The case for multi-academy trusts is practical and pragmatic, not political, says Mark Lehain. They are, he says, simply the best way to run and improve schools.
Education is an important and beautiful thing in its own right. It’s also the closest thing we’ve got to a silver bullet if your aim is for people to be happier, healthier, richer or live longer.
It’s why having children in brilliant schools from day one is so vital – for them, their families and society as a whole.
MATs are getting better all the time at what they do
Add to this how tough things are in the classroom, I am more convinced than ever that schools collaborating within a great multi-academy trust (MAT) is one of the most effective things we can do to help pupils and teachers.
We’ve already come a long way towards a MAT-led system: just under half of the country’s state schools are already an academy or becoming one, and well over 85 per cent of these are already in a MAT.
And while we’re all familiar with the horror stories of when things go wrong, MAT successes keep building, and the case for them as the best way to run and improve schools grows ever stronger in a variety of ways.
Research suggests they are better at helping “stuck” schools get “unstuck”. They seem to be better at recruitment and retention of staff too, particularly in terms of getting more experienced staff into schools with more disadvantaged pupils.
‘MATs lead to better outcomes for kids’
It all leads to better outcomes for kids. For example, if all pupils did as well in their key stage 23 SATs as pupils in the 75th percentile of MATs, national outcomes would have been eight percentage points higher, and ten points higher for disadvantaged pupils.
At the performance of the 90th percentile it would have been 14 points and 19 points higher!
These things are possible because the MAT model enables great trustees and leaders to make an impact across a whole group of schools, not just one.
They can pool leadership, money, expertise and resources, and get it into the right place at the right time. They seem to have better financial management, which allows for more frontline investment and greater resilience.
And we know that MATs are getting better all the time at what they do, as good practice is spread and embedded, and new lessons learned.
The case for MATs is practical and pragmatic, not political. It’s why there are more than 4,000 Church of England and Catholic maintained schools due to convert and join trusts over the next few years About 1,000 others will follow in their wake.
The question is how we help make the process as easy as possible for those making the move.
‘DfE should fund Domesday Book for schools’
Some things are pretty technical. For example, the government should fund a national “Domesday Book” across the maintained sector, so there is a clear record of assets and liabilities in place at each school ready for when a school joins a trust.
It needs to legislate to address the land ownership issues that face many church schools when they become academies. And it should support the sector to develop and publish interoperability standards for information and data, to make changing IT systems easier.
Others are about helping schools and trusts explore possible relationships. Trusts should publish a standard set of information about how they operate, so that schools can easily assess who they’d consider working with (or not.)
This could form the basis of a “Tinder for trusts”, as part of an independent MATchmaking service to help school-to-MAT and MAT-to-MAT hookups. Left-swipe for a standardised curriculum, right-swipe for more in-school support!
Regardless of the political weather, we are heading towards a system where MATs will be the key drivers of school improvement. We just need politicians and officials to trust teachers and leaders, and give them what they need to make it happen.