Simon Rea and Simon Day from Isos Partnership (www.isospartnership.com) share learning from their work and research with MATs over the last 12 months.
How do successful MATs focus on school improvement? We reflected on this question in our first blog. We shared some lessons from our 2018 work with Robert Hill, the Regional Schools Commissioner South West team, and over 30 MATs across the South West region developing a school improvement self-evaluation framework for trusts - available here. Later in 2018 we were part of a national research team led by Professor Toby Greany (Nottingham University) that produced the DfE report published in December Sustainable Improvement in Multi-School Groups, DfE, 2018 .
In this second blog, we reflect further on this question. We focus this time on the steps successful MATs take to engage their staff and develop leaders of the future as part of their overall improvement work. Developing people and managing talent is crucial for any organisation. For MATs, there are more opportunities to offer staff the next step in their career within the trust, create secondment opportunities, and coach staff across the organisation. As one middle leader said to us ‘In a school, I have a job; in a MAT, I can have a career’.
From our support to individual MATs and our work during 2018 we highlight three areas below, summarising some learning and some questions MATs have been considering:
1. Developing talent
- A number of MATs we worked with created explicit opportunities for senior leaders to share knowledge about and discuss the talent management of staff. This enabled these trusts to consider how such staff might benefit from additional temporary roles or secondments (both within and beyond the trust). Some trusts had given specific responsibility for spotting talent to a senior member of the MAT. Others talked about a continuum of development, using language like “from seed to stalk”, to explain how they supported staff from NQT networks through to executive leadership. And others created formal and informal opportunities for staff to talk about their ambitions to enable the trust to identify teachers with leadership drive and potential.
- Questions for MATs: How does your strategy for developing your teaching staff support them throughout their careers from ITT to expert? Does your MAT have a common model for appraising staff and identifying priorities for development and improvement?
2. Utilising executive and middle leaders to lead school improvement across the trust
- We found different approaches in how MATs used their executive leaders. Some, particularly in the primary phase, had all of their schools led by an executive headteacher or principal, often working with heads of school. Other trusts deployed their executive leaders for temporary periods to support vulnerable or new leadership. At middle leadership level, most of the successful MATs we worked with had well-developed ways of both engaging with and getting the best from their talented middle leaders. Some of these middle leaders were designated as Specialist Leaders of Education or lead practitioners and worked across the trust schools to support school improvement. Others were leading improvement networks focussed on teaching and learning, curriculum development, or action research projects (we referred in our first blog to the importance of effective leadership of improvement networks).
- Questions for MATs: How does your MAT identify who your best leaders are and teaching staff and which schools have strength in specific phases or subjects? How are your system leaders and lead practitioners being used strategically to support other schools, model good practice, and coach their peers?
3. Engaging staff in the vision and policies of the MAT
- A common debate between MAT leaders is whether the practice of their trust is to standardise (have a single approach that all schools must adopt) or align (develop together an agreed approach that is widely used across the trust on a voluntary basis) or enable autonomy (schools are able to make their own choices about provision and practice locally to suit their own contexts). We have seen successful MATs that have utilised all these approaches. In fact, many trusts adopt a mix depending on their context and the point on their improvement journey, the needs of their schools, and the educational beliefs of their senior leaders. Other MATs may enable their school leaders to have the flexibility to make local decisions about topics in the curriculum, timetabling, or approaches to the teaching of subjects, but with access to other senior professionals from the trust to discuss and help them make informed choices. Whatever the approach adopted, it is important to ensure that the MAT has the processes and systems in place to be able to monitor and report on success across the trust. In addition, one of the consistent themes was the need to actively engage staff so that they became advocates for standardised practices, helped to develop shared practices through networks and subject groups, or actively shared practice that was different across schools.
- Questions for MATs: Do your staff feel like they have been genuinely engaged in co-constructing the approach to improvement? How committed are they to working across the group to support all schools? How does your approach to both developing consistency and respecting the identity and context of individual schools take account of learning and evidence? Do you have the systems in place to monitor and report on success across the trust.
We were delighted to be involved in the work in the South West region during 2018 to support the development of the MAT self-evaluation framework. We know that the framework is being widely used and continues to evolve. We know that MATs in other regions too have been looking at the framework and investigating how it could support their improvement work. Where MATs are working together in groups, using the framework to guide their discussions, this has prompted further learning. We are looking forward to hearing further from the MATs in the South West and other regions during 2019 about their use of the framework and the impact of this work.
Discover how SIMS Consolidated Reporting offers you access to detailed and insightful reports from across your MAT on any of the data which exists in SIMS.