It is hugely rewarding to become a chief executive of a trust. Having established the first hard federation in West Sussex and now as chief executive of Ormiston Academies Trust, with 30 schools across the country, I know the challenges and rewards of chain leadership.
Know what you are responsible for
It might sound simple, but it is essential to understand the statutory responsibilities you take on when you become a trust CEO. As accounting officer responsible for all of the schools, the Academies Financial Handbook should become your best friend. And when you move from a leader to a CEO, you enter into a whole new world of charity law, company law, accountability and compliance – for example make sure you know who is doing legionella tests, etc. It could be the small things that catch your trust out!
Build a great team around you
Expanding into a multi-academy trust or federation doesn’t just bring personal progression opportunities, it also gives you the chance to develop a strong senior leadership team. Audit your leaders and build capacity – who is ready to step up, who is good at communicating beyond
the confines of their school, who can model and turn around failing schools and who has a sharp eye for data and analysis? If you don’t have this capacity, where are you going to find it? Becoming a CEO mustn’t be about empire building; school chains succeed when they are rooted in a mission to spread great teaching, opportunities for staff and pupils and best practice, rather than build egos.
Learn from the private sector
This might be a controversial thing to say in education, but as CEOs you are managers of big organisations, all with multi-million pound budgets. You need to reflect that with the investments you make in professional management tools and expert advice. Getting brilliant HR and finance directors is critical, but also never underestimate the importance of good IT systems, accountancy software, branding for your schools so they feel part of the family and data tracking platforms. If you get these things right in a trust, you can truly build an identity, measure performance and make interventions where you need to for the benefit of students.
Don’t underestimate the power of communication
As Sir John Dunford said, good leadership is 10 per cent action and 90 per cent communication. You cannot hope to change attitudes, approaches or outcomes within your chain without being clear from the beginning what your expectations are of students, staff and governors. Establish this early and communicate it openly, internally and externally.
Build challenge and support for yourself into your model
As Russell says, managing your time as a CEO is very important, but challenging yourself is equally so. As you move into this brave new world, don’t do it alone. As more and more multi-academy trusts and federation chief executives emerge, we need to support each other, mentor
others and continue to share ideas and advice. Then we’ll deliver the biggest system benefits.
Utilise the support that is already out there
As well as working with other trusts and schools, do make the most of the support that the Department for Education offers. Taking on new schools requires lots of time and resource, so do see if you are eligible for additional funding. Not everyone is aware of the sponsor capacity fund for example, which is open until the end of October (www.gov.uk/guidance/sponsor-capacity-fund).