Governance matters at #EducationFest

One of the most awaited educational events, The Festival of Education, takes place on 21st and 22nd June 2018. As in the past, the organisers have included sessions which governors would find of interest. The details of these sessions and speakers are as below.

Thursday 21st June 2018

MAT leadership, strategy and operations: what do they look like? (11:00-11:40; Kate Bowen-Viner, James Toop, Libby Nicholas)

Whether by choice or necessity, MATs are growing fast, but until recently, there was little research available on how they could operate and what their strategies were. Ambition School Leadership and LKMco will therefore be publishing a ground-breaking report in Spring 2018 which explores the different strategies that MATs are pursuing and what the implications of these are in terms of operational decisions and delegation. The report also explores the process of growth and what needs to change when. This workshop will share findings from the study and set out what the implications are for MATs and their leaders.

Handling public difficulties – essentials for school leaders and governors (11:00-11:40; Ben Verinder)

Even the most professionally managed school can find that communicating effectively when faced with a public difficulty is extremely challenging. Leaders are required to impose calmness, authority and confidence while working in an environment that is uncertain and possibly chaotic. This session will help school leaders and governors understand: – the fundamentals of communication and reputation management during times of difficulty – how to prepare a school to communicate during a crisis – what makes an effective response team, from spokespeople to social media managers.

Ben Verinder: Ben is managing director of Chalkstream, an agency specialising in supporting UK education clients with reputation and market research and public relations consultancy and training. Ben is a CIPR Founding Chartered Practitioner and chartered status assessor, a judge on several education awards and a regular speaker on communication, reputation and market research in education. Ben is also a contributor to a range of public relations books, a published poet and author of the biography of adventurer Mary Burkett. His specialism is psychology in public relations practice and, more broadly, change management in education.

Academies – asset stripping, profit-making and disempowering? (14:30-15:10; Katie Paxton-Dogget)

Academies hit the news when something has gone wrong sometimes amid accusations against the sponsor or multi-academy trust (MAT) involved. But what is really happening inside these organisations? This session will consider how MATs are structured to accommodate different schools and the use of partnership/holding company arrangements. There will be a particular focus on the delegation of powers to individual schools and the level of decision-making retained at board level. The session will also explore how MATs arrange their finances, whether delegated to schools and then top-sliced for central services or controlled centrally.

Katie Paxton-Doggett: Katie is the author of ‘How to Run an Academy School’ (2nd Edition published September 2016) and ‘Maximise Your Income: A guide for academies and schools’ (published November 2015). Dual-qualified as a Solicitor and Chartered Company Secretary, Katie has significant experience in providing specialist governance support to various academies and Multi-Academies. She advises on a range of issues relating to corporate governance and the role of the Board of Directors as well as providing specific company secretarial guidance. Katie is Company Secretary of Ridgeway Education Trust in Didcot.

Panel Discussion: A Vision for State Schools in England: Where Do We Want To Be – And How Are We Going To Get There? (15:20-16:00)

In the past 18 months, we have had a DfE white paper and then a green paper, most of which has not seen the light of day. Instead certain themes – such as social mobility, financial efficiencies, phonics and maths mastery, multi academy trusts – are repeated by ministers, but these do not add up to a coherent vision for state schools. There is also little clarity about where the capacity for school improvement is in the system, with new vehicles invented to fill gaps, such as the Sub-regional improvement boards. Given this deficit as to the purpose of our state schools and how that is to be fulfilled, we want with this debate to begin to take the initiative.

Emma Knights OBE: Emma
is Chief Executive of the National Governance Association (NGA) – the leading charity for guidance, research, advice and training for school governors and trustees. She is co-author of the Chair’s Handbook and was a governor at a secondary school in Warwickshire for seven years.

Stephen Tierney: Stephen was Headteacher of an 11-18 school for thirteen years before becoming the Executive Headteacher of the school and of a one form entry primary school. He now leads the multi-academy trust including the 11-18 secondary school and two one for entry primary schools. Working in Blackpool he’s rooted in the practicalities of leaders’ daily lives. Prior to this he was a Deputy Headteacher with responsibility for curriculum, teaching and learning and previously a Head of Science. He has extensive experience within the 11-18 age range and is increasingly knowledgeable about a range of issues affecting primary schools and their leaders. The issue of enhanced transition across phases is a key area of work for him.
Working nationally as Chair of the Headteachers, RoundTable Group; he has spoken at a number of conferences and events. Joining the Teacher Development Trust from their launch he is working to develop a culture in which staff, children and young people can flourish; at the heart of this is work on the professional development of teachers. St. Mary’s has recently been designated a Research School in the Blackpool Opportunity Area. As a prolific blogger (www.leadinglearner.me) he writes on a range of topical educational issues. The core school business of teaching & learning and leadership are the main themes on his blog.

Alison Critchley: Alison is the Chief Executive RSA Academies.

Andrew Warren: Andrew is Executive Director/Chair Manor Teaching School/ Teaching Schools Council.

Should schools be accountable to parents rather than to government? (15:20-16:00; Ralph Lucas in conversation with Professor Becky Allen)

Parents, in the main, care about the schools they send their children to. They are committed to them, involved with them, inclined to listen to them. They like the teachers, and have a direct interest in their wellbeing. They would make much better masters than the government. From decades of talking to parents, and helping them understand schools, we think that there is a better way (for pupils, teachers, schools and government) of running accountability than the current Ofsted regime and data-based targets.

Ralph Lucas: Ralph is Editor-in-Chief; Good Schools Guide. Ralph joined The Good Schools Guide in 1995 and became editor-in-chief in 2000. He has run The Guide since then and, although he still visits a few schools every year to keep his hand in, his main activities are drawing The Good Schools Guide together, education politics (he is an active backbencher in the House of Lords) and data analysis – as a former physicist, and an inveterate programmer, he has undertaken most of the work that underlies the online Guide’s extensive distillations of schools’ information.

Professor Becky Allen: Becky leads the Centre for Education Improvement Science at UCL Institute of Education. Her research explores how schools and teachers respond to government policy reforms. She is an expert in the analysis of large scale administrative and survey datasets. From 2014-2017 she set up and led Education Datalab.

Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector, Amanda Spielman (16:30-17:15; Afternoon headline speaker)

FRIDAY 22ND JUNE 2018

Governors – celebrating Humans and Heroes (11:00-11:40; Louise Cooper)

Governors for Schools has years of experience recruiting skilled and committed people to be governors. Who are they? With 56% under 45, 31% from BAME backgrounds, 49% female, these are not your usual suspects. We are launching a campaign to tell their human stories, celebrating their impact on schools and communities.

Louise Cooper: Louise became CEO of Governors for Schools in April 2017. She brings a rich and diverse set of skills and experiences from more than 20 years in the private, public and not-for-profit sectors. Most recently, she was Business Development Director at the social enterprise London Early Years Foundation, where she grew their nursery portfolio from 24 to 38 nurseries. Her private sector experience was with LEK Consulting, a strategy consulting firm, and the global retailer Tesco. Louise is currently a Governor of a primary school in north London. She holds an MBA from Harvard Business School and an MChem from Oxford University.

Panel Discussion on: Brave New World of MAT Governance (14:30-15:10; Naureen Khalid, Jo Penn, Katie Paxton-Dogget, Will Millard, Mark Lehain)

With an ever increasing number of schools joining Multi-Academy Trusts, there is a need to understand how these are governed. This panel session hopes to explore how MAT governance differs from governing single schools. The session hopes to discuss hallmarks of good MAT governance, identification of qualities which make a person a good trustee, importance of company secretaries and clerks, the role played by local governing bodies and schemes of delegation, the relationship between the Trust Board and the Executive and the importance of continued professional development at different levels of governance.

I will be chairing the panel and am hugely excited to have Jo Penn, Katie Paxton-Dogget, Mark Lehain and Will Millard join me.

Jo Penn: Jo has many years of experience as a school governor. She is currently Chair of a Local Authority Primary School Governing Body and on the Board of a Secondary Academy. She has also been a member of a Special School Interim Executive Board and Chair of a Foundation School/converter Academy for four years. Jo is an experienced National Leader of Governance offering support to other chairs and governing bodies. In 2013 Jo co-founded @UkGovchat on Twitter, bringing governors from around the country together in weekly chat sessions for mutual challenge, support and development. She is an occasional blogger at Challenge, Support and All That Jazz. Jo combines her governance activities with her osteopathic practice and position as a Senior Clinical Educator and examiner.

Katie Paxton-Doggett: Katie is the author of ‘How to Run an Academy School’ (2nd Edition published September 2016) and ‘Maximise Your Income: A guide for academies and schools’ (published November 2015). Dual-qualified as a Solicitor and Chartered Company Secretary, Katie has significant experience in providing specialist governance support to various academies and Multi-Academies. She advises on a range of issues relating to corporate governance and the role of the Board of Directors as well as providing specific company secretarial guidance. Katie is Company Secretary of Ridgeway Education Trust in Didcot.

Will Millard: Will is a Senior Associate at LKMco where he undertakes research into education and youth policy, and works with a range of organisations to help them develop new projects, and assess and enhance their social impact. He began his career as an English teacher at Wembley High Technology College, a large secondary school in North West London, before then working as Lead Researcher and External Relations Manager at a national support service for school leaders and governors.

Mark Lehain: Mark has a wealth of educational experience, having founded one of the first free schools in the country in September 2012. Bedford Free School has thrived under his tutelage, and they have created the Advantage Schools multi-academy trust with Elstow School, as well as receiving permission to open another free school in September 2018. Mark is the Director of Parents and Teachers for Excellence, an organisation which works to improve state education by encouraging schools to adopt high-expectations behaviour cultures, a knowledge-rich curriculum, rigorous examinations and lots of enrichment opportunities for their students. He was appointed Interim Director of New Schools Network in March 2018.

There are many other sessions which may be of interest to you. The draft schedule for day oneand day two has details of all the sessions. If this has whet your appetite then there is still time to buy tickets.

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Talking up governance matters

The other day my daughter showed me her Year Book. Under “Where will you be in 10 years?” she had written “Chair of Governors of the school.” Obviously, that made me very happy but later it got me thinking.

I am a very committed governor and I really enjoy my work. I talk about it at home, telling my family about what’s involved in being a governor of a school. They see me prepare for and attend meetings, attend conferences and discuss governance on twitter and with friends. They know not to disturb me on Sunday nights between 8:45-9:15pm when I’m on twitter taking part in #ukgovchat. We’ve had discussions about what are operational matters and hence not my remit. They know that if I contact the school as a mother I start by saying I’m doing so as X’s mother and not as a governor and why that’s important.

I’d be very happy if she (or the others) did volunteer as governors when older and I’d feel that that was partly due to the fact that I talked with them about governance. How many of you do the same? Some more questions for you to ponder on.

  • Do you think most people are aware of the role governors play? If not, how can we change that?
  • Do you sit around the dinner table and discuss governance (obviously taking care to respect confidentiality etc) as you discuss your day jobs?
  • Do your wider family members know of the important work you do?
  • Do you talk to your work colleagues about the importance of volunteering as a governor?
  • If you meet people socially do you tell them what you do for your day job as well as your work as a governor?
  • Have you been able to encourage someone to find out more about governance?
  • Has someone joined a governing body after chatting with you?
  • Think of the people you meet frequently; do they all know you are a school governor?
  • Do your children tell their friends that you are a governor?
  • How do people react when you tell them you are a governor?
  • What is the most common question people ask you when you tell them you are a governor?
  • How many of your family/friends are governors?
  • Has anyone ever said to you that they don’t think they have the requisite skills to become a governor? If yes, what did you say in reply?

Governance is hugely important and plays a crucial role in school improvement. I think it’s important to let people know you are a governor and what is that you do and why. It’s not a case of blowing your own trumpet but ensuring that governance gets its due recognition. By doing this you may even help recruit people where there is a shortage of people volunteering to fulfil this hugely rewarding role.

Governance matters at #BrewEdLeicester Part 2

On 14th April 2018 I attended #BrewEdLeicester. If you are unaware of what BrewEd is, then this will give you some idea. The Leicester BrewEd was organised by the fantastic team of Mr_P_Hillips,Teacherglitter, Muggle Teacher and Matt Payne They put on a great show and everyone who came or followed on twitter had a wonderful time. In this blog I’ll write a bit about the presentations but mainly concentrate on what I, as a governor, took away from them.

The day started with Ed Finch telling us how BrewEd started. He told us that the whole point of BrewEd was to get people together to talk about education and in the process have a laugh and get to know each other. These events are organised by volunteers and are free from corporate sponsorships. The ticket prices are kept as low as possible. Those of you who read my blog or follow me on Twitter will know that I try to attend as many educational events as I can. I think it’s important for governors to go along to educational events. The events which are based around governance will obviously be directly useful to us but even those events where the emphasis isn’t governance will give us pause for thought. They are also a good way to engage with educators and find out what are the issues facing people teaching our children in schools we govern.

The first presentation was by JL Dutaut. He and Lucy Rycroft-Smith have edited a book called Flip the System UK.He told us that both Lucy and he had suffered burnout and asked the audience if they know people who had. A large majority of hands went up (about 95%). As governors we need to be aware of how our heads and staff are feeling. Do we look after the wellbeing of our heads and staff? JL made the point that there is a culture of blame in our education system. He quoted David Weston who has written a chapter in the book. David wants us to be data smart. He says that by the time the data has been aggregated and passed up to senior leaders, not only is there a time lag, the data has lost nuance and context. As governors we need to be very aware of this.

  • We should think carefully of the data we ask the head and their team to provide us.
  • Are we adding to workload?
  • Are we asking for/aware of the context and the narrative behind the data?
  • Is the reason we ask for data is to see if we are better than other schools or are we actually trying to see if our education for our students is getting better?

JL then asked us to read an extract from the book. This made me think whether governors read around the subject. When is the last time you read a book/article/blog about governance which wasn’t directly related to an issue faced by your board/school?

JL also told us that there are quarter of a million qualified teachers who are not currently teaching. As governors, teacher turnover is one something we should be monitoring in our schools.

  • Are you aware of the number of teachers who leave your school?
  • How does that number compare with other schools/national figures?
  • Does your school conduct exit interviews?
  • Do you get the results of these interviews and do you discuss any issues highlighted by these interviews?

During the question/answer session which followed JL’s session a point was made that autonomy and teacher agency can add to workload. For example while its very gratifying to design your own curriculum it will add to teacher workload. As governors, when your senior leaders bring a proposal to you do you ask about the effects that will have to teacher workload?

Next up was Jenny Holder who talked about developing an ethos for reading for pleasure. As governors are you aware of what the school’s approach/ethos is as far as reading for pleasure is concerned? When asking questions regarding this we will have to be careful that we don’t step over the strategic/operational divide.

The next presentation was by Dan Edwards who spoke about the need for closer relationships/collaboration/conversations between the primary and secondary phases. He feels that the collaboration isn’t as good as it can be because we don’t know enough about each other.

My questions for governor colleagues:

  • Do governors have a part to play in this?
  • Should we play a part in this?
  • Do we know what happens to our students when they leave our primary school and go to the secondary school?
  • Is the above something boards should be asking school leaders about?

Hannah Boydon talked about her school’s experience with making links with international schools. This is a good way to broaden your children’s experiences and expose them to different cultures. Again, this is something a board would not necessarily ask the head to do but if the head were to bring a proposal to the board then it’s worth considering. Hannah made the point that the eTwinning her school takes part in has helped with teacher retention in her school.

Then it was my turn to talk governance. I have published my slides on my blog if you want to see what I talked about. I’m aware that governance is a bit of a mystery for many people.

I hope I was able to demystify governance a bit. The most satisfying thing was the conversations which were sparked by the presentation.

  • We talked about the difference between working strategically and the operational work of running the school by the head and their teams
  • We discussed how to ensure that school monitoring visits did not result in putting teachers under stress.
  • We also discussed how the head and governors should work together to ensure that these monitoring visits yielded results which the governors could use but were not seen by staff as almost like an inspection visit.

At the start of my talk I had asked for a show of hands from people who were governors and was pleasantly surprised to see quite a few hands go up. At the end of my talk I asked if people who weren’t already governors would think of becoming one in the future and was again very happy to see many people saying they would.

During the panel discussion at the end Dan made the point that if governors were visible and known to the staff then the fear about what they do will reduce. The panel members were asked if they had a magic wand which could change on thing what that would be. It will come as no surprise that my answer was to make training, at the very least induction training, mandatory for governors.

The theme which emerged was collaboration; collaboration between teachers, between phases, between school leaders and governors. I’m really grateful to the organisers for inviting me to talk governance. If you get a chance to attend a BrewEd event or for that matter any educational event, do go. These events give us a chance to tell our teachers what we do. At the end of the day we all want the same thing; a good education for all our children and if we get to know and appreciate the work done by everyone involved in education that task becomes that much easier. And you may even inspire someone to become a governor!

If you want to read a bit more about the sessions then I have collated the tweets using Wakelet which will give you a flovour of the day.

Once again, thank you to the organisers for having me and for organising such a great event.

Governance matters at #BrewEDLeicester Part 1 My Slides

On 14th April 2018, I attended and presented at #BrewEdLeicester. My slides and brief explanatory notes of the slides are as below.

Slide 2:

I started my governance life as a parent governor in a secondary school. The school then converted to become an academy and I became a trustee and director in the SAT. The school then joined a MAT so that meant that I became a member of the Local Governing Body. I am also a trustee in a MAT of primary schools. I am a blogger and blog on governance and other stuff. I tweet, a lot!  I’m the co-founder (along with @JaPenn56) of @UKGovChat which some of you know is a twitter forum for governors. Since my link to education now is through governance that is what I will be talking about today.

Slide 3:

So, first, let me tell you a bit about the people who govern our schools. Governors are the largest volunteer force in England. There are about 250-300, 000 governors in England.

Slide 4:

According to the 2017 NGA and TES survey 53% of respondents were 40-59 years old. We obviously need more young people to join governing bodies.

Slide 5:

The same survey also looked at the ethnicity of governors.  A greater proportion of older governors are white. If we look at the younger governors then we see more people from different ethnic backgrounds joining governing bodies which is a good thing but more needs to be done to increase diversity of governing bodies.

Slide 6:

As far as gender is concerned then the survey showed that there are more female governors than male ones in primary, secondary and special schools.

Slide 7:

So, what do these 250,000 people actually do (besides sit on the stage at school events)? One of our core functions is to ensure the clarity of vision and ethos. The GB appoints the head and this is perhaps the most important thing that governors will do. We appoint someone who we feel will help us deliver our vision. Yes, it is a partnership; it has to be for it to work well but ultimately it’s the governors who will determine the vision, culture and the ethos of the school.

Slide 8:

It’s the governing body which sets the strategic direction of the school and decides where it wants to school to be in 5, 10 years’ time.

Slide 9:

It’s our job to hold the school leaders to account for the performance of the pupils and the school and the performance management of staff. We ask questions, do monitoring visits and triangulate data to get a true picture of how the pupils and school is doing.

Slide 10:

We are custodians of public money so another of our core functions is to look after the financial performance of the school and ensure that money is well spent.

Slide 11:

Talking about what governors do leads very nicely to a very important point; the difference between operational and strategic. Imagine that your neighbour placed these colourful eggs by the fence and it wasn’t Easter. You can chat to them over the fence and ask them why they’ve got eggs by the fence but you wouldn’t jump over the fence and rearrange or remove the eggs, put them in a basket and store them in the shed. In the same way, as governors we ask the school leaders to explain to us what they’ve done and why but we don’t try and do it for them. We need to remain strategic and leave the operational day to day running of the school to them.

Slide 12:

Now that we know what role governors play in schools let’s talk about why people should join a governing body.

Slide 13:

There are various reasons why people join governing bodies.

  • Schools are an important part of the community and governance allows you to give something back to your community
  • You get to learn to work strategically and do long term planning
  • You learn about financial planning and management of organisations
  • If you are an academy governor you learn about charity and company law
  • You get to meet governors from other fields such as business, law etc and this helps you look at things from different perspectives.

Slide 14:

When governors were asked about what motivated them to become governors then these were the reasons given by them. As you can see improve/support school is right at the top.

Slide 15:

You may be asking yourself why am I talking to you about becoming a governor. You may be thinking that you work in a school and volunteering as a governor of a school is a bit like a busman’s holiday! Trust me! There’s a lot to be gained by you and by others.

Slide 16:

A big advantage of volunteering as a governor is that it’s very useful, free CPD.

Slide 17:

  • You get to work at a strategic level.
  • You get an opportunity to shape the strategic direction of the school.
  • You learn to see things from a different perspective.
  • You can even get some leadership experience by chairing a committee or a working party.
  • You learn about governance which for many is something of a mystery!
  • You see firsthand how heads and governors work together which is good training for you if you decide to go for headship one day.

Slide 18:

But there are challenges too if you decide to become a staff governor in your school.

Slide 19:

  • You are a representative staff member
  • You are not a staff representative, not a union rep. There a difference between being a representative staff member and a being staff representative which you and others will need to understand.
  • There may be an expectation from staff to report back after GB meetings. That’s not your job, unless specifically asked to do so by the GB.
  • Governance is about asking questions and this may mean you have to challenge your boss.
  • Conflicts of interest have to be managed. There will be times you can’t participate in governing body business, for example pay committee.

But despite these challenges, the rewards are great!

Slide 20:

As Mel, a teacher, says, it’s a very good way of finding out how the governing body works

Slide 21:

And as Philip, a trainee teacher,  says it’s a very good way of finding out how schools work, especially the behind the scenes work that goes on.

Slide 22:

One thing which I haven’t mentioned is that we don’t get paid; in fact many times we spend our own money on governance. We are volunteers working to make schools better and trying to ensure that all our children receive the best possible education. So love’s got everything to do with governance! All we ask for in return is some appreciation of what we do and an occasional slice of cake!

Slide 23 and 24:

Some examples to show the difference between strategic and operational.

Fifth anniversary matters

On 28th March 2018 I will reach a milestone; this blog will be five years old! When I started blogging all those years ago, I wasn’t sure how long I would keep blogging. I certainly didn’t think people would read and follow my blog. I’m happy that the number of views has been gradually increasing; the number of views in 2017 was ten times more than the views when I started! The number of followers has also increased over the years and is now in triple figures. Thank you to all of you who read, comment and share my blog.

A look at the year that was:

The top ten most viewed posts:

10. Five governance principles that matter

9. New governor induction matters

8. Competency Framework matters; knowledge and skills needed by all (7th last year)

7. Elected governors and removal from office matters

6. Good practice matters for governing bodies (10th last year)

5. Staff wellbeing matters Part 2

4. Competency framework matters-The slides (5th last year)

3. Ofsted questions for governors (3rd last year)

2. Questions you may be asked and other inspection matters (top post last year)

And the most viewed post was

1. Ofsted grade descriptors, Sept 2105 Guest post by Shena Lewington (2nd last year).

The five most used search terms which led users to my blog were

1. Ofsted grade descriptors

2. Ofsted questions fro governors

3. Amazon (this surprised me!).

4. Ofsted categories

5. Governing matters

This year two of my blogs made it to the list of Top Blogs of the Week in Schools Week. Andrew Old  chose my post “Staff wellbeing Part 2” as one of his top blogs of the week. He had this to say about it.

This is an unusual post in that while the issues it discusses are absolutely critical in the lives of teachers, it is actually aimed at governors. It consists of a list of questions that governors can ask school leaders to address whether school culture is good for teacher wellbeing and whether workload and work-life balance are reasonable. Questions include “do you ask what is being dropped to accommodate new initiatives?” and “how do you/your school leaders deal with requests to go part time?”

The latest edition of Schools Week had Iesha Small’s top blogs. She chose one of my blogs and as it is the month my blog turns five, this was a lovely present! Iesha chose “MAT expansion and cultural matters” and wrote

“The governors of schools thinking of joining a MAT also need to understand the culture,” explains Naureen Khalid, a school governor. Governors are often forgotten in discussions about school leadership: a good governing team can be a huge asset and governors do play an important part in the selection of a senior leadership team. A poor board of governors can leave important questions unasked and unanswered that ultimately damage the long-term future of a school. Here, Khalid writes about a topic I’ve not often seen addressed: the considerations that a governing body needs to make when thinking of joining a MAT. She specifically focuses on culture. Standalone schools and academies can set a particular ethos and that is often what draws parents to them. This blog explores how governors can ensure that existing cultures are compatible with new academy partners.

People found my blog via search engines, Twitter and Facebook (showing that it helps to blog your blog to your Twitter/Facebook accounts), Schools Week, EchoChamber and via Robin MacPherson’s blog (Robin had also blogged about wellbeing and had referred to my blog in his post).

My blog, surprisingly, was viewed in 64 countries. Many obviously would have ended up here by mistake as I don’t know why anyone living in Taiwan for example, would be interested in school governance in England!

I enjoy blogging as it gives me a chance to put down my thoughts, tell people where I stand on various issues and enter into debate on governance related topics. I also use it as an archive for
various links, reports etc (for example see my end of the year review post. Thank you to everyone who reads and comments on my blogs. Hopefully, I’ll see you at the 6th anniversary party too!

MAT expansion and cultural matters

On 16th March 2018 Katie Paxton-Dogget and I spoke at the ICSA Academy Governance workshop. This was a very interesting and informative event, one which I thoroughly enjoyed. Katie and I spoke about the role played by culture during MAT expansion.

Our slides: (I’ve written some notes to accompany the slides to make it easier to follow what we talked about. These notes are as below.)

MATs, as we know, are a group of schools which are governed by one trust board. Although the core purpose of individual schools is the same ie providing a good education to their pupils, schools are not clones. Each school has its own culture and in order to set up and then expand the MAT, the trustees need to have a good and thorough understanding of the culture of the schools they want to in their MAT. The governors of the schools thinking of joining the MAT also need to understand the culture of the MAT.

Slide 2:

What do we mean when we speak of the culture of an organisation, in this case schools and MATs? There are various attributes which describe culture in schools such as

  • Attitudes towards pupils, especially different groups of pupils such as SEN, those receiving pupil premium
  • Attitudes towards staff
  • Attitudes towards parents
  • School policies

Slide 3:

Culture can be shaped by the governance structure of the school. I specifically make reference to Church of England schools as these account for over 4,500 primary schools and 200 secondary schools but the principles also apply to Roman Catholic or other faith schools. They bring with them particular issues when it comes to any sort of merger.

Slide 4:

Other factors which describe the culture of a school are

  • The community where the school is located
  • Academic and behaviour expectations
  • How the school defines its “success”

When trustees start thinking of expanding the trust or joining a MAT, they will carry out due diligence. This usually involves looking at measurable things like finances. It is equally important to define what cultural attributes are important to the existing MAT as well as to the school joining the MAT. For this reason they need to give careful consideration to each of these factors if the expansion is to be successful and of benefit to all the pupils.

Slide 5:

It is natural for people to compare the culture of their school with the culture of the MAT and the culture of the other schools in the MAT. You may have the same culture as the MAT you are thinking of joining; you may be dancing to the same tune. The greater the similarities the easier it will be for the school to feel a part of the MAT.

Slide 6:

Differences in culture are one of the major reasons why schools may find it difficult to become an integral part of the MAT. The greater the difference, the greater the cultural shock. This is why comparing the culture of both organisations should be a fundamental part of due diligence.

Slide 7:

As culture is the shared values and beliefs of people which influence how they behave and their practices, a sudden change in practices will change the culture. If care isn’t taken to bring about a smooth transition then there is a danger that this may cause

  • Unease amongst staff
  • Morale drops
  • Increased stress, absenteeism
  • Failures/problems are attributed to the “other side”
  • Staff leave
  • Parents lose confidence and pupils leave
  • Results dip

Slide 8:

When a MAT expands then depending upon the circumstances there are three options as far as working together are concerned.

  • Two cultures remain separate – umbrella trusts!
  • One culture is dominant and replaces other – sponsorship/forced academisation
  • Take best practices from both – community MATs

Whichever option is decided upon the trustees need to ensure that the transition is smooth and for this they need to put few things into place.

Slide 9:

Trustees need to ensure that there is transparency around the whole process. This is

  • Vitally important in today’s digital age. Will stop mis-information from spreading
  • They need to explain the reasoning behind the expansion/joining. It must be noted that there may be some things may not be shared fully
  • They need to be clear about what will change and what will remain the same
  • They need to explain any organisational change
  • They need to be open about how the school will be governed once it joins the MAT

Slide 10:

With transparency comes honesty and honesty means that staff will be able to trust you.

Honesty also ensures that there are no surprises waiting to be uncovered later in the process!

Slide 11:

Communication is of vital importance in this process. Trustees and governors on FGB need to

  • Relay details of the process
  • Ensure that everyone understands the positive effects expanding the MAT or joining the MAT will have
  • The needs to make sure that the messages from everyone are consistent and clear. And clear isn’t the same as transparent!
  • They need to let everyone know when the expansion is to happen so no one feels left out of the loop
  • They need to ensure that communications continue after the initial announcement
  • And they need to make sure these are as frequent as possible

Slide 12:

As far as communications are concerned they need to be made to

  • Staff
    • They will be especially worried about jobs so there need to be HR meetings
  • Parents and communities
    • Consultation documents and events
  • Communications need to be both face to face and via other means

Slide 13:

The things which need to be communicated in a transparent manner are

  • Difference between the Trust contract and the school contract, staffing structure
  • Don’t make commitments you can’t keep
  • Re-branding. People may feel very strongly about
    • School name/logo
    • School colours
    • School uniform
    • It may be necessary to change these but again be transparent and communicate why it needs to be done
    • Curriculum offer may be modified which may affect staffing.

Slide 14:

So, for a smooth transition you need to be transparent, honest and tell everyone why you are doing what you are doing.

Slide 15:

If you manage the whole process well then the smooth transition means you will get

  • Buy in from everyone
  • Everyone will feel part of the new organisation and the new culture.

MAT expansion matters @ICSA_News #AcademyWorkshop

MAT expansion is a topic which gets lots of airtime nowadays. There are good stories about how MATs have expanded while keeping education at the heart of their plans as well as some which can only be described as horror stories. There have been concerns that some MATs have become too big too quickly. It is therefore timely that ICSA have put on a workshop (on 16th March 2018) which looks at MAT expansion.

The workshop will focus on various aspects of MAT expansion. The first session by Andrew Guest, Academy Specialist, Cambridge Education, Founding Chief Executive, Diocese of Salisbury Academy Trust and Group Strategic Development Manager, Mott MacDonald will look at due diligence. Schools thinking of joining a MAT, academies thinking of setting up a MAT or MATs looking to expand need to carry out a robust due diligence process. This would ensure the governors/trustees that the plans for expansion have considered all issues and will help them make an informed decision about what to do.

In order to deliver the best outcomes for children of the schools in the MAT, the governance needs to be highly effective. Governing a MAT is different to being a governor of a maintained school or a standalone academy. As the MAT grows, trustees need to keep the governance structure under review. The session by Terry Parkin, CEO, King’s Group Academies will be discussion various governance structures which trustees can adapt for their MAT.

Katie Paxton-Doggett, Company Secretary, Ridgeway Education Trust and Vice Chair, National Governance Association and I will be discussing the importance of culture and transparency when trustees start to think about expansion.

Anna Machin, Governance & Compliance Manager, Ark and Emma Perkin, Lead Consultant, The Constant Group will be looking at the importance of good communication so that the stakeholders are kept informed and good relations are maintained during the expansion process.

Richard Lane, Partner, Farrer & Co will be focusing on learning lessons from the corporate sector which has seen many successful as well as failures when it comes to expansion.

This workshop promises to be interesting and very useful. If you would like to attend then you can book a place using this link.

Further reading:

Expanding you academy trust: resources for multi-academy trusts

Multi-academy trusts; report of the Commons Education Select Committee and the government’s response

Growth of Multi-Academy Trusts: do we need to put the brakes on?