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The balancing act of the growing multi academy trust

Nick Capstick explains the balancing act of a growing multi academy trust

Posted by Stephanie Broad | February 10, 2016 | School life

The rate of change within education continues to be rapid, with more schools choosing the academy route. The role of the multi academy trust (MAT) in this process has been critical, allowing schools to work collaboratively to drive improvement while backed by a strong central team removing many of the HR and administrative tasks that eat up senior leaders’ time.

Although the arguments for collaborative working are clear, the actual process of growing a trust is far from straightforward.

There are two scenarios for growth; a single academy looking to take on a neighbouring school to form an MAT and an existing MAT deciding to increase membership. Both have their own unique challenges.

Single academy challenges

For a single academy wanting to grow to form an MAT, there are issues relating to how you fund the central HR and management team before incomes are merged, how teaching staff will work together and how to agree on a shared set of values as an MAT rather than two individual schools.

Experience has taught me that one way to facilitate growth in these times of uncertainty is to empower everyone in the fledgling MAT. Each person should understand that they are a leader. Everyone from the head down to the NQT is in charge – they are simply leaders of different domains. The head has the power to change things at a strategic level but so does the teacher in their class, subject or year group.

This ownership helps drive improvement and creates the impetus for growth and collaboration. Teachers want to find ways of working with other teachers in linked schools as they understand that the knowledge they gain can be used to improve student outcomes across the trust. The onus on improvement is then shared by every member of the trust, not just the leaders, and this energy creates a driving force for change.

Access to good student data is also an important part of this. It allows staff to understand where they are now – where there are issues with progress in particular groups or if low-level disruption is becoming a problem – and therefore where they need to get to, so they can begin to plan how they will get there.

This means you will need to examine how you plan to measure progress across the trust. You need to decide whether to standardise on a common language for assessment and even a common management information system (MIS) for accessing and analysing data in an agreed format throughout the group. 

In my view, a single data set will be a key factor in MAT growth as it allows a trust to measure performance and ensure that there are consistent improvements in student outcomes as the MAT expands. 

A growing MAT

Data’s role is also critical as the MAT grows beyond the two-school collaboration. The challenge for larger MATs is to ensure that any new entrant does not jeopardise the performance of the existing academies in the group.  To facilitate effective change, leaders can use data for valuable insight into areas that may need improvement.

For example, I may have one school where the data shows me that KS3 maths performance is below expectations, but I can also see that one of our other academies has good results. If needed, I can pull some of the maths resource from there for extra support or training so that teaching know-how can be shared across the group.

Likewise, data can be used to set achievable targets and hold us to account. The data we provide to governors gives them enough information to challenge us. We provide information on the various groups; pupil premium, girls, boys and EAL so they have the data to hand to ask difficult questions, as well as recognising and celebrating our good achievements. 

The way forward

To continue to deliver the best possible outcomes for the nation’s children, academies need to grow and perform well. This can only be achieved if staff feel empowered with information and the ability to affect change.

Dr Nick Capstick is CEO of the White Horse Federation.

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