The Journal for Executive and Governance Leaders

The importance of strong and resilient MATs

Reminding ourselves of our core purpose in education is undoubtedly one of the most important elements in building a strong and resilient school system. For multi-academy trusts in particular, having and restating a core purpose or goal is vital, as it helps bind schools together to improve education for even more children across the system.

Within the MAT model, I have no doubt that teachers, leaders, governors and trustees all share a core purpose, which is really quite simple – to deliver better education for children and young people no matter where they live or what their background is. We should never forget this: ethical leadership underpins our collective endeavour to provide the best start in life for the next generation.

In the last few months, I have started in my role as interim national schools commissioner and been lucky to talk to hundreds of people up and down the country about our schools. There are now three areas I want to focus on to ensure all of the 1,400 MATs are delivering the best possible education for our children and young people.

MATs as a positive choice

The first is to ensure that academies and MATs are some of the best sources of strength, innovation and good news in our system. More schools chose to become academies on 1 September this year than the same point last year, and we can expect this trend to continue. There are now over 8,200 academies and free schools.

The benefits of becoming an academy are now clearer than they have ever been. Schools become academies because it gives them the opportunity to share resources, staff, curriculum and best practice. When academies choose to come together and work in partnership, schools can take advantage of economies of scale and so are able to invest more in the classroom. We should celebrate this more.

The MAT vehicle enables high performing schools to consolidate success and spread that excellence across their local area and beyond.

Dominic Herrington

And these benefits are often also reflected in schools that were at risk or failing, and that have now been turned around after converting to academy status or joining a MAT. As of March 2018 over half a million children are studying in sponsored primary and secondary academies that are now rated good or outstanding which typically replaced underperforming schools. Furthermore, of inspected sponsored academies whose predecessors were inadequate, 65 per cent are now either good or outstanding.

Ultimately, we want becoming an academy to be a positive choice that is open to all schools. We want them to be schools with a greater focus on better teaching and better leadership and governance to truly make a difference and improve education for children. We also want academies to be schools of choice, known as the schools where most is invested in teachers and where new approaches to curriculum design are developed and implemented.

Collaboration with impact

Through collaboration and constructive support and challenge, schools can improve standards and increase efficiency. The MAT vehicle enables high performing schools to consolidate success and spread that excellence across their local area and beyond.

Virtually all MATs in a recent DfE survey (96 per cent) believe their structure has led to greater collaboration, and most have formal relationships with schools outside their trust. It is important therefore that we capitalise on this and ensure that more trusts are helping one another.

Essentially, we want to see more MATs sharing and learning to deliver impact. We have national cross –regional programmes and many regional schools commissioners facilitate networking and sharing across Trusts. Other organisations, such as Ambition School Leadership and Challenge Partners have a key role in leading and promoting this work and help trusts to develop their approaches and systems. Enhancing Trust governance is a vital part of this.
It is also important that we recognise that 76% of MATs have 1-5 schools. We want to bring those smaller MATs to the conversation on improving our schools, and see them helping to shape the system more than hitherto.

Consistency, transparency and efficiency

With now nearly 1,400 MATs across the country, there is now the need to examine what sort of accountability systems and processes should exist. I believe it is vital that we have an intelligent, proportionate accountability system to help us identify what isn’t working and what support we can provide to strengthen the system. RSCs’ work in leading MAT reviews this academic year is an important part of this, while we discuss the wider topic of how best to develop sensible accountability systems for the future.

It is also important that we ensure that cross-regional work can happen so we can provide the best possible service to MATs across the country. RSCs are central to making decisions about academy trusts in developing the best possible education system for pupils. I have been an RSC for four years, so I know the importance of explaining these decisions to stakeholders. Our new approach to publishing more about the operation of Headteacher Boards will help in making this far more transparent.

I am focused on making sure that the RSC operation is professional, responsive and transparent. RSC teams have valuable local intelligence and so I’m bringing them together to share problems, practice, and ensure consistency. I also want to ensure RSCs are able to bring their knowledge back from the front line to make a positive contribution to the department’s work.

My role is to ensure that we have great leadership and governance, through our RSCs, great MATs and great delivery, through strong system leadership and by securing value for money in all trusts. We want to continue to bring schools together and build capacity to create a collaborative and world class education system. We believe well run MATs can be an incredible engine to bring about positive change and achieve this.