The Journal for Executive and Governance Leaders

Expanding the reach and influence of educational leaders of the system

In June 2019, I was delighted to lead alongside Leora Cruddas, the CEO of the Confederation of School Trusts, (CST) a short series of roadshows with CEOs of Multi Academy Trusts that focused upon the ‘white paper’ that CST have published called the “Future Shape of the School System in England.” This excellent document has much to commend it but one thing in particular caught my imagination and that is the timely reminder that the single charitable object that all MATs should focus upon is “to advance education for public benefit.”

For those leaders of school trusts beyond the single school, the responsibility to advance education for the wider public benefit goes beyond thinking about just the schools and the micro system for which a MAT leader is accountable.

Sir David Carter

In the Spring of 2019, Leora and I also worked together with school and trust leaders who were participants of the Executive Educators Programme that I am responsible for at the Ambition Institute. It was the debate around this core charitable object that inspired a deep conversation that lasted most of the day.

This 6-word statement of intent is powerful and for me it summarises the key differences in terms of scope, scale and reach when comparing the leadership of a single school with the leadership of many. The reach and influence of our best system leaders extends way beyond the trust that they lead. This in my view is going to be the key indicator over the next ten years of how effective our education system is going to be. We need our MAT leaders, present and future, to be more adept at working together than they are today. Advancing education for public benefit could be the glue that makes this collaborative aim become a reality.

To better understand how rich the delivery of this core objective might be, it is worth considering what are some of the indicators of an educated society that we want to live in and contribute to. To lead and promote at scale what we might mean by living in an educated society is to aspire to some, if not all of these four aims:

  • To enable children to understand the historical and cultural context of the society in which they and others live;
  • To build a sense of personal worth so that children can be both tolerant and empathetic when faced with difference;
  • To recognise and value that learning is a continuous and lifelong pursuit that expands beyond the age of 18 and does not narrow;
  • To believe that we are richer as a nation if we take care of our most vulnerable communities first.

For those leaders of school trusts beyond the single school, the responsibility to advance education for the wider public benefit goes beyond thinking about just the schools and the micro system for which a MAT leader is accountable.

There is a responsibility to contribute to local, regional and national improvement. There is a need to train teachers and leaders for the wider system as well as the schools inside a trust. The best MATS must develop and educate the next generation of artists, engineers, philosophers, doctors, scientists, and teachers. And above all, must instil in those who earn their living from teaching children the core values enshrined in the Nolan Principles.

The wider interpretation of the charitable object can be seen by the way that educational leaders could join forces with leaders in other sectors, private and public. The intellectual capital created by helping educators understand the health service, the justice system, mental health strategy or new digital solutions in different contexts for example, has the combined impact of creating a new generation of civic leaders who together become the creative and problem solving leadership brain in towns and cities across the country.

When leaders behave ethically and with empathy towards each other, two things happen. We raise the bar to the highest level of civic service and we model for the next generation the right way to respond to challenges and opportunities. When we have embedded this across our system of school trusts, those leaders who believe in collaboration and working together, will achieve the right balance of leading through the lens of collegiate co-operation and innovative problem solving.

As Kofi Annan said so powerfully in “The State of the World’s Children” in 2000, “there is no trust more sacred than the one the world holds with children”. As educators and leaders in our system, we need to expand our horizons of responsibility to include every child in the school system, and not just think about those we have a direct accountability for.