Three years ago a number of our members who were governing smaller MATs, those under ten schools, felt rather ignored by the powers that be, invisible in the system, overlooked with nowhere independent, informed and trustworthy to turn to for support. They wanted a forum to share their experiences and learn from each other – and stop having to reinvent the wheel - and so the Community MATs network was born. It is open to all NGA members who govern or support governance in a MAT; their chosen community descriptor is in more about ethos than size, though it is worth noting that only one in ten MATs has more than ten schools.
To continue the metaphor the NGA adopted the role of midwife; we were not the guru dispensing wisdom from on high. Despite publishing the induction guide Welcome to MAT, and model schemes of delegations (SoDs), we were learning too. It has been a Chatham House forum, and I think I upset both Ofsted and our last National Schools Commissioner by saying that the network members didn’t want them in the room; trustees wanted to be able to discuss situations honestly with their peers. You could even call it school-led improvement.
However a year ago it became clear the group was returning to some of the same issues time and time again, and NGA had built up our own expertise further, but were being asked for practical case studies. Stories are so important to us humans, so much more powerful than a SoD or other dry technical explanation. And so our research and information team set out to record the experiences of some MATs in order to help others.
Last year Evolve Trust (Mansfield), The Spring Partnership Trust (Bromley) and Oxford Diocesan Schools Trust, shared their experiences of how their governance and organisation has developed over time. And this week we published the fourth story, this time from Sidney Stringer multi academy trust – a five school MAT based in Coventry – shared their experiences through interviews with the chair of trustees, the chief executive, a local academy committee chair, the business and finance director and the clerk for the MAT. A huge thank you to those individuals for giving up their time, especially when it is in short supply, and to the MAT for having the courage to share their challenges. Not everyone is willing to do this simply for the greater good, especially when some of the messages may be controversial: deciding the “non-negotiable” for all schools across the trust and re-distributing funding.
And the fifth case study, Faringdon Academy of schools, is coming soon: Liz Holmes, the chair of the trust, will be presenting their story at this term’s Community MAT network on 14 May in Birmingham. And the NGA team will be presenting a new publication, bringing together our own learning from the past few years too. Not a backward looking piece, but to inform the present and the future. Where next for the governance of MATs?
And there will be lots of time to discuss the themes which interest you, and explored directly in the report itself:
- Establishing an organisational identity: ethos and vision,
- Who does what: accountability, delegation & clarity
- The future of the local tier: academy level governance
- Stakeholder and community engagement
- Right people around the table, and the time to chair
- Ethics, culture, behaviour and relationships
- Communication and information management
- Due diligence and risk
- Growth, location and sustainability
- Oversight and holding trusts to account
- System leadership: collaborating and supporting other MATs to improve
Community MATs are now the norm for very many schools in England, not some quaint cottage industry dominated by the big fish (39 MATs are over twenty schools; that’s 2.5% of MATs). Confidence and knowledge is building. So we will finish the day by sharing thoughts with Andrew Warren, the Regional Schools Commissioner for the West Midlands.
If you want to be part of these discussions, relevant to executives, trustees, academy committee members and governance managers/clerks, the network is free for NGA members: academies can join individually or better still as part of the MAT. Do come with a colleague as the day should help you review your trust’s governance together.
Register for the Community MAT network on 14th May 2019 here and be one of the first to join in the discussions of Governing multi academy trusts: past, present & future
PS Have you claimed your £2000 in governance development yet from the Department for Education: if you are a MAT, it is there for the taking: see Leading Governance board development programme.