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It's up to schools to lead the change, says Trust CEO Peter Rubery

Schools need to support trust leaders more

Many multi-academy trust leaders have been left to take their first steps in the role in the dark... now it's time for schools to lead a change

Posted by Stephanie Broad | October 21, 2016 | People, policy, politics

Multi-academy trusts are a firmly established feature of today’s education landscape. They represent a big change in the way schools are run and, I would argue, provide the best means of generating school improvement in the current climate, but there has been some neglect of the people who are expected to be at the heart of this transformation.

The problem is that it has been largely assumed - by government and perhaps by some aspiring and established MAT CEOs themselves - that to make the move from head to CEO is a pretty smooth transition. But, that’s not the case. I know from my own experiences – I am now a CEO of a four school trust in Cheshire – that I had to take my first steps in the dark and learn on the job, with the advice and support of some valued colleagues.

Heading up an MAT is a very different job from headship. You have to develop new or under-developed skills that will help you to create and lead a strategy that focuses on governance, teaching and learning and leadership. You have to become skilled at negotiation, diplomacy, influencing and be prepared to have the tough conversations needed to hold people to account. And, as you develop these skills, you have the added challenge of leading a team of trustees, governors and teachers that are spread across a number of schools.

That is where perhaps the biggest challenge lies. Leading across a large, complex organisation like an MAT can make it difficult to get a clear, hands on picture of everything that is happening across the trust, such as staff performance and progress against your development plans. 

This is vital, so that any decisions you make are based on consistent and coherent evidence and information. You might need to have a picture of performance management across six or seven sites so that you know where things are going well and where you need to direct more help and support. The CEO challenge is to bring that information into a common format for your board so they have clear information in order to make good strategic decisions.

There are now signs that these challenges are being recognised and addressed. Rather than government, it is MAT leaders who are showing the way here, working together, and often with training providers, to develop leadership programmes for aspiring and new CEOs – and to give MAT leaders the tools and the support they need to have that consistent view of what is going on across their organisations.

In fact, this is an area that I am myself now heavily involved in, supporting MATs to evaluate and review their progress against frameworks introduced by the government and Ofsted - and then helping them as they work to address any improvements that have been highlighted.

It is true that the development and support of MAT leaders has been a neglected area until now, but it is up to schools and their partners to develop the answers by working together. After all, if we’re to continue building up this school-led system this is an area we need to address - and address well.

Peter Rubery is Executive Principal of Cheshire MAT The Fallibroome Trust  and a lead consultant for Best Practice Network, a national provider of leadership development programmes, qualifications and support for schools, including a new trust improvement model. Details are available at

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