The next three or four years is going to see increasing numbers of schools join or establish Multi-Academy Trusts. Some schools will decide to jump before they are pushed and others will simply be pushed. Over the last few months a number of people have contacted me to discuss the MAT that we formed about eighteen months ago.
Before forming our MAT we spent the best part of two years discussing what we wanted to achieve, why we should come together in a formal governance structure and what that structure might look like. All Blackpool Catholic schools engaged in the debate but many decided, at an early stage, they weren’t ready or willing to commit.
What fascinates me when I meet groups who are interested in forming a MAT is whether they have a deep or convincing notion of why they want to come together. Most currently talk about forming a MAT before they are forced to; they want some control over their future. In essence many schools are coming together to carry on working separately. The overarching fear of most Head teachers is the loss of autonomy or being taken over; primaries in particular fear this if a secondary school is involved in the MAT. As such thoughts about how they would use the MAT to improve the quality of teaching or outcomes for pupils are pretty vague with lots of talk about partnership and collaboration but very little of any real substance.
My view is if you are going to come together as a group of schools you need to understand why. If you intend to form a MAT, before being forced to, so you can carry on an autonomous existence don’t be surprised if there is little or no positive impact for pupils.
Leaders need to look beyond themselves to the potential benefits of a number of primary schools working together to establish the best possible curriculum they can: agreeing assessments, resources, non-negotiables and supporting each other through shared CPD or coaching. This form of collaboration is a workload buster in a number of ways. The benefits are huge once you break out of the one school as an island mindset. Same applies to a group of secondary schools or my own favourite form of MAT; the cross phase version. There is so much to be learnt by working cross phase and transition stops being a set of marketing exercises and goes deep, very deep if you will allow it.
The years ahead will see a swathe of new MATs forming a patchwork quilt of an education middle tier. It’s high time governors, leaders, teachers, parents and pupils started thinking about the real reasons for coming together; for the benefit of the pupils and the staff.
#SaturdayThunk is based on something I’ve been thinking about, discussing, working on or has been topical that week. The thunk is designed to be bite sized and will deliberately be kept short. It will take one small issue or an aspect of something much bigger. The intention is for it to be read in two minutes as you’re relaxing or busy running around on your day off.
The academy agenda is an unnecessary distraction. Academies are not proving more effective, simple.
Collaboration however, is as you rightly say of immense benefit – CPD, sharing expertise, resources, workload, cross phase initiatives, transition, school to school support, SCITT’s and ITTE and many more. Lancashire, for example, seems to be bucking the national trend for conversion and has many exceptional examples of collaboration across phase and sector (yes, including academies, grammar, AP and LA schools). So, it’s not so much about autonomy but more about political fear with DfE academy brokers sniffing out/intimidating those showing any signs of weakness/vulnerability (their view, definitely not mine!).
The sooner we recognise that schools should be free to build partnerships based upon clear aspirations for children and not stupefyingly idealistic political goals the better. The DfE brokers have no statutory rights or responsibilities and the forced academies issue should not be allowed to coerce committed leaders down a pathway for the wrong reasons. As you say “The benefits are huge once you break out of the one school as an island mindset” but, many many leaders already know this and are effectively acting upon the potential through excellent alliances founded on shared visions.
Another one for the College of Teaching?
Thanks, Stephen. I thought it was interesting that at the heart of the post was the comment about quality of teaching and outcomes for pupils – they have to also be at the heart of the provision and the motivation for any change in institutional identity. Do you think we’ll see more cross-phase MATs as time goes on, maybe trying to form loosely structured ‘all-throughs’?
I think so. It’ll be one of a number of different ways of coming together by schools
How does giving all local autonomy to a central board some distance away benefit children?
It isn’t about giving all autonomy away but accepting that you have to give up some for deep collaboration. We can do more together than we can as separate schools. The distance away in our case is a couple of miles.
How does giving all local autonomy to a board some distance away benefit children?
Same as for comment below
Reblogged this on The Echo Chamber.