Becoming chief executive of a multi-academy trust (MAT) or federation is an exciting step forward for many headteachers and gives the profession new bands of leadership to aim towards. But the change in role from head or executive head to chief executive should not be underestimated; neither should the move from a single school to a group of schools.
Here are some questions you should ask yourself as you become chief executive of a federation or trust:
Can you articulate what your trust or federation offers?
If you are looking to establish and grow a MAT or federation, it is essential you know what you stand for and have a strong identity that others want to be part of. What do you stand for and what are you offering to others? What sort of schools do you fit best with? The best trusts and federations cultivate a clear ethos and communicate it well, so that you know wherever they are located, the broad expectations and modus operandi will be the same.
You must be in control of your growth
How big do you want to be?
It is great to have ambitious vision, but consider what growth you can cope with and what resource you need to deliver it without losing your identity or quality of provision. You will be approached by officials to take on more schools, undoubtedly, but be in control of your growth and plan it carefully, so that the wheels don’t fall off. Big sounds exciting, but big isn’t always better and it can dilute what made your schools great in the first place.
Have you considered governance, as well as leadership?
As you take on additional responsibilities, so do your governors. As well as deciding how you will work with your headteachers, an important decision to take now is also how you want to structure governance across your schools. Does a compact Trust board take the lion’s share of the responsibility, or do you empower local governing bodies to forge their own path, delegating responsibility. Again, it is important to approach this consistently, as retrofitting at a later date can get difficult.
What style of leader will you be?
It’s important to decide now. CEOs often have to lead groups of other headteachers who are used to being autonomous. Will you engage with other senior leaders as fellow board members, or will you establish stricter lines of control? Whichever style you decide, apply your leadership approach from the outset and be consistent across your schools. You have a golden opportunity at the beginning of your tenure as CEO to establish the rules of engagement that you want everyone to follow.
Are you ready for the scrutiny?
Becoming a trust CEO doesn’t just bring with it the responsibility of delivering outcomes in multiple schools, it also brings a whole new level of profile and interest from third parties that you might not be prepared for. This can be exciting in terms of the opportunities for influence you may be given, but also be prepared for greater interest from the media, activists and government stakeholders in your salary, your leadership choices, individual school performance data and your trust’s spending.
Do you have the personal support you need?
Everyone will want a bit of your time, from your heads, to all of your stakeholders. It might seem a small thing, but ensure you have the support you need to manage your time effectively so you don’t burn out; that might be a great PA, clerks in your meetings, a mentor or a strong senior management team that can share the responsibilities.