Why ‘outstanding’ schools should join a MAT (and how to find the right one)

The incentives seem to encourage 'outstanding' schools to keep going it alone but there are very good reasons to join the right team

The incentives seem to encourage 'outstanding' schools to keep going it alone but there are very good reasons to join the right team

10 Apr 2024, 5:00

For an ‘outstanding’, over-subscribed single academy trust, finding a larger MAT to join may understandably not be priority number one.

In fact, the lack of perceived incentives for successful SATs to become part of a bigger network is one of the reasons being attributed to sluggish MAT growth, with the Government’s 2030 targets unlikely to be met.

Yet having very recently joined a MAT, our successful primary school, staff and pupils are already reaping the benefits.

Our journey began in 2021, following a discussion with the regional schools director. They made the case that we had a moral purpose to support others to raise standards across the local area which resonated with our school’s mission to deliver ‘excellence for all’.

The government’s ambition for every school to become part of a MAT led to a further conversation with SLT and trustees around our school’s future. How best could we sustain our high-quality provision for our school community?

Maintaining our ‘outstanding’ rating in December 2022 became the catalyst for moving these discussions forward. We were in a strong position: with so much to offer in terms of expertise and best practice, it was likely many trusts would welcome us. But with the increasingly difficult financial climate, challenges around recruitment and falling pupil numbers, we couldn’t rest on our laurels.

The fundamental question then became finding the right MAT to join.

Staff, parents, pupils and wider community had to be at the centre of our decision. This was a huge move for the school and we were committed to having a completely open discussion with our stakeholders to fully secure their support.

Education is evolving and we want to be at the forefront of opportunity

For any school embarking on this journey, I cannot over-stress the importance of transparency during the entire process. Robust consultation at every point led to our stakeholders having trust in the decisions we were making, knowing that their voices were being heard and any concerns were directly addressed.

I cannot over-stress the importance of transparency during the entire process

Initially, we identified four trusts, each of which would offer our school something different. We needed one that matched our vision and we wanted one that would value our autonomy and uniqueness. Giving up our individuality was very much a red line; retaining our name, uniform, staff and curriculum, for example, were non-negotiables.

Of course, we fully understood that joining a MAT would mean doing some things differently. But we also knew it would provide many gains, from economies of scale and central services to much-needed capital investment.

We wanted to find a trust that would give our school and its staff the opportunity to be part of something bigger. We were also looking for a group of people who were doing the job for the same reasons we were.

In the end, we chose a trust as unique as we are. Sponsored by an FE college, it offers a wide range of provision with exceptional expertise in SEND that we know will serve us well amid an increasing level and complexity of pupil needs.

Meanwhile, our staff will have access to enhanced professional development and career opportunities. They will be able to share their expertise and to support trust projects, to gain systems leadership experience and gain insights into different types of provision.

This will also strengthen recruitment and retention by giving our staff the chance to grow and develop with us, rather than having to move elsewhere. Greater opportunities will also be available for new teachers to develop skills and progress.

Education is evolving and we want to be at the forefront of opportunity, for example AI and its potential to reduce teacher workload. Being part of a strong, ambitious and forward-thinking network will make this possible.

Ultimately, it may feel like the incentives are against ‘outstanding’ schools joining trusts, but sustaining success depends on adapting to changing circumstances. Being part of a collective is key to weathering the many challenges facing the sector.

And besides, why keep what makes you great to yourself? Stop worrying about losing individuality, start asking how you can bring that to more pupils, and you will find the right MAT.

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