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.
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2 thoughts on “MAT expansion and cultural matters

  1. Pingback: Fifth anniversary matters | Governing Matters

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