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The answer to the meaning of MATs

Andrew Fielder, CEO at Aspire Academy Trust, explains why he removed the role of 'headteacher' in their multi academy trust

Posted by Lucinda Reid | April 25, 2017 | School life

Transforming the education landscape 

The essence of an effective MAT is all about developing and encouraging successful leaders at every level in every academy, champions in every office, in every classroom.

Twenty years ago Clive Woodward started to build an England team that would, after a bumpy ride, win the World Cup in 2003. He shook that most conservative of organisations, the RFU, to its core, by suggesting that to succeed and be world class, things had to change dramatically and definitively. The central pillar of the strategy to success? His winning team was not just one leader but many; ‘five champions and 10 warriors.’ No more glory in being valiant losers.

For well over three decades the clarion call of school leaders has been loud and clear; if we are to help pupils and students achieve world class outcomes then clear away the clutter; bash the bureaucracy and pulverise the manifold of irrelevant polices and paperwork. Those same voices said once we had achieved these goals we would then, and only then, have the freedom to run our own profession, in a manner and style that we know.

We all want our children to leave schools equipped with the skills, confidence and knowledge that are needed locally and that are competitive nationally and globally. Let us transform the landscape they said and we will make it so.

From 1998 to 2008 it didn’t happen. Instead over a thousand policies, strategies, initiatives, tool boxes and road maps hit headteachers desks, regardless of the impact or the school leader’s capacity, knowledge, or experience to deliver any of them. Then those same clarion voices were warning us all again of the shortage of applicants for headship, the dearth of good unpaid volunteers to become governors, the lumbering outdated 19th century governance framework within which they had to function and not the least of concerns was the endless workload and paper trail that teachers were subject to.

A new start 

Seven years ago, through an expansion of the academisation process, the profession was given its chance. A chance to tear away from the steely grip of politicians and local authorities. The constraints of a drastically declining economy added spice to the mix.

From this rich mix MATs have grown. Aspire is one of them. It exists and is designed to achieve better outcomes for pupils. This is to be achieved by fearlessly freeing up educational practitioners, removing all the excessive burdens from their workload and putting qualified professionals in charge of the non-educational issues that headteachers had previously managed and redefining what effective school leadership actually is. It is a matter of identifying what the obstacles are to achieving our goals and removing them.

Aspire has relieved unpaid volunteers from their onerous governance duties and freed them up to work with their academies in local advisory groups on bespoke projects that do not require them to fit in to any burdensome regulatory framework. Academies work in hubs, each academy providing a professional leader and an unpaid volunteer, who form the hub council, which oversees the collegiate working, the hub development plan and running a jointly delivered termly hub monitoring programme. Hubs also work with other hubs, increasing schools access to even more skilled staff, learning resources and expertise.

Once a MAT has been created, governing boards no longer exist in law, therefore we use that freedom to release to far greater effect all the passions and power of local unpaid volunteers who want to make a positive and measurable difference to children's lives. The model we are developing identifies and develops leaders at every level, where everyone takes more responsibility for pupil progress, in their own class, academy and fellow academies.

Removing headteachers 

Emerging from this process, from the classrooms, are Heads of School (HoS). Having removed much of the bureaucracy, paperwork and workload associated with headship, the new HoS role focuses entirely on pupils, learning, teaching, staffing, and community liaison. The HoS is unafraid to lead and work collegially with colleagues from many academies

Senior practitioners line manage, mentor and coach HoS, whilst highly successful andmexperienced executive leaders, each with specialist skills, become trust directors. Part of the director's responsibility is to line manage, mentor and coach the senior practitioners.

A highly focussed and qualified central service team works seamlessly with our academies. Each member of the services team understands their core purpose, to help pupils achieve outstanding outcomes. Everybody plays their part.

The role of headteacher has gone, to be replaced by a diverse and skilled team of people. Leaders are emerging at every level, colleagues who understand the new world and love working in a truly supportive, hard wired collegiate organisation that fearlessly drives forward.

But unlike the RFU who, post 2003, settled back into their old, bad ways again for a further 13 years, we will not make the same mistake. Aspire will create something that continues to grow, builds on and makes permanent the great things it does. Aspire is always unafraid to recognise and then improve weaknesses and will overcome any barrier to become truly world class for generations of children to come.

For more information about Aspire Academy Trust, visit their website

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