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7 tips for establishing or joining MATs

Lucinda Reid, Editor of Academy Today, attended the Optimus Education one-day conference about multi-academy trusts

Posted by Lucinda Reid | November 18, 2016 | Events

On 15th November 2016, headteachers, principals, school business managers, finance managers and school governors travelled to London to attend a special conference organised by Optimus Education. The conference would explore the questions surrounding establishing or joining multi-academy trusts (MATs) and I was there to find out the issues that matter most to you. As the new editor of Academy Today this was my first event, so I was excited to delve into the world of MATs.

 

The event started with an introduction and welcome from the Chair, Brian Lightman, who admitted that his job was to ‘sit on the fence and give the pros and cons’, so that we could decide for ourselves the best route. His honesty set the tone for the rest of the day, as all the speakers spoke openly and confidently about MATs.

Brian said: “The world is changing. You can’t hide from a changing world; you just have to be part of it.” This quote was one of many throughout the day that made me think about the promising possibilities ahead for MATs. However, there are certain things that need to be in place for MATs to be a success.

Here are some tips which I learnt during the conference, and hopefully they will be helpful if you are considering establishing or joining a MAT.

1. Be strategic

Strategy was mentioned regularly, which highlighted the importance of thinking strategically. Brian mentioned in his introduction that many academies jump into MATs without thinking of its implications. This then causes complications further down the line as the academies involved have not thought about the task in hand. Instead, remember that MATs are not a panacea as changing the structure of your academy will not automatically raise standards.

2. Devise a clear mission and vision

John Murphy, CEO of Oasis Community Learning, emphasised that before a strategy, MATs must determine their identity. John’s talk focused on the importance of having a mission and vision, because this will be the foundation of creating a successful MAT. This point was built-on during a workshop with Cathie Paine, Deputy Chief Executive of REAch2 Academy Trust, who explained that everyone should be able to communicate their vision in five minutes or less and get a reaction that signifies both understanding and interest. If you don’t have that, then you aren’t done.

3. Ask the right questions

Before establishing or joining a multi-academy trust, it is essential that you do your research. John advised academies to look into everything, including the accounts and board of directors, for extra assurance. He recommended having honest conversations with everyone involved and to remember that MATs are a family of schools, so they need to be able to rely on each other.

4. Be aware of the benefits and pitfalls

There are many benefits to MATs and Robert Hill, Education Consultant, detailed the reasons for joining or establishing this structure. From being a great vehicle for successful partnerships to an effective means of realising economies of scale, there is a reason why many academies are choosing MATs. However, Robert was also clear about the pitfalls. He explained that if schools had no sense of what the MAT was for or had a weak governance, then the MAT could face trouble. He stressed the importance of having a clear strategy and asserted that if the academy is prepared to put the effort in, they will see the rewards.

5. Create one organisation

One mistake that many MATs make is that the academies still think that they are separate organisations. This should not be the case, and the governance should reflect the creation of one organisation. Emma Knights, Chief Executive at National Governors’ Association, commented on how she had seen MATs face problems when they failed to realise that they were now one organisation.  

6. Use technology for sustainable growth

Technology can be a key player when creating sustainable growth in MATs and Rachel Jones, Innovation Director at The Elliot Foundation, explained how it had helped her. She had found that technology enabled them to grow, but said that they planned for growth in a gradual manner. She also used technology to mirror their human presence so that their identity remained consistent offline and online.

7. Do not overlook governance

If you take just one point away from this blog, I would recommend thinking about governance. From the conference it was clear that this was essential when establishing or joining a MAT, as without strong governance the structure would buckle. Emma stated that there were numerous models for governance, but it is important that the MAT chooses the right model for their needs.

Have you recently joined or established a MAT? If so, I would love to hear about your experience and what you learnt throughout the journey. To share your story just email lucinda.reid@wildfirecomms.co.uk  

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