Wednesday gave me some empathy with how Daniel must have felt when he was thrown into the Lion’s Den. The Diocese only has one Academy Trust, us, and everyone else is pretty happy with their local authority maintained lot.
Given the moves nationally about academies the diocese sensibly thought to get everyone together; time for a conclave. Originally I wasn’t totally convinced about whether I should turn up. Following discussions, the decision was to attend and keep a low profile; helping if asked. A phone call later and I’m now presenting on the realities of academies and conversion. Strategically placed in the graveyard slot, as the last speaker, hope and faith sprung forth as people have normally gone by then. I was met with a room full of less than willing colleagues.
The PowerPoint below is what I used as a backdrop to the presentation. The whole move to academisation is a stunning waste of time and money. Everyone being an academy is the preference of the politicians currently in government. It’s okay to have a preference as long as you don’t impose it on everybody else. It won’t raise standards nor is it a magical route to collaboration or efficiency savings.
The morning after we became a Multi Academy Trust, I walked into my new role to work with three Head teachers who were leading schools. The same staff, pupils and with one exception buildings we had been working with and in the previous July. Academies are simply schools; improving or maintaining them requires a focus on good leadership; great teaching, assessment and learning and some efficient and supportive back office work. It is what you do when leading, an academy or school or a MAT, that counts.
What’s Your Why?
The questions in the presentation were framed to get people thinking about their “why”. Most people start with what they want the MAT structure to look like. It’s the wrong way round.
- What do you want to achieve if forming or joining a MAT?
- What can you offer to other schools within the MAT?
- What would you be willing to give up to be in the MAT?
- What pain will you take for others?
The conclusion of a lot of thinking often adds up to “I just want to be left alone to get on with my job of running my school.” Other head teachers are already collaborating; I mean rich deep collaboration in which there is substantial open working together, developing curriculum or pedagogy or taking pain for another school if it helps and supports them. They don’t understand why they need a MAT. The simple answer is they don’t. If all schools, as it looks like currently, are likely to become an academy and most within a MAT; please think of your why first. Once you have a why, form follows function, as in many of the best designs. How could we best organise ourselves to achieve our why?
Elephant in the Room
The elephant in the room is probably a lot of leader’s desire for individual autonomy. The move to shared autonomy and greater professional capital is not an easy road nor does it guarantee success. It should remain a choice for the many schools who are doing a good job; the shame is their good work may be locked away and not shared more widely.
The Executive Director is also the elephant in the room. Head teachers used to a lot of autonomy don’t want to be managed by someone else. Whilst I do need to manage the Trust my job is to lead, not manage, the head teachers. It’s about setting the vision, keeping us on course, coaching, mentoring and supporting as required so we can do our absolute best for the pupils and staff. “I cannot be successful without you” is a phrase I often use with the head teachers. There is no definition of success for me, in my role, that doesn’t involve the head teachers, staff, pupils and schools all being successful. We succeed together or not at all; it commits us to each other and the pursuit of excellence. An Executive Director might also be quite useful when the agents of accountability come knocking on the door.
Link in the Chain
A wonderful presentation, at the start of the conclave on Wednesday, by Dr Nancy Wallbank placed us and our work within a greater context. Many Catholic schools, particularly Primary schools, existed long before local authorities came into being and will still be around long after academies and Multi Academy Trusts have been consigned to the bin marked “Another Political Party’s Bad Idea”. We have taken many forms over the years.
I have a part in this great work;
I am a link in a chain,
A bond of connection between persons.
He has not created me for naught.
I shall do good,
Blessed John Henry Newman
Academies are just the latest empty vessel into which we will pour our act of love; the education of children and young people. If you’re looking at academisation and struggling to find your why here are a few questions to get you thinking; just in case you’re forced along this particular path.
What would be the pros and cons of the following? Which way of working with other schools would help you take the next step on your school’s journey (note not your journey rather your school’s)?
- Working together to achieve economies of scale and/or converge our curriculums
- Working with schools locally and/or dispersed over a wide geographical area
- Working with schools in a single phase and/or cross phase
- Integrating the work of the schools and/or operating as discrete schools
Our local, cross phase, integrated multi academy trust which is focused on developing curriculum, shared policies & practices and economic savings, in a deeply collaborative operation, is not an accident. Whilst most schools are worried about becoming academies some of us are worried about the negative impact of disgruntled head teachers being forced into our MAT. It’s a mess all round.
The journey started over a decade ago, via a hard federation in 2009, we are just taking the next steps in our on-going mission. Good luck with yours.