Regional directors push growing MATs to mentors

Bosses of trusts wanting to expand are now being told by regional directors to get mentoring from experienced CEOs

Bosses of trusts wanting to expand are now being told by regional directors to get mentoring from experienced CEOs

13 May 2024, 5:00

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Bosses of trusts wanting to expand are being told by regional directors to get mentoring from other experienced leaders as collaboration comes to the fore in the sector.

Schools Week analysis of regional director board minutes shows numerous chief executives, chief finance officers and chairs of expanding chains have been advised to secure support since September.  

The sessions have helped chief executives assess their school improvement capacity and structure their central teams.

Some have been put in touch with multi-academy trust chiefs by the Department for Education – while others were left to seek out mentors themselves. 

Supporting second generation CEOs 

One expert close to the advisory board process said: “It’s not a judgement [on the leader]. 

“We’re onto the second- or third-generation CEOs with new people stepping in and their trusts are growing quite a lot, so it’s about supporting that so they don’t fail or struggle.”

Regional director advisory board minutes show mentoring support for leaders has been recommended 14 times since September. 

On four other occasions, it was included as a condition of approval for academy trust expansion bids. The trusts had, on average, nine schools. 

The southwest issued the advice the most (six times) since September, while no such recommendations were minuted during meetings in London and the East Midlands. 

‘From running a school to a business’

Anthony Guise is set to launch a five-academy trust in September, having run a local authority-maintained school since 2019. 

He has discussed the “practicalities of setting up and securing compliance” since being put in touch with Carol Dewhurst, of Bradford Diocesan Academy Trust. 

“I’m going from running a school to running a business essentially,” he said. 

Northern Education Trust CEO Rob Tarn, who used to be on an advisory board, added that maintained school heads “suddenly get exposed to things they’ve never needed any knowledge of” when they take on a multi-academy trust. 

“They have to have an external auditor, a risk register, produce monthly management accounts and follow the academies handbook. 

“People can come into CEO roles not even knowing what ‘scheme of delegation’ means, let alone what the best one is.”

It was during the talks that Guise learned he wouldn’t need to apply for capital funding, as his trust would have more than 3,000 pupils so would get it automatically. 

Sarah Baker

Dewhurst will also run the rule over Guise’s central services plans, too.

The mentoring has also extended to his chair. “She’s going to be observing one of their meetings to see how they’re run,” he added.

Dewhurst’s chief financial officer will also attend the interviews for the soon-to-be-formed trust’s CFO position to ensure candidates “have the technical nous required to fulfil the role”.

Minutes show that the leaders of two new trusts in the southwest were advised they should be mentored for 12 months “to provide [them with] positive and constructive support”.

Advice on growth

Andrew Minchin, of Beyond Schools Trust (BST) in Kent, contacted Jon Chaloner, GLF Schools’ former CEO, after being told in November to consult another multi-academy trust to “support the scale of change”.

The DfE had approved plans for BST to expand from five schools to 10. The pair have since had three sessions, which have been paid for by the trust. 

Chaloner has looked at the trust’s school improvement capacity and functions, but will also advise on the “next stage of our five-year strategic plan, [which] we’re going to review and update”.

Chaloner said one of the key focuses will be helping Minchin to prioritise. “Sometimes as CEO you prioritise the issue that is the noisiest at the time. But sometimes you need to step back, and talk it through.”

In the southwest, Salterns Academy Trust was advised to speak to an advisory board member “to understand and learn from experience of overseeing an all-through” trust.

The recommendation was made as the regional director gave the multi-academy trust, which only consisted of two secondaries, the go-ahead to take on a school that teaches children aged between four and 16. 

‘Talent pooling’ and central teams

Meanwhile in December, Yorkshire and Humber advisory board members suggested mentoring “may be beneficial” to TEAM Education Trust CEO Sarah Baker, as they considered plans for her to take on a special school in the region. 

At the time the chain, which has three east Midlands academies, was also developing two satellites linked to its special school, Stubbin Wood in Mansfield. 

Baker said the board wanted her to speak to CEOs with experience of “taking on multiple projects at once”. 

She “linked up with a CEO of a special trust in a different part of the country, so it was non-competitive” and the boss of a medium-sized mainstream multi-academy trust. 

“[Talking about] onboarding the schools has been critical, [along with] scaling up and when you would be ready to take on the next school or satellite provision. 

“It’s also been about the roles you might need in your central team, what you might centralise, and how you develop your staff to work across the trust, rather than going out to recruitment.”

As part of this, Baker has done work around “talent pooling”, which focuses on “where the next layer of leadership will come from” within TEAM. 

Chief executives are also being talked through subjects such as integrated curriculum financial planning and executive team structures. 

‘Real appetite for collaboration’

These attempts by regional directors to nudge leaders towards mentoring are in addition to DfE’s attempts to develop the next generation of CEOs.

The 2022 schools white paper promised an academy trust chief executive training programme as part of the “golden thread of professional development”.

The National Institute of Teaching’s government-backed scheme subsequently kicked off two months ago. Its 12-month course will involve mentoring from up to 25 CEOs.

Leora Cruddas, chief executive of the Confederation of School Trusts, said it was “very good to see the spirit of professional generosity and collaboration now permeating our sector.”

Jon Chaloner

There is “a real appetite for collaboration among trust leaders”, she added. “We are richer as a professional community when we work together.” 

Chaloner added that societal shocks in recent years have led people to realise “if we work together, we go further”.

“Competition means that you can only win at the expense of someone else, whereas collaboration’s aim is to uplift each other.

“To have the next generation of CEOs working together, that can only be for the benefit of our children.”

A spokesperson for the Department for Education said trusts sharing best practice is a “hugely important part of continuously improving the standards of education for children”.

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