This publication provides non-statutory guidance from the Department for Education. It fulfils the Government’s commitment to publish ‘design principles’ for academy trusts, including those establishing new trusts and existing trusts planning to grow.
This document provides a framework which helps trusts at all stages of their development learn from other trusts. It sets out what we know about the characteristics of successful academy trusts, and the barriers that they will need to overcome in order to secure their ongoing success. This documents also explains what Regional School Commissioners (RSCs) will look for when assessing the capacity of MATs at each stage of their development. This document will be updated to reflect emerging good practice as we continue to learn from the academies programme.
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10 “things I wish I had known earlier”
4 When we asked those involved in leading and governing MATs what they wished they had known at the point they established their academy trust they said:
1. Get governance right from the outset. Recruit trustees for their skills and then ensure they govern in the best interest of the MAT as one organisation.
2. Once you have got governance right, be upfront about local governance arrangements – what decisions are delegated to school level and which are managed centrally – when new schools join the trust.
3. What matters most is identity and that is what will make other schools want to join the MAT. There needs to be a sense of what the MAT stands for, which is not solely driven by a personality. The mission, vision and values must drive everything.
4. Work hard to ensure that the MAT’s workforce buys into the strategic plan and its rationale; it will be impossible to effectively deliver the plan otherwise. This means that MAT will need to have clear mechanisms in place to communicate their vision to all staff within the MAT.
5. Make sure you engage parents in schools across the MAT. It is easy to assume that parents are only interested in what is happening in their child’s schools but many are just as interested in the ethos and ambition of the MAT as a whole.
6. Recognise that formal relationships with other schools and organisations need to be chosen carefully – often LAs, or where appropriate Dioceses, will often have key intelligence which should be drawn upon. Explore all options and carry out robust due diligence on other schools before agreeing to join their/your MAT ie. comprehensively assess a given school’s suitability across the board e.g. both educational and non-education factors. It will ensure both parties are much clearer about the challenges facing the school.
7. Building the right support structures and skill sets is criticial. It helps MAT leaders lead sustained improvement and significant change. It also ensures that that the trust is not unduly reliant on individual leaders.
8. The operating and governance model needs to reflect not just the MAT you are when you are established, but also the MAT you want to become in the future. For example, appoint an appropriately qualified head of finance and/or a human resource (HR) professional early on, centralising administrative, HR and corporate functions where appropriate and standardising key finance and HR policies. This will ensure firm foundations are in place from the start and maximise the scope for efficiencies and economies of scale. Its also helps to free up individual school leaders’ time to focus on school improvement and making sure teaching and learning is as good as it can be.
9. Robust financial planning must be central to the overall strategy for the MAT. Several MAT leaders said that, in hindsight, they would have appointed a suitably qualified finance director earlier in their development.
10.Make sure schools within MATs are in coherent geographical clusters with a shared sense of community, ethos and values. These can be created in national or regional trusts by creating smaller clusters within them. Travel times between schools varied depending on the geography of the area although most trusts seemed to think no more than one hour’s driving time between schools in a cluster was about right. This is important in terms of making the most of the impact of shared resources to effectively support school improvement as well as ensuring that governance structures work effectively.
This list has been formulated based on feedback from leaders of MATs and standalone academies about what they have learnt since forming an academy trust.