Covid

Geography is no longer a barrier to MATS’ improvement role

The pandemic experience has proven that geographical boundaries are no longer a barrier to building a successful family of schools, says Matthew Kleiner-Mann

The pandemic experience has proven that geographical boundaries are no longer a barrier to building a successful family of schools, says Matthew Kleiner-Mann

22 Dec 2021, 5:00

‘Are you having a Christmas fair?’

The flurry of responses to this message on our headteacher’ WhatsApp group was immediate. Soon, we all had access to thoughts, ideas and advice on how to safely allow this much-loved festive event to go ahead safely.

Communication, support and sharing of best practice has been crucial throughout the pandemic. During lockdowns, it gave our headteachers the confidence to make some of the most difficult decisions of their careers, and this collaboration has continued since.

WhatsApp is just one example. We’ve also created an online space to share resources and innovative ideas. We developed a series of bite-sized masterclasses. We had weekly Google Meets.

So although we have never seen so little of each other in person than over the past 20 months, in fact we have never felt more like a family. And our story is not unique. A report by Ofsted found that MATs have played an invaluable role in supporting and enabling school leaders during the pandemic – in their own schools and beyond.  

Covid has shown us how effectively we can connect remotely, and the experience has the potential to break down geographical barriers for good. Like families separated by distance, we have found ways to support each other and to be together even when we are apart. We have learned that we do not need to be on each other’s doorstep to feel like we belong.

And that could have profound implications for the educational landscape. Until now, we have felt compelled to be local and accountable to broadly geographically-defined communities, but this increased interconnectivity could open the door for more widely spread organisations.

When we formed the Ivy Learning Trust, our growth plan was limited to schools in the London borough of Enfield. We stipulated that they should be within half an hour’s drive of each other. We believed this local knowledge and accountability was crucial to our success.

This could have profound implications for the educational landscape

But our principles do and should transcend geography. So when, only a year later, we had the opportunity, expertise and resources to take on a school in difficulty in Hertfordshire, we reasoned that doing so was the only way to be true to our core belief that good education is a birthright.

Since then, four more schools in Hertfordshire have joined us. And while our original concern was not to dilute our organisational culture, the reality is that it has only been strengthened.

If a trust model is working well, there is no reason why it can’t be replicated in other areas. And why not? Many multinational companies operate effectively with teams all over the world. They still have a strong corporate culture, and we should consider the mechanisms they use to do this successfully.

Of course, local knowledge and support are still crucial, so that schools do not feel geographically disconnected (from their support networks or, indeed, from their communities). Meeting people face to face is fundamental to that, and I’m sure I speak for all of Ivy’s school leaders in saying it was a joy when our heads meetings recommenced.

Successful MAT growth doesn’t – and can’t – run counter to that. With their development of hub models, some of the larger trusts have already demonstrated that a balance can be found between forming geographically disparate support networks and ensuring innovations are sympathetic to local considerations.

If the pandemic has taught us anything as a sector, it is surely that no school is an island. We may have had to close our gates to most pupils for long stretches, but we have also opened them to new ways of collaborating.

For those who were reached by that support, it has been vital. But too many schools continue to fight their battles alone. For the sake of their leaders, staff and pupils, we must keep this momentum going.

And that means accepting that geography is simply no longer the barrier we once thought it was.

Latest education roles from

INCLUSION PRACTITIONER

INCLUSION PRACTITIONER

Milton Keynes College

HOSPITALITY LECTURER

HOSPITALITY LECTURER

Milton Keynes College

Vocational Skills Coach and Technician: Science

Vocational Skills Coach and Technician: Science

Milton Keynes College

DIGITAL SKILLS TUTOR

DIGITAL SKILLS TUTOR

Milton Keynes College

EDUCATION and EXAM ADMINISTRATOR

EDUCATION and EXAM ADMINISTRATOR

Milton Keynes College

Caretaker

Caretaker

Milton Keynes College

Sponsored posts

Sponsored post

Navigating NPQ Funding Cuts: Discover Leader Apprenticeships with NPQs

Recent cuts to NPQ funding, as reported by Schools Week, mean 14,000 schools previously eligible for scholarships now face...

SWAdvertorial
Sponsored post

How do you tackle the MIS dilemma?

With good planning, attention to detail, and clear communication, switching MIS can be a smooth and straightforward process, but...

SWAdvertorial
Sponsored post

How can we prepare learners for their future in an ever-changing world?

By focusing their curriculums on transferable skills, digital skills, and sustainability, schools and colleges can be confident that learners...

SWAdvertorial
Sponsored post

Inspiring Education Leaders for 10 Years

The 10th Inspiring Leadership Conference is to be held on 13 and 14 June 2024 at the ICC in...

SWAdvertorial

More from this theme

Covid

DfE Covid lockdown party may have gone on past 1am

Staff swiped out of Sanctuary Buildings 34 times after 10am on night of party, 8 times after 1am

Samantha Booth
Covid

Long Covid teachers join forces to sue ministers

About 85 teachers in the UK have expressed an interest in joining the action

Lucas Cumiskey
Covid

Williamson ‘considered resigning’ over ‘panic’ Jan 2021 school closures

Former ed sec tells Covid inquiry he did not have 'complete autonomy' over closure decisions, and claims his advice...

Freddie Whittaker
Covid

Covid: ‘Williamson threw schools under the bus’

Inquiry hears former education secretary opposed face masks in schools to avoid 'surrender' to unions

Amy Walker

Your thoughts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *