The Journal for Executive and Governance Leaders

What does a great MAT do in school improvement?

Since multi-academy trusts were created, or school trusts as we would now know them, there has been much discussion about what it is that great MATs do that transform standards and the quality of teaching and learning in schools.

The MAT Capacity Framework not only influences our annual priorities but is becoming the common language for all staff in performance management and job descriptions too.

Steve Savory

In 2017 a group of trust CEOs in the South West worked with the RSC office to develop a framework for MATs to review their approach to school improvement. The framework has been trialled by MATs in the South West and other regions and has now been published nationally.

The South West region is more highly academised than most regions and yet the region still faces the challenge of growing trusts to support our most vulnerable schools, while developing sustained high quality school improvement for all. Whilst there has been a considerable focus within the academy sector on governance and financial oversight, MAT CEOs in the South West felt there had been less scrutiny of what actually drives school improvement. The sector is still young and developing; whilst the international evidence about hard collaborative school models is rich and difficult to argue, there is emerging research on MATs in England that the sector has not yet had time to share models about how trusts drive improvement.

A group of trust leaders put their heads together and drew up a framework as an initial starter supported by Isos Partnership and Robert Hill. The draft framework was trialled by 40 South West trusts and reviewed, then shared with trust leaders in Leeds, West Yorkshire, South East and South London before a national roll out.

Figure 1: The MAT School Improvement Framework v.1

The framework is designed by trusts for trusts. It is a designed to help leaders plan and review how school improvement works within their trust – with boards, leaders within the trust or with teachers. The framework proposes a ‘heat map’ and a planning tool but we have also seen many trusts integrate the framework into their own self-evaluation processes.

The academies sector is constantly innovating in pursuit of better rapid and sustainable improvement but we can all improve how we share our learning. The South West and the Lancashire and West Yorkshire regions see growing ownership of networks or ‘learning sets’ involving trust leaders, as well as mentoring partnerships led by trust leaders. The learning sets allow trust leaders to explore aspects of the framework and share what they are learning as they develop.

The framework is not a tool for government. It is not a benchmark, nor a means of holding MATs to account. It is not a ‘DfE’ branded product. It is a framework to assist self-assessment and evaluation of school improvement practice, owned and developed by the sector. As we learn, the framework will evolve. We are delighted the DfE has published Version 1 this week and Version 2 is already in development covering more about wellbeing, workload, Ofsted’s new curriculum framework and the governance of school improvement.

The model will continue to develop as more MATs use it, real time, helping us to learn and share what we know about this rapidly innovating model of education delivery – the school trust.

We would welcome your comments on aspects of the framework and how you’ve used it. Please contact us at: MATdevelopment@gloucslearningalliance.org.uk

Case Study:

Steve Savory, CEO of Gloucestershire Learning Alliance MAT

I believe the MAT Capacity Framework is the school improvement equivalent of finance’s ICFP (Integrated Curriculum Financial Planning) and I can match Lord Agnew in my passion for it!

I have been involved with the development of this framework from the start. Our Trust have been using it for over two years since the first working draft appeared. The framework absolutely clarifies the systems that leaders need to have in place to be successful system leaders in this ‘school-led’ education landscape.

We used it initially in the autumn term 2017 as a MAT temperature/ reality check. I sent out the framework to executive leaders and the Trust Chair, headteachers, and then a larger group of middle leaders whose practice was still very much rooted in the classroom. I met with each group to discuss and agree how they would assess each section for our trust. The discussion was very useful allowing me to explain the whole Trust perspective.

There was not the uniform response I was hoping for but it was a stimulus for further discussion as a trust. As always, discussion was more useful than the rag rating. We identified areas for improvement and discussed how important each was and what we had in place to mitigate risk. We replicated the same process in Autumn 2018. We reviewed last year’s outcomes from this activity and compared them with the Trust priorities and the middle leaders group were ‘delighted’ to ‘find’ we had ‘listened’ to them! We are all looking forward to Autumn 2019 too.

Working in this way did allow us to check the progress we were making as well as sell the vision to our community and other audiences. This has had an impact on the well-being of staff, their perspective on workload and a real excitement about working collaboratively evidenced in annual staff questionnaires. We have an excellent response to recruitment and the retention of staff.

The MAT Capacity Framework not only influences our annual priorities but is becoming the common language for all staff in performance management and job descriptions too. Trustees and local governors have received some training about the framework as it has allowed us to point out to them how all the systems fit together in bringing about school improvement. Non- educationalists that now dominate most trust boards (ours anyway) need the framework to understand how we achieve the education metrics not just the financial or HR ones. It provides them with questions for appropriate challenge.

Our Trust is involved with two MAT Action Learning Sets. The framework has been at the heart of the activity and has focussed on pedagogy which all trust leaders find edifying and enjoyable. The collaboration, networks, broadening of horizons and new experiences have been invaluable.

If I was Lord Agnew, I would be asking for the MAT Capacity Framework to sit alongside ICFP as required reading for all system leaders.