides here). He was followed by Chris Kirk, whose presentation entitled “The MAT growth journey: steps and mis-steps”, took the audience through the typical growth phases of a MAT and the potential crises that accompany them. Chris ended by discussing the most common barriers that prevent MATs from making change, including funding, capacity, and resistance from the people within in your trust. You can see his slides here.
The final presentation of the day was delivered by Luke Sparkes, Executive Principal at Dixons Academies Trust. Luke shared DAT’s thinking on the concept of “aligned autonomy”, and how they looked to entertainment giants Spotify and Netflix to develop a model that moves away from a “no-interference” approach to its high-performing schools. Echoing Frank Norris’ earlier talk about culture, Luke stressed the importance of rooting everything you do as a trust in your values. Click here to read his thought-provoking presentation in full.
The last item on the agenda was a frank roundtable discussion between Karen Burns (Victorious Academies Trust), Alex Thomas (Herts for Learning) and Phil Crompton (Trent Academies Group), 3 MAT CEOs of different sized trusts, who gave honest, relatable answers to Chris Kirk’s questions about the barriers they’ve faced as they’ve grown. The discussion created some great debate from members of the audience, so we’ll definitely be repeating this format at our next MAT conference!
Image 3: Chris Kirk chairs our MAT CEO roundtable discussion between Alex Thomas, Karen Burns and Phil Crompton
We’ll be posting transcriptions of our all our speakers’ presentations in full on the blog over the coming weeks, so keep an eye out for updates. Stay tuned for more announcements about our upcoming MAT CEO conferences in the new year – if you’re interested in hosting or speaking at the next one, get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org.
MAT Conference | MAT Operations | Ofsted Inspections
Last week, we brought together over 70 MAT leaders at Arbor’s second MAT CEO conference in Manchester to discuss strategies for scaling your trust sustainably. Andrew Cook, Ofsted’s Regional Director for the North West, delivered one of the first public announcements about Ofsted’s new inspection framework, and talked in detail about its stronger focus on
Last week, we brought together over 70 MAT leaders at Arbor’s second MAT CEO conference in Manchester to discuss strategies for scaling your trust sustainably.
Andrew Cook, Ofsted’s Regional Director for the North West, delivered one of the first public announcements about Ofsted’s new inspection framework, and talked in detail about its stronger focus on the importance of curriculum. He also explained how Ofsted plans to change the way it inspects MATs, and described how focused reviews of MATs will now become ‘summary evaluations’. You can flick through the slides below to read his full presentation, or click here to view in it a separate window.
We’ll be posting all the presentations from the conference on our blog over the coming weeks, so keep an eye out for more updates!
— I recently spoke at our Manchester MAT Conference 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
I recently spoke at our Manchester MAT Conference 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 57 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.
This is the final blog in our series offering a new vision for MATs. With a clear vision, based on 6 powerful principles and the development of 6 core competencies, and MAT-wide systems and cultures already put in place, the main focus should be on the systematic development of collaboration. Management style: collaboration Overview MATs
This is the final blog in our series offering a new vision for MATs. With a clear vision, based on 6 powerful principles and the development of 6 core competencies, and MAT-wide systems and cultures already put in place, the main focus should be on the systematic development of collaboration.
MATs which have achieved the integration above quickly realise that “you can’t mandate greatness”. Alignment and standardisation risk killing innovation and engagement. Arbor Education refers to this next phase as an ‘Assistant MAT’, Dixons Academies uses the term ‘Agile’ with ‘High autonomy, high alignment’
MATs at this stage are also well placed to collaborate beyond the MAT itself, contributing to a self-improving Academy system which is led from the middle.
If the work of Stage 2 has already been done, then the underpinning capabilities of Support, Learn, Assess and Communicate are also in place, and will be refined and improved through collaboration.
The emphasis now is on building systems, processes and policies to support purposeful collaboration. This supports the growth of teams which are focused on improvement, allowing experiments to be tried out, collaboration to grow. Management must support individuals and teams to be highly aligned to the vision, and then encourage groups which will self-identify and form to tackle a problem.
David Ross Education Trust operate a ‘Team around the school’ where supporting functions meet with the Principal to fix issues and plan for the future.
The Inspiration Trust employ Subject Specialist Leaders’ whose role is to develop Subject Communities, which variously focus on Assessment, Materials and Curriculum resources.
Dixons adopt the ‘Agile’ approach used by Spotify, of ‘Squads’ (a group of people who have decided to work together on a common challenge, e.g. learning and teaching of a particular subject and phase),‘Tribes’ (a group of ‘squads’ working on adjacent challenges who can benefit from sharing), Chapters (functional experts who bring different competencies to the squad), Product Leads (the owner of the particular challenge), and ‘Agile Coaches’ (senior leadership whose role is not to direct, but to coach the teams to help them achieve). In this model, Squads will form and finish based on the need to tackle a particular challenge.
By this stage I assume a strong IT platform is in place to act as infrastructure for effective collaboration. In particular a strong IT platform will allow sufficient bandwidth and flexibility for anytime/ anywhere collaboration to be supported.
The benefits of moving from Growth Stage 1 to 2 are well-documented and relate to traditional measures such as:
1. Economy – getting more for your money by planning ahead
2. Efficiency – the avoidance of wasted time and cash, the ability to buy at scale, reduced complexity; and
3. Effectiveness – improved systems and structures which allow people to do their job better, and retain staff as a result of less stress.
The important benefit of growth stage 3 is to foster…
Engagement. Empowered teams, aligned by systems, processes and vision, but free to develop their own groups and solutions, have the potential to be at the heart of taking the Academy system forwards.
It is tempting to jump from Stage 1 of MAT growth to Stage 3, missing out the detailed and difficult work of Stage 2. I believe this would be a mistake, as without a strong underpinning, it is difficult for a large group of Academies to collaborate effectively. I encourage you to stick with it as the benefits of getting this right are significant:
This blog, the fourth in our series offering a new vision for MATs, describes the second growth phase of MATs. At this pivotal stage, a large number of changes are often needed to capabilities and systems across the MAT in order to create an “integrated MAT”. Management style: Growth through Direction Overview As the MAT
This blog, the fourth in our series offering a new vision for MATs, describes the second growth phase of MATs. At this pivotal stage, a large number of changes are often needed to capabilities and systems across the MAT in order to create an “integrated MAT”.
As the MAT grows larger, there is a need for more integration between Academies, to improve educational impact, and start to achieve efficiencies. Common systems, processes and policies need to be put in place. This is a big strain on the central team, requiring discussion, collaboration and expertise.
In a MAT which has grown primarily through Convertor Academies, supporting services will typically be standardised more readily than education activities. In a Sponsored MAT, the opposite may be true, with a strong set of educational practices and non-negotiables in place before supporting systems are centralised. Most MATs will create commonality around formative and/ or summative assessment, but with a variety of models to achieve this. Some will run central/ regional School Improvement teams, with intervention where required. Others will set up Subject Leadership roles, or working groups/ communities for other types of improvement.
Most MATs of above 4 Academies will create a central team with professional leadership of Finance, HR, and Operations (typically covering ICT, Estates and Governance). These leaders are responsible for working with Principals to put in place the central systems, policies and processes below. In many MATs, these leaders have dotted rather than direct line management responsibility for Academy teams who are implementing the policies (e.g. the local finance staff, caretakers, ICT Technicians). Some MATs are comfortable to stay in this arrangement. Others find that the cost of running a central team as well as Academy teams is unsustainable, and that the Academy teams start to become confused about whether to take ultimate direction from their Principal, or Head Office, and move to end-to-end functional management of support staff. This allows much more scope to redesign roles, processes and systems.
These organisational arrangements need to be supported with strong systems, which could incude: Cashless catering, Asset management, IT system User Authentication, Biometrics, Digital signage, Parent Payments, Building Management System, Applicant tracking system, Management Information System.
Standardised and centralised processes should be put in place for Finance, ICT, Estates (Health and Safety, Premises Management), Workforce policies (including Abuse, Fraud, Pay& Reward, Capability, Disciplinary, Equality, Flexi time, expenses, hospitality, performance management, redundancy, Code of Conduct, Teacher Training, Recruitment and Induction), and governance (MAT and Academy standard Governance policies, Schemes of Delegation).
There should also be centralisation of Procurement & Contract Management of ICT infrastructure, software, broadband/ telephony, insurance energy, break fix, construction, Agency supply, catering, photocopying, legal services, audit, hard and soft Facilities Management. This will include consideration of Cloud-based systems, supporting Academies to have the right devices to achieve the educational vision, and delivery affordably, whether through a shared service within the MAT, or an outsourced contract.
Shared systems to support learning will be a priority for many MATs at this stage, although some will chose to leave some of the below to Academy level decision making.
Shared learning systems include: Admissions; Attendance management and reporting; Behaviour management and reporting; SEN planning; Learning management system/ VLE; Interventions tracking; Library/ resource management; Classroom management; Timetable generation; Seat planning.
A number of shared process should also be considered, including: development of curriculum resources/ Lesson planning and preparation/ SoW; Research to understand practices and theories within and outside the MAT; behaviour management and reporting.
Some MATs will provide support for the improvement of physical learning spaces to support educational philosophy (e.g. lighting, audio, availability of charging for ICT, wireless networks), although others will find this difficult to impossible depending on available funds and existing estates conditions.
Shared policies at this point should typically include Admissions, Attendance , Student Behaviour/ Pastoral support, Inclusion/ Special Educational Needs. There will be legitimate exceptions due to context.
A Mat of this size should consider shared systems for Formative/ summative Assessment, Progress tracking, Data analysis, Examinations Results Analysis. There may also be shared systems for marking, and an alignment of Primary Assessment models/ Exam Boards. Alongside this, MATs should convene teacher led groups to investgate shared policies for marking (or not marking!).
MAT-wide systems can be put in place for communicating with parents and students, Parents evening booking, Homework setting, Reporting to parents and Visitor management. There could also be alignment or centralisation of some communication processes, allowing for efficiencies and improvements to quality. Home school agreement policies can also be aligned.
Shared development systems can include staff CPD/ lesson observation, and staff performance management. By aligning on a system, more time and energy can be spent on the more value-adding activity of refining which types of approach to development and support hae the most positive impact.
A number of systems can support, or get in the way of, collaboration for a MAT of this size. MATs should consider standardising Office productivity applications, Email, storage, and Collaboration tools (student-student/ student-adult/ Adult-adult)
In terms of processes, at this point a MAT will need to have formal roles or groups to support collaboration and alignment. These roles may be distributed amongst Academy Principals, middles leaders, teacher or other staff, or held centrally/ regionally.
Click here to read the final instalment of Chris’ blog series on how to create an agile MAT
In the previous 2 blogs in this series I described the need for MATs to sharpen their strategies, and set out 6 principles and core capabilities that should underpin this. In the next 3 blogs I describe how these can be developed during each of the main growth phases of MATs, stating with “putting the
In the previous 2 blogs in this series I described the need for MATs to sharpen their strategies, and set out 6 principles and core capabilities that should underpin this. In the next 3 blogs I describe how these can be developed during each of the main growth phases of MATs, stating with “putting the basic in place”.
The initial focus is on agreeing a common vision and values, alongside basic common systems and processes. These typically focus on school improvement for a Sponsor MAT, or on Supporting Functions (also called ‘Operations’ or ‘Back Office’), for a Convertor MAT.
Common systems and policies for Finance (core finance and budgeting), HR (services and Payroll), safeguarding and child protection is a priority. Many will also put in place a common MIS system. As well as the system, most MATs will want to align finance processes quickly, e.g. a common Chart of Accounts and budgeting cycle. Aligned support policies will often include GDPR, FOI, Data Protection, Equal Opportunities and Recruitment.
In a Convertor MAT, learning and teaching is largely decided at a school level. In a Sponsored MAT, there may be a strong SIP function, or Executive Headship. In curriculum-driven MATs, e.g. those focused on a knowledge curriculum, this will be a much earlier priority. This means processes for collaborative alignment will be required at an earlier stage as well.
Assessment may be undertaken differently in each school, but there are likely to be a termly or more frequent sharing of data. Discussions commence about where and how to align elements of data. As above, if there is an early focus on a core curriculum then assessment will also be standardised at an earlier point.
Communications from the Central MAT team are typically few; individual schools continue as the main point of contact with parents/ students.
Some light touch shared development may take place, especially for middle and senior leaders. There may also be a shared approach to ITT and induction, especially if there is a Teaching School Alliance within the MAT.
Collaboration is vital, but at this stage may be informal, light on systems, and through personal interactions connections between Principals and senior support staff leaders/ managers. More formal systems will be needed if MATs need to make ealier progress on the capabilities below.
Click here to read the next blog in Chris’ series about the benefits of creating an integrated MAT
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)
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
In the first blog in this series I shared research which indicates MATs need to be clearer about their vision, even though different MATs will rightly have different visions. I would suggest that the following principles are likely to underpin the vision for many MATs as they grow and mature: Six powerful principles to include
In the first blog in this series I shared research which indicates MATs need to be clearer about their vision, even though different MATs will rightly have different visions. I would suggest that the following principles are likely to underpin the vision for many MATs as they grow and mature:
Six powerful principles to include in any MAT strategy:
1. An inquisitive approach to curriculum and pedagogy, framed from the top and led from the middle
2. Consistent and regular performance data which is;
a) standardised (between Academies),
b) balanced (measuring what we value, rather than valuing only what we can easily measure),
c) integrated (the data is generated through activity which would be useful to the teacher, not just to create reports),
d) layered (different people can use it for different purposes without recreating burdensome collection),
e) benchmarked (we know how it compares to others)
f) formative and summative and well understood by all
3. High quality governance which is clear about authority and delegation
4. Leadership and management which is focused on outcomes, which inspires, and which aims for “subsidiarity”, with decisions being made where they are most effective
5. A culture of personal development and learning for staff as much as students
6. A clear growth strategy which balances economy with capacity, geographic focus, due diligence and a clear ‘deal’ for new joining schools.
These principles are a good start but a MAT needs a clear view about the capabilities which will deliver them.
Six core capabilities for MATs*
*Capability: a combination of people, systems and processes
The importance of systems to enable collaboration is often overlooked
It is traditional to think of MAT capabilities in terms of the first five of the list above. However, I believe that there is a significant additional capability which can be built systematically: purposeful collaboration can bridge the gap between chaotic innovation, and stifling standardisation.
Technology can help scale collaboration between stakeholders
Paul Shoesmith, ICT lead for CJK Associates says that “technologies can help to support collaboration between students, and between teachers and students. Setting up, configuring and managing such systems can be challenging at an individual school level, but by sharing best practice across schools the investment in time which is often required to get those systems working effectively the benefits can be realised more quickly and at a lower cost, in time as well as financially.”
The way each MAT approaches the six principles and core capabilities will reflect size, context, and level of maturity. In the next three blogs I will set out a possible pathway, considering the management style, organisation, systems, processes and policies that are likely to be put in place over time.
Click here to read the next instalment of Chris’ blog on managing MAT growth
A vision for Multi Academy Trusts: a 5-part blog series written for Arbor by Chris Kirk, Ex-Partner for Education at PWC and formerly GEMS/DfE. The launch of the Confederation of School Trusts on Thursday 11 October 2018 is a huge step forwards for those of us who believe it is essential that we create a school
A vision for Multi Academy Trusts: a 5-part blog series written for Arbor by Chris Kirk, Ex-Partner for Education at PWC and formerly GEMS/DfE.
The launch of the Confederation of School Trusts on Thursday 11 October 2018 is a huge step forwards for those of us who believe it is essential that we create a school system which is led from the middle. For this to be a reality, we need to increase the pace of development of MATs as highly effective networks of schools, collaborating not only within, but between Trusts.
This five part blog sets out a framework for sharpening MAT strategy with powerful principles and core capabilities, followed by three stages of growth:
Strategy varies between MATs, which is a good thing
When asked about the focus of their strategy, MATs give a wide range of responses. Most MATs seek to preserve school identity whilst improving back office efficiency – often by centralising systems and staff – with a collaborative approach to standardisation. But there are much wider ranges of views when it comes to scaling tried and tested school improvement models, creating consistent pedagogy, boosting local governance, or MAT-wide enrichment programmes.
However, sometimes strategy varies within a MAT, which points to lack of clarity
This variation in MAT strategy is in my view a good thing, as there is certainly not one right way to work: context is very important, and very different between MATs. What is more surprising is that our research indicates that there is just as much variation of view of strategy within many MATs. This is less welcome. The most effective leaders have the ability to develop a vision which is strongly influenced by their followers’ needs, creating a climate of collective aspirations. Within a MAT, this must surely mean a clear vision focused on the difference made for students, schools, communities and the system, supported by a realistic and shared strategy which is honest about capacity and has high expectations for all.
It follows then that a significant task for MAT leaders is to build a common vision and view of strategy within their MAT. In the second blog in this series I will set out 6 principles and 6 core competencies that I believe should underpin every MAT vision.
Click here to read part 2 of Chris’ blog series about the 6 principles that MATs should always include in their strategy
This blog is a transcript of a talk from our 2018 MAT Conference given by Sarah Pittam, Director at SLG Consulting. Sarah explains how different governance structures and processes can scale effectively as your MAT grows. We’ve transcribed her presentation below. We’ve talked about a number of stages of the MAT growth scale today.
This blog is a transcript of a talk from our 2018 MAT Conference given by Sarah Pittam, Director at SLG Consulting. Sarah explains how different governance structures and processes can scale effectively as your MAT grows. We’ve transcribed her presentation below.
We’ve talked about a number of stages of the MAT growth scale today. I’m going to focus on the governance aspect of that growth scale.
1. The type of governance required depends on the size of your trust
In the early phases, you’re likely to have a board that is dominated by legacy membership. You will have inherited the boards of your founding schools, and there will be many people who will assume that they should automatically graduate to the MAT board. This is a problem, as these people simply may not have the skills that your Trust board requires.
As you grow, you must create financial stability, steady state governance, and effectively evolve the quality of your governance. Quality of governance is about three main things:
Once you reach regional trust size/stage, you need to ensure that your governance model works at scale. You need to have future-proofed it with the right people, the right processes, the right subcommittees, the right board-paper format, with a collection of people on your board who have the right skills, who are strategic thinkers, who work well together, and who all sit as front-benchers.
2. It’s a totally different ball game from LA maintained governance
This is quite difficult sometimes to make others realise, but it is something that you have to communicate to your members. There will always be an initial perception gap between you and your legacy members. After all, they’ve been on the board for 5 years and from their point of view, everything is going well. You need to try and explain to them that they were at the wheel of a ford fiesta, and now you’re driving a Ferrari. It’s a difficult question, but you need to find a way to have that conversation.
The lack of independence that comes when people graduate from a governing body/LGB straight to the Trust’s board is a problem. People often think that they are representing the interests of their school, but that’s just incorrect. The same applies to parents – I’d really advise against having parents on the Trust’s board. It is rare, and it’s rare for a good reason.
There will always be a culture challenge. People will say, ‘we’ve always done it like this, why do we have to do something else? The Local Authority used to do it all for us!’. What they don’t realise is that the LA-maintained context is so different from the MAT context because the reporting compliance requirements are so much greater.
3. Recruiting the Chair & your board
Recruiting the Chair is really difficult in any size MAT, whether it’s a 2, 5, 10, 20, or a 50 school MAT. Don’t underestimate this! It’s particularly hard if you’ve got turnaround challenges, because much more time is required, and very difficult if you’re in a high growth phase. The Chair really is in the hot seat. He or she is not paid, and they might be spending a day a week or even more on this. It is difficult to find a top quality Chair, but hang in there; don’t just hope for the best. You should be very picky!
So what should you look for in a Chair? You need someone with a social mission. The vast majority of governors & trustees do and it’s an absolute prerequisite. It’s a necessary but not sufficient condition however; they must also bring something to the party. It should be an identifiable, generic and transferable skill set – e.g. if you’re looking for a growth manager, you must look for someone who has experience in managing growth in an organisation moving from £10 to £20 million turnover (if those are the sort of numbers you’re talking about).
You should populate your board with people who understand the form and the function of governance. Ask the basic question: what are the objectives of this board? Fewer than 50% of people know what the answer to that question is. Try to find people who have had internal governance experience previously, as they’re more likely to understand the form, function and objectives of governance. It is not just something to put on your CV. It’s to support and challenge, to hold to account, to form strategy, and to act as a custodian of public funds and public policy. These are responsibilities that need to be taken seriously
A board structure that scales is the easy part…it’s working out the right scheme of delegation for your trust that is much more difficult. Read what Sarah had to say in the second half of her presentation here!
Hugh Greenway, CEO of the Elliot Foundation, recently spoke at our MAT conference Scaling Sustainably: Centralisation vs. School Autonomy. This blog is the second part of a two-part blog series on his presentation – in part 1, Hugh spoke about the challenge of scaling a MAT without adequate funding. Here, he goes on to say
Hugh Greenway, CEO of the Elliot Foundation, recently spoke at our MAT conference Scaling Sustainably: Centralisation vs. School Autonomy. This blog is the second part of a two-part blog series on his presentation – in part 1, Hugh spoke about the challenge of scaling a MAT without adequate funding. Here, he goes on to say that creating trust among the people in your MAT is crucial to running a successful operation. We’ve transcribed part two of his presentation below.
Creating something from nothing
In order to successfully create a school-led system, we must ask ourselves two questions:
Question 1: Am I doing everything I can to improve outcomes for as many children as possible with the resources available to me today?
Question 2: Are the outcomes good enough?
The difficulty with Q1 is that it can make it difficult to get out of bed some mornings. Therefore, you have to find different ways and different people to help you ask the question in different ways. This is my latest version:
The questions that need to be asked are as follows: Are all children safe? Where do they learn? What do they learn? How do they learn? Who do they learn from? Can we pay for it? Does it work? Is it compliant?
Each of these questions relates back to a relevant operational part of the MAT, about which we can ask various questions to see if we are creating the best learning environment for our children using what we have available to us.
Think about your finances, for example. If you think that you’ve saved money on photocopiers and/or stationery, you probably haven’t. You just think you have. I can tell you that by implementing print management and switching off colour printing, you can save up to 50% on your print costs now. Schools don’t actually need to print in colour. But here’s the thing: your photocopy costs will be less than 1% of total costs, so even saving you 50% will only deliver a 0.33 of 1% point saving – which might not be worth the uproar you will face from teachers!
The benefits of good governance
The real savings come from building trust with your people. At the beginning of the previous blog, I said that there were no volume discounts on teachers. Well, you can save money on them by treating them better.
This in turn leads to systems which transcend individual schools. If you think about your trust as a tent that needs to be kept upright against any inclement weather, then you need guy ropes. Each guy rope represents a golden thread that runs through the organisation.
In order to be sure that things are as good as they can be you need to check the tension on the guy rope. The inputs and the outputs.
How do we know that all children are safe or that the provision of education is improving? What evidence do we have? And what do we then do with that evidence? Which employee is responsible? Which trustee and which committee has oversight and what does good look like?
Obviously there needs to be a limit to the number of guy ropes, because otherwise you’d spend all your time running round and never get to sleep in your tent.
For those who find that analogy a bit fluffy, here is a slightly harder nosed way of looking at the current way I look at our system:
In brief, the Trust board is accountable to the DfE, which in turn is accountable to the children and the community. Within the the MAT, the staff are accountable to the principal, who reports to regional directors, who report to the CEO. There is then a web of support and representation that links the finance committee, LGBs, the audit committee and the standards committee, as well as NUC unions, an ops group and the principals’ council. A feedback loop runs through the MAT, connecting children to staff, staff to principals and principals to the CEO & trust board.
No roadblocks or concentrations of power.
But, at the end of the day it comes down to trust, and that is where we turn our greatest weakness into our greatest strength. Because if we can deploy our values in such a way that they generate value, then we all have a chance.
At our MAT conference, Scaling Sustainably: Centralisation vs. School Autonomy, Hugh Greenway, CEO of the Elliot Foundation spoke about the challenge of keeping the “big picture” in view when managing operations across a trust, arguing that this is the biggest challenge to scaling a MAT. We’ve transcribed part 1 of his presentation below. Introduction: The
At our MAT conference, Scaling Sustainably: Centralisation vs. School Autonomy, Hugh Greenway, CEO of the Elliot Foundation spoke about the challenge of keeping the “big picture” in view when managing operations across a trust, arguing that this is the biggest challenge to scaling a MAT. We’ve transcribed part 1 of his presentation below.
Introduction: The job of a MAT CEO
I was at a DfE meeting recently where the job of being a MAT CEO was explained as being, “to find what works and make it scalable”. But education has always been and always will be mostly unscalable. You don’t get volume discounts on teachers (which are between 65-85% of your costs). The 1,000th teacher costs the same as the first one. What economies of scale you can achieve on your other costs are generally lost to the costs of running the system.
I set up the Elliot Foundation with my friend Caroline Whalley. She was the visionary, I was builder. But what did we set out to do?
The idea behind the Elliot Foundation was to build a safe place for primary schools and to try to protect them from the unintended consequences of academy reforms. We could see that the fragmentation of the system was likely to lead to hundreds, if not thousands of orphaned primary schools, with no one able or prepared to help them.
We set out to build this with three core ideas:
So – how’s it going?
The Elliot Foundation currently has 27 schools – that’s around 10,000 children (growing to 30,000). Two thirds of these schools are sponsored and 4 out of 8 converters were RI jumpers.
We’ve had 19 inspections so far, with 7 schools being awarded Oustanding, 10 awarded Good, and 2 Requiring Improvement. Out of the 6 Outstanding sponsored primaries in the West Midlands, 3 of those belong to the Elliot Foundation. But Age Related Expectations are not good enough. They’re probably at about 55% (validated). There are Pupil Premium and EAL gaps in East Anglia.
You can see from the numbers below that our schools are in the most deprived quartile:
Whilst you were reading the statistics, did you notice anything odd about the diagram above? Anything… gorilla-shaped? This idea is based on a famous 1990s psychology experiment that you can find on YouTube (but I’m afraid I’m now about to ruin for you). The difficulty is that nearly all MAT CEOs are former Headteachers, and they view the world through the lens of their experience. They see children, teachers and schools.
But they don’t see the gorilla. Do you see it now?
Unlike the academics at the DfE, I believe that our job as MAT CEOs is to create and maintain systems that keep schools, safe, solvent, structurally sound, legally compliant and educationally improving.
How do you scale without the money to scale?
Back in 2001 our system costs were handsomely funded – LAs used to retain around 16%. When the academy project was expanded by the coalition government in 2010, this had fallen to 12%, and academies had to make do with 8%. When the LACSEG was replaced by the ESG, it had fallen to £160 per pupil (around 3.5%). Today, each of us is personally accountable and potentially criminally liable for maintaining these systems. Yet we are given…nothing. Not even the most frugal of SME would run its head office on less than 5% of total. And in the UK, charities average closer to around 10%.
And yet, we have accepted this bargain by taking our system costs out of individual schools’ funding – and more often than not, by not taking enough, because we don’t want to. In doing so, we have tacitly accepted that our schools were over-funded. So, next time you sign your VfM declaration, you can point out that you have achieved VfM, even if you have only maintained standards (because you are doing so for much less than we used to get paid!).
The real pinch is that we cannot opt out of the law of the land (although that doesn’t stop the ESFA and the National College trying). Indeed, academy legislation is the first time in UK legal history that a government has used primary legislation to alter the terms of contract. By prioritising children we have simply put ourselves in the firing line. Asbestos compliance trumps school improvement. The Equalities Act is more important than SATs. GDPR (so help me) will be more important than SEND.
We all know that this is not true or fair. And this is the gorilla that we cannot see.
Moral purpose is the gorilla that killed Kids Company. And we will be victims of our vocation if we do not get a little more open and honest about how difficult this is.
The only way we can afford to have a moral purpose is to get a whole lot better at creating something from nothing. Fortunately, that’s what Primary schools are really good at.
Click here to read part two of Hugh’s presentation.
Why bother centralising your data? Schools, Trusts and LAs increasingly ask us how they can centralise their data, but they sometimes don’t know where to start and what their broad options are. Most share the common need of wanting to bring their data together to gain deeper, faster insight into their staff and students, save
Schools, Trusts and LAs increasingly ask us how they can centralise their data, but they sometimes don’t know where to start and what their broad options are. Most share the common need of wanting to bring their data together to gain deeper, faster insight into their staff and students, save teachers time endlessly copying and pasting data from multiple systems (and reduce mistakes whilst doing so), whilst saving money by reducing the number of systems they have in the school.
From our work with schools, MATs, LAs and governments we’ve seen a lot of different ways of centralising data, but they generally fall into 3 categories.
When small, it’s best to keep things simple. Whilst not ideal, excel is the quickest, cheapest and easiest tool to get to do your heavy lifting. Most schools will organise data drops at set times in the year, using permissioned worksheets and data validation to minimise errors, and producing graphs and reports that can act as simple dashboards. New versions of excel can even link live to your systems (we do this in Arbor) so that can be pulled automatically from your MIS, meaning no more data drops and data errors! That said, excel comes with hidden costs, it can involve staff double entering data, takes time to fill in, is prone to errors, and doesn’t scale as your school or MAT grows (in fact it gets harder to administer as you grow).
Once a Trust grows to about 5 schools (depending on the complexity of the Trust) the person in charge of collecting and analysing all of the data can often become overwhelmed by the manual process, and as we’ve written about before, this is the time most Trusts look at standardising some core systems to start to automate the process of data collection. It’s worth noting that this step is typically beneficial for all school types; the key is not to leave it too late, as you then end up unpicking all of the manual process within each school.
Once the core systems have been standardised and rationalised into as few systems as practical (e.g. finance, assessment, MIS), then the school, Trust or LA can integrate these systems, ensuring data is only entered once, and use the tools’ internal ability to aggregate their core data and reports. The disadvantage of this approach is the upfront setup time and cost, however if chosen sensibly, these system should be able to payback this in time/money savings within a year or two, lowering overhead, improving reporting capability, allowing the Trust to centralise workflows and communication and ultimately enabling the group to scale.
Without a degree of standardisation in your core systems and data, as described above, achieving an analytics layer can take a lot of time and patience. Custom field names, non-standardisation across schools of assessment, and people simply choosing to record things in different ways at different times lead to increasing complexity. Many systems (like Arbor) integrate with analytics layers such as Microsoft’s PowerBI (which many Trusts are using) out of the box, so once you’ve standardised your MIS, you can spin up an analytics layer in little to no time. This allows you to create custom graphs and charts with the reassurance that the underlying data is accurate – else bad data can lead to bad decisions!
1. Integrate live with Excel/Google: Every table and report in Arbor can be live linked to Excel or Google sheets [slide 18], meaning no more data drops. Schools and Trusts can collect data instantly from several schools, and generate their own simple dashboards, combining MIS, national, HR and external data to create a holistic view of performance
2. Standardising systems: we’ve talked about what systems to standardise and when before. Once standardised, Arbor’s Group dashboards and reports instantly aggregate student and staff data across schools, allowing MATs and LAs the ability to centralise data and take action by logging into systems remotely and performing workflows (e.g. attendance follow-ups)
3. Analytics layer: Arbor integrates with PowerBI out of the box via the excel integration, allowing groups to build their own simple Analytics layers. Our free and open API can also be used for deeper integration with Business Intelligence tools.
This blog is a transcript of the second half of the presentation given by Sarah Pittam at our MAT conference. Drawing on her experience in both top-tier consulting and the education sector, Sarah spoke about MAT governance structures and how to make sure your model works at scale. In this part of her presentation, she
This blog is a transcript of the second half of the presentation given by Sarah Pittam at our MAT conference. Drawing on her experience in both top-tier consulting and the education sector, Sarah spoke about MAT governance structures and how to make sure your model works at scale. In this part of her presentation, she goes on to discuss schemes of delegation, the importance of board papers, and how to make sure LGBs have a meaningful role. Read what she had to say below:
When thinking about your scheme of delegation, you must make sure that:
How headteachers feel about the loss of autonomy is something that hampers Trust growth all the time. They don’t feel comfortable handing over their autonomy to someone who could potentially undermine the potential of their school, the chances of their children, their school’s next Ofsted judgement, and frankly, their career
Don’t disempower your LGBs
When things start going well, it’s tempting to want to centralise the power at the center of the MAT. That is a big mistake: if you become too centralised and have all the decision-making power concentrated within the Trust board, you will disempower your Local Governing Bodies and they will feel marginalised. As a result, you’ll lose the best people on your LGB when they spot that all action is happening at the trust board.
You need good people at the LGB level to get into the detail of the academic performance, to codify that information, hold the executive to account on standards and on outcomes at the local level. Try to find a happy medium. Generally speaking, I’ve found that the three big things LGBs feel strongly that they should be involved in are:
If you can find a way for LGBs to have a meaningful role in the three elements above, give them a reason for being & make them feel empowered, you’ll find it easier to recruit quality people at the LGB level.
If you are a brilliant board, you should be able to answer these questions comprehensively:
Five final points to leave you with:
To conclude, I’ve rounded up the 5 most important points that you should take away from what I’ve talked about today.
1. Firstly, you must define and drive the strategic direction of the Trust and hold the executive to account. These are the most important objectives of the board
2. Give plenty of consideration to your Scheme of Delegation
3. Don’t allow the board of your growing Trust to be dominated by legacy membership. This can be achieved by having a backbone (by that I mean having the difficult conversations early!)
4. Diversity on your board should be about diversity of thought, analysis & professional experience
5. Finally, be ambitious in terms of calibre of people on your board, even if yours is a smaller trust. Look for senior level experience in medium to large organisations
In this presentation about scaling your data & Trust which I emailed to every MAT CEO last term, I highlighted how central teams often struggle to decide on the right balance between a MAT’s need for central alignment and a school’s desire for autonomy. The argument typically goes that alignment makes MAT operations more streamlined, efficient, auditable
In this presentation about scaling your data & Trust which I emailed to every MAT CEO last term, I highlighted how central teams often struggle to decide on the right balance between a MAT’s need for central alignment and a school’s desire for autonomy. The argument typically goes that alignment makes MAT operations more streamlined, efficient, auditable and cost-effective but at the expense of a school’s individual autonomy, which has often been established over many years.
Some groups talk about ‘earned autonomy’ as a compromise, but this still assumes that a school needs to tow the MAT line until they can prove they ‘deserve’ autonomy. And once schools do ‘earn’ their autonomy under this model, they’ll most likely still be submitting data and using processes that the MAT have designed and embedded in the school.
MAT Alignment vs. School Autonomy
I’d like to challenge the notion that MAT alignment and school autonomy are oppositional. In fact, alignment can enable autonomy if you have accountability and transparency in place.
Alignment Can Enable Autonomy, if there’s Transparency & Accountability
The picture above shows how MAT alignment can enable autonomy, allowing for sustainable growth beyond 5+ schools. The Assistant MAT in the top right example sets clear performance goals, and because it has built the right infrastructure (including standardised systems, instant access to data and auditable processes) it doesn’t mind how the schools go about achieving those goals. If there’s an issue, the MAT will be instantly alerted and can step in to assist the school in fixing, or sit back and monitor how the situation is dealt with. Either way, the schools get autonomy from day 1, and don’t have to earn it, whilst the MAT has the benefit of alignment.
There are other examples shown where alignment does not enable authority. This is typically a conscious decision by the MAT. For example, more authoritative MATs (such as in the top left of the diagram) may choose to have very high degrees of standardisation in terms of systems and processes, leading to low school autonomy. This isn’t necessarily bad – for example, in turnaround schools there may be processes and systems that need complete overhaul.
Standardise systems and give autonomy to people to get the best of both worlds
The key is for MATs and schools to decide on what they want to align or standardise, and what they want to devolve autonomy to schools on. This will depend on your culture, but at Arbor we tend to be of the mind that to create a sustainable infrastructure you should standardise systems to allow for a degree of uniformity and give autonomy to people in how they use those systems. That way you get the best of both worlds. More on that in the next post…
In April 2018, our conference on ‘Scaling Sustainably: Centralisation vs. School Autonomy’ in London bought together CEOs and Senior Leaders from over 70 MATs, as well as eight speakers with a mix of business and education backgrounds. John Leonard, independent consultant and tender expert spoke about the key things MATs should consider in order to
In April 2018, our conference on ‘Scaling Sustainably: Centralisation vs. School Autonomy’ in London bought together CEOs and Senior Leaders from over 70 MATs, as well as eight speakers with a mix of business and education backgrounds. John Leonard, independent consultant and tender expert spoke about the key things MATs should consider in order to get the most out of the procurement process, including knowing exactly what it is that you want to get from your new system before you set out to procure. Below we’ve transcribed the first part of John’s presentation!
In this blog, I’m going to show you why you should be streamlining your procurement to benefit from the massive economies of scale it can bring. A common theme in education is the 5 ’W’s (Who, What, When, Where, and Why) – and in procurement this is no different – but with one addition – how?
Consider the following questions as a “toolkit” for gathering all the information you need to run an effective procurement exercise. If you spend the time understanding your requirements and what your expected outcomes are, procurement is substantially easier.
Procurement can be complex, but working through the questions and suggestions made here will help you be the best prepared you can be for effective procurement that gets you what you want, at a price you’re happy with, from a supplier who will work with you and understands you.
Let’s get started.
1. Why procure?
There are countless reasons why, but the most pressing one is to achieve economies of scale, while still getting the technology or platform that you want. By the way, your wants are defined as an objective exercise which we’ll cover in a moment.
Let’s start with an example. Assume you have 15 academies in your trust, and across these academies you have three groups of five – with each group using a different system or technology platform.
Each group has its own costs:
And also consider the cost to you as a Trust to get consistent data from three platforms – whether that is specific reporting information, or simply an assessment of its effectiveness.
Staff moving between academies have to know more than one system, integration between systems either doesn’t work at all or requires another overhead – it can be very very expensive to manage this.
That’s not to say that you have to force each academy to accept a standard, cookie cutter system. You can achieve a balance between low cost/standard systems and high cost/customized systems – and that is achieved through effective engagement with your staff and potential suppliers (see ’Who’ for more detail on that).
Another “why” is the simple legalities of purchasing – in order to demonstrate fairness, every purchase that’s greater than £181,302 ex VAT (click here for the current threshold) over the lifetime of the product HAS to follow procurement guidelines as set out in the Public Contracts Regulations 2015. You may have your own procurement guidelines for procurements below that threshold – and will certainly be bound by the requirements for three quotes as a minimum – but above the threshold, EU procurement legislation as embodied in the Public Contracts Regulations takes effect.
2. What (do I want to procure)?
The exercise you will conduct in engaging your academies goes a long way to defining what it is that you want, and allowing you to get a clear picture of your expectations.
You’ll make the process even easier by defining your requirement in terms of outcomes:
This is where it’s also important to consider the balance between simple/cheap and complex/expensive – neither extreme is advisable, but the right balance depends on the system you’re purchasing and the requirements you set as a Trust. Outcomes-based criteria ensure that you capture requirements from a more holistic perspective – and also ensures that you don’t get caught out later with a system that’s not fit for purpose.
While you can refine a specification to get the closest match to your requirements, if it doesn’t perform the way you want it to, then you’re in trouble. If you define the specification in terms of your outcomes, it makes subsequent management of the platform (and your suppliers) far easier.
Consider the following as a sample:
Knowing what your expectations are here will enable you to build them into a the scoring criteria for the tender itself as a wholly objective series of scores – the Service Level Agreement (SLA) or Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) that allow you to measure the performance of your system and the supplier you’ve engaged.
Procuring a platform on this basis that subsequently doesn’t perform also gives you far better methods of redress later on.
3. Who needs to be involved in the procurement process?
Well, first consider who can benefit from the system you’re planning to procure. If it’s going to have a wide impact on a large number of stakeholders, then centralising the procurement exercise and making it applicable to all your academies can lower the overall cost, greatly simplify the process, make contract management easier, and get you far better contractual terms. Suppliers will obviously be more attracted to larger procurement exercises too!
You also need to consider who can participate in helping you define your specification. Careful engagement across your academies will make life a lot easier – as the definition of your specification and requirements needs input from your vocal champions – the ones who point out the good and the bad – and your quiet champions too – the ones who just get on and use the system. Being clear about what works for you at present and equally, what doesn’t, helps you get the most out of a procurement exercise – the clearer you can be about your requirements, the better off you’ll be.
If you’re not sure what you need, or need opinion from potential suppliers, this is the time to invite them in for market engagement. You’re perfectly entitled to invite a range of suppliers in to discuss your requirements; good suppliers will also know their market well enough that they will come up with suggestions you may not have thought of.
Once you’ve met a fair representation of suppliers, then it’s time to go back to your internal team, and refine the specification again, so you all agree on what is needed. (N.B. Aa fair number of suppliers is a representative sample of providers for the type of solution providers you’re looking for – one is not a fair number! I’d recommend you see at least three, and more if you can).
I can’t say this enough times – the more collaboration you engage in, the clearer your expectations will be, the specification will be easily understood by potential suppliers, and the procurement exercise will get you the system you want at a price you want to pay.
You can read the second part of John’s presentation here
Dr Vanessa J Ogden, CEO of Mulberry Schools Trust, spoke at our MAT conference about scaling culture and maintaining your sense of identity across your MAT as you grow. During the first half of her talk she stressed the importance of creating a set of values that is shared by everyone in your MAT in order to maintain
Dr Vanessa J Ogden, CEO of Mulberry Schools Trust, spoke at our MAT conference about scaling culture and maintaining your sense of identity across your MAT as you grow. During the first half of her talk she stressed the importance of creating a set of values that is shared by everyone in your MAT in order to maintain your trust identity as you scale. In this blog, we’ve picked out the key pointers from the second half of her talk, which focused on the importance of ‘remote leadership’ when bringing about changes in culture in schools to align with the values and identity of your trust. Read part two below:
‘Remote leadership’ is a term used by Tim Brighouse to describe his approach to education leadership at scale. I think it is highly applicable to MAT leadership, and I have found it incredibly useful when thinking about the importance of the CEO as a leader of outstanding education provision.
It is important to note that culture and identity in MATs applies here. The Mulberry Schools Trust’s model is premised on the CEO being a leader of education expertise. Business acumen is important, but knowing how to create outstanding schools in contexts of challenge is the focus and so education leadership expertise – with it being the central business product, if you like – is what is needed in the CEO. There are other MAT models where business skills are at the forefront of the CEO’s leadership and education expertise is held in the roles of directors of education – and this can also be very effective – but for us, the view is that if you want universally outstanding schools, the top job is to know how to do it and what this looks like, providing you have skilled financial, legal, estates and HR leaders working closely to you that you can properly hold to account.
‘Remote leadership’ of school communities thus becomes very important for a CEO. How do you bring your practitioners with you? How do you ensure they buy in to the vision, values and culture of the work in hand?
Remote leadership for a MAT entails a number of things:
Securing a strong and widely shared commitment to the MAT’s purpose and values across a large group of people requires close communication, despite being more remote, and commitment from practitioners to a vision. One of the lessons I have learned about education and the implementation of any initiative at any level is that those who have a fairly autonomous position e.g. as a classroom teacher – in that they are inpidually responsible for pupil outcomes and the quality of their practice – can destroy it by simply not doing it or doing it differently. To be a lastingly successful initiative, they must agree with its importance and find its implementation rewarding.
Getting that commitment means two things. First, if your leadership is more remote, the immediacy of your communication is less and so every contact is vital. The authenticity of such communications is important and so linking them to genuine passion and values is essential.
Second, understanding and using the power of story is a key aspect of remote leadership in the task of scaling up culture and retaining identity. Stories of success create energy and when bringing about change in culture in a school to align with the values and identity of your trust, the use of supportive, affirming and speculative language is helpful – as well as finding those with a can-do philosophy to help you yield the buy-in from the community that you need in school transformation to align with the MAT.
It needs to be recognized in scaling up culture that in this task perhaps more than any other you cannot enact your leadership alone. If successful change in this respect is going to take root for the long term, you need to develop a team around you that can replicate this work and a central infrastructure to enable faithful development. And so we are back to my first point about the structural things you need to do to enable your identity to go to scale.
I have seen this model of remote leadership enacted elsewhere in recent times in perse fields of business and government: once on a visit to the Dyson engineering plant in Malaysia last month and 2 years ago on a visit to meet Barack Obama’s administration team at the White House. The recruitment and staff development process that supports scaling up culture and identity was plain to see in both cases. After all, what could be more important than the work Obama did to address inequality and social justice in the US?
So, I conclude by going back to the photograph above, as it has become symbolic and powerful for us as a Trust. It both shows the context of our work and the social justice issues we need to address about inequality. A great education is the key to a better and more prosperous future. It is also the means of providing greater social harmony within communities and human enrichment where the obstacles prevent engagement with the resources around you. The rainbow, therefore, is the promise. It is our Trust’s promise and it is the vision you buy into when you join our schools.
There have been some very difficult moments along the way, and there are more to come I am sure, but it is an expression of what we believe to be possible – a vision of hope for continued improvement in outcomes not just amongst the pupils within our family of schools but, through partnership and school-to-school support, improvement across the system. It is not growth for growth’s sake but a considered and thoughtful response to educational change and the requirement for us to support – along with Challenge Partners – a great school-led system.
Dr Vanessa J Ogden, CEO of Mulberry Schools Trust, spoke at our MAT conference about how to scale culture and the importance of maintaining a strong sense of identity across your MAT as you grow. She highlighted the need to create a set of values that are shared by everyone when scaling, from your company members and directors
Dr Vanessa J Ogden, CEO of Mulberry Schools Trust, spoke at our MAT conference about how to scale culture and the importance of maintaining a strong sense of identity across your MAT as you grow. She highlighted the need to create a set of values that are shared by everyone when scaling, from your company members and directors through to your school principals, senior teams and Local Governing Bodies. Read on to learn the 5 key ways that you can scale culture at your MAT using values-driven leadership
This photo shows my ‘place’ – where I started my headship in 2006 and where, on 1st May 2017 (after a 7 year journey) the Mulberry Schools Trust was born. The end of the rainbow (with its mythical pot of gold) is right in the City of London. To the side is one of the tower blocks in Shadwell where pupils in my catchment area live – one of the many similar blocks with overcrowding and damp, where people have little personal space or privacy or money. Poverty is patchwork across our country in the same way and so all MATs encounter it in some way. I’ve seen this at close hand through my work chairing the board of the Somerset Challenge and the National Schools Forum for Teach First.
The point of stating all of this is that it means our work at Mulberry Schools Trust is heavily influenced by the need to counter the dynamics of ‘place’ – to counter the close nature of urban financial and social disadvantage shown in the photo, open up opportunity, deal with inequality, offer routes to prosperity, stability and security, and to work towards greater social harmony and human flourishing. As a result, the Trust’s culture is framed by a set of values that are quite specific to this task. In a way, we have chosen to ‘specialise’ as a MAT in this work at this point.
From my experience, I cannot stress enough the importance of values-driven leadership at all levels as you grow. Values frame the culture that is created in all organisations and are easily diluted as you scale up, so values shared by your company members and directors through to your school principals, senior teams and Local Governing Bodies are critical.
Our values at Mulberry Schools Trust
Scaling up your organisational culture and maintaining your identity requires senior leaders to place values and a deep understanding of the context of your schools at the heart of your work. There is a dynamic relationship between a school, its context, its culture and the values which frame that culture. Understanding that dynamic is very important when thinking about scale.
Context or ‘place’ affects education. A school both influences and is influenced by its community. Where a school is situated has a profound, multi-layered effect on its character and the challenges it faces. In turn, good schools enrich their communities and can have a regenerative effect.
Our values are absolutely aligned with carrying out this task. They hold that:
1)Education is a public good: The chance to be educated is a human right and state schools should provide a high quality education for every child regardless of the barriers. An education should provide rich intellectual and personal development for inpiduals and communities. It should equip young people for employment, making a contribution to the economy as well as enabling them to sustain themselves financially
2) The Trust’s work should make a further system-wide contribution to educational improvement beyond being a MAT: Hence being a significant part of Challenge Partners and standing shoulder to shoulder with other school leaders to work collectively for an outstanding school system
Scaling culture as you grow
A fundamental question for us is how we retain these values so strongly and protect our culture from erosion across a growing number of schools. Even within the relatively small 4 square mile patch that my MAT currently occupies, the ‘place’ in which each of the three secondary schools is located is quite distinctive and affects each school’s culture differently. If spread across a wider geographical area and sometimes amongst quite far-flung regions for some MATs the challenge is magnified. However, there are a number of things that have been important for us in going to scale:
Statement of identity, vision and values: having a very clear sense of identity and of the vision and values of the Trust that is written down and shared effectively with the whole MAT community has been fundamental to our work. Helpfully, there is a track record of success already to back its importance, and that success also provides authenticity for people. This is an essential ingredient in education leadership – both in inpidual schools and at scale
Governance: building a Trust board of committed trustees and company members that share our values has been very significant. There have been hard conversations and some very difficult moments connected with building the Board and holding true to our values – particularly when faced with issues of equality. Ensuring that our LGBs are similarly robust has been important too so establishing an appointments committee for the board, having board development, evaluation and training as well as a robust SOD and a handbook have been key to ensuring we retain our identity and culture across an expanding number of schools
Policies that reflect our values too: what becomes a central policy adopted fully by all and what becomes a statement of policy principles for all schools to follow is an interesting discussion. I am also well aware that what you do in a small MAT might be different to a larger one: take curriculum and approach to teaching and learning, where the values of an institution are also expressed. Having a ‘loose-tight’ approach works fine when as the CEO you have time to talk regularly with the principal and to review practice. When you have a larger MAT and take on schools in special measures, for example, a non-negotiable curriculum model that everyone follows is an easier way of quality assuring what is done. I’ll come back to this point at the end because there are more compromises to be made either way on this particular aspect of a MAT’s practice
School leadership: school principals are obviously critical to the retention of culture and identity when going to scale. Either you appoint like-minded leaders who already share the MAT’s culture, values and approaches (we have done this twice now) or you create a talent pipeline that brings people through internally – which we are also doing – but this takes longer to establish. Like others, we have a strong internal leadership development programme which draws upon the talent within our Trust and a headteacher in training / deputy headteacher in training programme which is bespoke and personalized as well as group programmes and courses. The way you interview to test ‘fit’ for a school is, as you know, a sensitive and complex process – but worth investing time into to get the right appointment. And not appointing if it’s not right is always a brave decision
Community: integral to school improvement is the relationship between a school, its context and its community. Investing in external relationships and finding the right ambassadors to enable you to build trust and confidence amongst wider stakeholders helps enormously. Schools in marginalized communities are the community glue and I continue to see the gulfs between groups of different heritage made visible by the events of recent time – such as Brexit, the Syrian conflict and terror attacks. Islamophobia is rife and suspicion between people is unhelpfully fueled by media and social networking sites. Our values around schools’ wider role in social cohesion are strongly held and so for us, work in this domain of scaling up is very important
The close attention of the CEO to these elements of a MAT’s work is essential in scaling up culture and retaining identity, and the work in it over three years to six years is considerable but worth the investment. Facilitating strong governance, nurturing senior teams, building relationships with school communities and having a keen eye on policy implementation are for us the key things that we have considered and continue to develop.
Independent educational consultant John Leonard recently wrote a blog for us about the most important things that MATs should consider before setting out to procure, including knowing exactly what it is that you want to get from your new system and how procurement can help you achieve economies of scale. Part 1 went over the
Independent educational consultant John Leonard recently wrote a blog for us about the most important things that MATs should consider before setting out to procure, including knowing exactly what it is that you want to get from your new system and how procurement can help you achieve economies of scale. Part 1 went over the reasons why MATs should procure and explained what you need to know beforehand. This second part of the blog will cover the timescale of implementing your new system (when), which sites will this system impact (where) and finally some helpful guidelines and government specifications (how). We’ve transcribed part two of his presentation below!
In my last blog, I spoke about how procurement is key to helping MATs achieve economies of scale, as well as the most important factors to consider for MATs setting out to procure. In this blog, I’ll go on to talk about the rest of the procurement toolbox, including the when, the where and the how of procurement.
Allowing sufficient time for a well run procurement exercise starts long before you start writing the tender document. A typical timeline looks something like this (your experience and the scope of the procurement will cause this to vary, of course):
1. Initial requirement definition: finding your champions, getting their opinion, turning that into a draft specification
2. Refine the requirement: get together as a group to review the draft and find out what you don’t know
3. Market testing: get suppliers to review your spec, present their solutions, and make suggestions
4. Re-refine the requirement: agree what your final spec will be now you have some market intelligence
5. Write your tender: concentrate on your requirements and the scoring criteria; the rest can be based on standard templates
6. Issue a contract notice: (guidance online will help you do this)
7. Issue your tender to interested suppliers
8. Allow 30 days for tender clarifications, etc.
9. Close your tender and evaluate results
10. Announce the successful supplier
11. Provide feedback to all bidders
12. Allow a 10 day standstill
13. Start contract negotiations
14. Commence pilot (if applicable)
15. Test with your pilot group
16. Larger scale rollout
That’s a lot to cover, but doing all of that will make sure you get the results you want. If you rush it, you’ll hate the results or something won’t work. As a rule of thumb, allocate about half your time to speccing the requirement, 25% to the procurement, and 25% to award negotiations.
Where will the system go?
You have a number of factors to consider here. First, and most obvious, how many sites/staff/students is this system going to impact? The larger the number of sites, the better your economies of scale, but the larger the number of opinions and input you’re going to need to get something that works for everybody. Also consider what other systems or methods of work this solution has an effect on. Does your solution integrate? What other systems must change to accommodate your preferred technology?
And while we mentioned “when” as a measure of the procurement timeline, also think about the future. Can this solution scale to add more academies, thousands more students and staff, and still do so at an effective cost? Your tender document will need to spell out the number of staff and students who will be expected to use your system, where they are, and what the likelihood is of additional users/sites joining the system later.
If you want to scope the tender to allow you to add further sites later on – or even create a mini framework to add other MATs later – your tender document is where you need to state this; it will make suppliers far more likely to be clear about their terms or be prepared to offer better ones for the chance at more business in the future.
How do I start?
This guide written by the government should be your starting point, as it gives a lot of information about current procurement guidance.
This page in particular goes into a lot more detail about the specifics of EU compliant public procurement.
Remember, the threshold at present is £181,302 – that’s the ex VAT total contract value of the solution you’re procuring. Anything over that, and you will have to follow public contract regulations (PCR). Unless you’re substantially under that value, it helps to use the PCR as a guideline for procurement – that way you know you’re not going to be challenged (or at least the chances are minimal).
Take advice and guidance from procurement agents if you can. One I can recommend is 4C (https://www.4c.co.uk/) – they have a lot of experience and can do as much or as little of the procurement exercise as you need.
Last but not least – it bears repeating – please be sure that your requirements are clear, documented well, and explained where there is room for ambiguity. If a requirement is not clear, you’ll know straight away, as suppliers will bombard you with clarification requests. The less ambiguity you have, the easier it is to procure, score, and award contracts. Remember to base these on expected outcomes rather than being too specific. All of this removes the chance of nasty surprises later on.
Effective procurement is about getting what you want, for the best price you can afford.
Having clear, agreed answers to the previous points will make your journey so much easier, and will reap rewards countless times over. Allowing yourself time to define the requirements and run the procurement in an orderly fashion will make a big difference when it comes to appointing a supplier, and using the scale of your MAT will also enable you to leverage benefits that can’t be matched by individual academies.
In my last blog, I highlighted the 4 different basic MAT personality types: Authoritative, Micromanaging, Entrepreneurial and Assistant. I showed how start-up MATs (usually a mixture of Entrepreneurial or Micromanaging) can cope with manual processes and dual staffing, but once they get to a certain size, this starts to break. The diagram below, from DfE
In my last blog, I highlighted the 4 different basic MAT personality types: Authoritative, Micromanaging, Entrepreneurial and Assistant. I showed how start-up MATs (usually a mixture of Entrepreneurial or Micromanaging) can cope with manual processes and dual staffing, but once they get to a certain size, this starts to break.
The diagram below, from DfE commissioned analysis, shows when this typically happens.
When do MATs change their infrastructure?
People start to break before ~5 schools
At the start, MATs are small and can cope with manual processes and procedures, spreading staff across multiple institutions, and allowing schools a certain degree of discretion over how they manage themselves. However, as the number of schools approaches 5, the central team (who often also work within a school) become overstretched. Late nights catching up with their day job in the school, the burden of gathering and analysing data on excel from multiple schools, chasing staff for updates and generally cranking the admin wheel to get management the information they need in a timely manner is too much. People break.
Getting the right infrastructure in place & letting systems take the strain
Typically this is when MATs begin to look at letting the systems they have take the strain. This is so that every additional school the MAT takes on doesn’t increase the challenge exponentially. Most MATs we speak to are defining a core set of non-negotiable systems and processes that all schools will be required to take on to streamline data and processes. Standardising systems gives MATs the infrastructure to grow, whilst allowing schools autonomy in how they use these systems.
Standardise the MIS after finance
The first system to be standardised is typically the finance system, as this helps fulfil basic compliance. Most MATs are opting for PS Financials as it does a good job of aggregating financial information across the Trust. But the next system that MATs tackle subsequently is the MIS as they want to centralise their student and staff information. Just as MATs find their legacy finance system unable to cope with the demands of operating in a multi-school environment, so too over 50% of the largest 10 MATs are changing their MIS, moving away from SIMS or CMIS to cloud-based MIS systems that allow instant access and aggregation of their data across multiple sites. Robert Hill, the former DfE advisor, who has written well on the subject of MAT data makes this point well in his blog.
The case for operating a MAT MIS
Operating across multiple sites presents unique challenges for MATs. MAT leadership need instant access to data to ensure their schools are performing effectively, and at present this is a laborious task to collect. More than just data, MAT leaders need the ability to instantly log in to school systems to audit workflows and ensure consistency, flagging issues and following up with staff where necessary. This demands not just a dashboard, but a better, more efficient system with which to centralise data, streamline workflows and operate your MAT, which is why most of the large trusts are actively moving away from SIMS, RM and CMIS, and many small and mid-sized trusts are now doing similar.
Arbor has built the first MAT MIS which allows leaders live, instant access to DfE, Ofsted, in-year progress and MIS data in one central dashboard and custom reporting tool. More than just a dashboard, the MAT MIS allows leaders to receive alerts for important events such as exclusions, and drill right down from the group into any school’s MIS and analyse performance in a few clicks. This centralisation of data and ability to action workflows from the MAT saves around 30% on software licenses, and hours of time gathering data and communicating with staff.
Find out more information by clicking here, or just email me at email@example.com and I’d be happy to connect you with one of our MATs or come out to show you our MAT MIS myself!
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