Today 97% of all academies (other than free schools, UTCs and studio schools) which opened in 2015/16 are part of a MAT. It is more important than ever to think about the governance of your MAT. Many of the benefits of working together are most fully realised when school-to-school collaboration is consolidated through formalised cross-school governance arrangements.
The DfE Governance Handbook released in January 2017 discusses the recommended structure and ethos of MATs which would enable them to make greater time and monetary savings alongside improving teaching and learning.
Below are 3 of the key points we picked up from the handbook:
- “When a board governs a group of schools it gains a more strategic perspective and the ability to create more robust accountability through the opportunity to compare and contrast between schools. It enables more schools and pupils to benefit from the strategic leadership of the most talented non-executive and executive leaders.”
By looking at resources, distribution, themes and trends across a group of schools, central teams are able to make more informed decisions more quickly. There are many tools available to Trusts now which allow you to aggregate data across multiple sites, allowing you to spot trends and themes across the MAT.
Many different software providers are also building functionality which allows MATs to centrally manage various technology settings across academies. This becomes especially valuable when Trusts are looking at things like online safety and safeguarding obligations. Tools like SafetyNet allows the central MAT team to manage the online safety policies for every academy from one central account. Your MAT central IT team can put in place a central policy across a trust, which can then be edited for individual academies.
- “Governing a group of schools through a single board also creates the condition for fully realising the sustained benefits of school-to-school collaboration”
We know that collaborating across multiple sites and geographical locations can be difficult yet it is vitally important to ensure that academies work collectively to share cost efficiencies, best practice and resources. Technology is central to enabling school-to-school collaboration. A range of free cloud-hosted online platforms from providers such as Google and Microsoft enable academies to communicate without geographical barriers. Video conferencing and instant messaging tools (like Skype or Google hangouts) are one good example as they allow you to hold remote meetings with Trust senior leaders no matter where they are working from. Several schools are also using these tools to deliver lessons remotely to affiliated schools where there is not the teaching resource to cover a particular subject.
Office 365 and G Suite for Education can be set up for multiple establishments within a MAT, enabling learners to collaborate and teachers to feedback in real-time. Whether it’s a shared project between students in different academies within your trust or communities of your teachers, users are now able to work and collaborate in ways not previously possible.
- The DfE recommend that governance must change in a number of ways once a MAT has been formed;
Culture - creating a culture of one organisation rather than any sense of ‘my school/your school’.
- 1. Technology can help to build a sense of collaborative improvement rather than competitive gain within a MAT by creating easy to use forums for sharing ideas and transparent communications that everyone can easily access and share.
Skills- board members and chairs should have the necessary skills to govern and lead the increasingly complex organisation and oversee its growth.
Executive oversight - there is increasing opportunity, and possibly need, for the board to discharge some of its functions of governance and oversight through a central professional executive team.
Structure - As the need for additional tiers within non-executive and executive governance structures grows to avoid unwieldy spans of control, there is a need for absolute clarity on the role and remit of each part of the structure and the relationship and reporting arrangements between them.
- 1. A new structure for governing bodies of MATs can be mirrored in cloud platforms. Trusts like The Elliot Foundation have built their MAT structure into their Google tenancy to ensure that sharing rights, access levels and settings are appropriate for each user in each academy.
Processes - the board needs more standardised and robust systems and processes for governance and oversight.
- 1. Using free cloud storage, such as that provided by Google Drive or SharePoint, allows MATs to share standardised policy and process documents easily across all of their academies. Using cloud storage and software that allows real-time document editing and has version history built-in removes the risk of staff having access to older versions, incorrect email attachments and ultimately ensures a more robust system for storing these process documents.
Risk- boards need a more sophisticated understanding of financial, organisational and educational risk; its assessment and its minimisation.
- 1. By working collaboratively across all academies to share information, the central MAT team can build a clearer picture of risk across the Trust. Outsourced IT support can also support with this by regularly performing proactive checks to monitor and mitigate security risks.
Evidently there are many elements to consider when establishing effective governance in a MAT, underpinning all of these transformations should be a clear strategy and plan that each academy is brought into. Establishing such a strategy can be difficult, especially when the academies are geographically spread and all facing different barriers with contrasting goals. Clear change management is critical to setting up an effective MAT governance structure and the use of a partner can also help you to shape the vision and strategy for your MAT. A partner can provide an impartial review of your academies and work with you to establish what it is that you’re aiming for and how best to get there.
We asked Maxine Evans, CEO of NETAT, what advice she would give to a Trust planning changes and here is what she told us;
“Plan, plan and plan. Think about where you imagine your Trust to be and then implement a vision and plan as if you are already at the end point.
Be brave and courageous; think the unthinkable. If you are working with a good partner they will stand by you every step of the journey.”