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The blog that inspires leaders in the UK education sector

Lisa Griffin

What makes a multi-academy trust successful?

The first Ofsted inspections of multi-academy trusts received mixed results. Optimus content lead Lisa Griffin outlines what is expected of MAT leaders and the challenges they are facing.

With the number of multi-academy trusts (MATs) increasing (there are now over 500 MATs consisting of two or more academies, and around 100 responsible for six or more academies), it is vital that the relationships between schools and trust members is strong and well-managed to deliver successful outcomes for pupils.

We spoke to leaders working in MATs to gain a clearer understanding of their challenges and areas of concerns, as well as the opportunities available to schools within a MAT.

Speaking to a range of senior leaders including CEOs, executive headteachers, finance directors, governors and lawyers, we gained an insight into the issues that both new MATs and more established MATs are facing.

The main challenges for MATs

Leadership

This can vary greatly across MATs, with differences in leadership and ethos not only between schools in the same MAT, but also across different MATs. Working strategically with other heads who may have different leadership styles means school leaders must be able to adapt and remain focused on a leadership structure which improves standards.

Headteachers must go from leading a single organisation to a new role of a system leader with a CEO above. Of course, the CEO role has its own challenges – how do you strategically plan improvement across multiple schools? How do you ensure all schools share the same values and ethos?

Governance

The differences between governance in one school and those in a MAT are vast. Working with new tiers of governance and other schools mean each MAT must establish a scheme of governance that works for them. Balancing the responsibilities of the local governing body and those on the board of trustees will be a new challenge to all involved, and means changes in the flow of communication and reporting.

As established MATs continue to grow, governance structures may need to change. Knowing how to do this in the best way is a concern. If more schools join your MAT, the board of trustees becomes responsible for determining the vision and direction for each one of them.

HR

Employment law was mentioned as a concern many times. There are huge differences in running one school as opposed to multiple and ensuring you remain legally compliant is vital.

New MATs must be able to deal with managing the transition and looking after new joiners, among many other things. Established MATs will go through staff changes as moving around within the MAT is common.

Crucial to those we spoke to with a responsibility for HR was getting joined up thinking across the MAT and working collaboratively to ensure the same processes are in place and knowledge is shared.

Finance

Not surprisingly, budgets were prominent in discussing MATs finances. Managing budgets to improve standards across the MAT remains the focus. Schools need to make budgets stretch further while moving towards a self-funded system with new procurement ideas that will work for their needs.

Changes to funding bring new risks and this is something both new MATs and those more established face. In combining assets to increase revenue across the MAT; who pays for what?

What makes a MAT successful?

Those who took part in the research all wanted to identify the same things:

  • What could or should we be doing differently?
  • Are there better ways of working?
  • What does a best practice example look like?
  • What are other schools doing?

Need advice on growing a successful MAT?

Download our report How to grow your MAT successfully and sustainably

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