I previously blogged on the growth of multi-academy trusts (MATs) and the range of challenges the academy sector faces. As the number of academies and MATs continues to grow, so does the scrutiny they face - the performance of MATs is increasingly coming under the spotlight. Independent research reports are benchmarking the performance of different types of academies with other comparable schools and new tables from the Department for Education are analysing the performance of MATs. These reports are also highlighting variations in performance and progress within MATs.
With this in mind, how can you, as MATs, judge the effectiveness of your performance systems? Here are ten principles I would encourage you to follow:
- Look at performance in the round. The best MATs are using systems that integrate performance data across a range of domains. In other words they are bringing together data from their different academies covering such areas as attendance (both pupil and staff), behaviour, progress, attainment, teacher performance, financial monitoring, unit costs, safeguarding and child welfare. Effective MATs are also ensuring that their performance targets include measures that relate to their wider vision and mission as well to the government’s expectations for academic attainment.
- Standardise management information systems. Academies coming into a MAT may well be using different systems. It will normally make sense to move to having common systems across the MAT as soon as possible.
- Develop a shared understanding of the metrics that underpin the approach to performance management. At a simple level this might mean making sure that all schools in the MAT work to the same framework for defining and reporting unacceptable behaviour. At a deeper level it will involve having a shared view of what outstanding teaching and learning looks like; building a common view of the standards that children in each year group should be achieving; defining the progress they should be making each year; and agreeing how to assess this.
- Ensure as much data is reported in real time as possible. This will look different for different issues. Smart recording of attendance and behaviour data, for example, enables trends to be monitored (if necessary) on a daily basis. Many schools track pupils' educational performance against projected or targeted progress on a half termly basis. For some groups of children and schools it might need to be more frequent. But whatever the frequency. the information reports need to be available quickly as time lost waiting for the analysis equates to days and weeks lost in taking remedial action. Quality assurance sessions across a MAT, along with local governing body and board meetings, need to be timed to fit in with data reports becoming available.
- Invest in thinking about how best to present data. Classroom teachers will mainly want to see and analyse data relating to individual pupils. Middle leaders, on the other hand, may be more interested in looking at progress across a subject or a year – or at the performance of particular sub groups of pupils. Senior MAT leaders will need regular reports on how each academy is progressing relative to its improvement targets along with prompts that quickly alert them to academic or financial performance going awry. MAT boards will require their own particular type of data report that enables them to easily and clearly assess the all-round progress and performance of each academy without having to wade through umpteen pages of textual commentary. Similarly reporting to parents – both collectively and individually – will entail different formats.
- Benchmark the MAT with others. Many MATs have vision or mission statements that talk about the high aspirations or expectations they have for their pupils. If this is to mean anything then the MAT should be ensuring that they are constantly looking to compare performance not just across the MAT or with other similar schools but with top quartile performers as well. Benchmarking helps guard against complacency and makes an organisation ask questions about why it is not achieving the standards others are reaching. Encouraging academies to be active members of broader school groupings – such as teaching school alliances, Challenge Partners or locality-based partnerships – will also help the MAT to avoid becoming too insular in its thinking on performance.
- Reality check what the performance data is telling you. Learning walks, classroom observations, drop-ins, book checks, moderation sessions and one-to-one meetings are just some ways in which MAT staff and senior leaders across academies can jointly challenge and delve into what the data is showing. This also helps to develop consistency of practice across the MAT.
- Use data to develop schools as well as hold people to account. Too often performance data and management are identified solely with accountability. But data is like a can opener – it shows areas that need investigation. So, for example, data might show that a particular group of pupils is struggling. That can be harnessed to pupil voice to find out pupil perspectives on their learning and why they are not making faster progress. Peer reviews that help an academy to reflect on its development will be most effective when they are grounded in data analysis. Particular issues flagged by data reports might lead to commissioning a group of middle leaders to work on a specific challenge across the MAT. And data will form an essential part of the annual conversation with each teacher about a personal plan for their further development.
- Know your impact. This is a point powerfully made by Professor John Hattie: data is our friend in helping us to understand what approaches in the classroom are having greater impact than others. Empowering teachers across a MAT to work together to understand how their teaching and learning can be more impactful is at the heart of what any MAT should be about.
- Co-construct as much of your approach to data and performance management as possible. There may be some ‘non-negotiables’ that all academies in the MAT have to adhere to – particularly if a school is joining a MAT. But ideally there is buy-in to the performance management regime from all the schools in the trust.
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