Category Archives: Research

Robert Hill’s views on various matters to do with MATs; Part 1

Robert Hill, Visiting Professor at UCL Institute of Education, policy adviser to Prime Minister Tony Blair and other Cabinet ministers, senior research manager for the Audit Commission, management consultant and social policy researcher,  has written three guest blogs on the topic of MATs for Capita Sims. These blogs are bing posted here with Capita Simms kind permission. Below is the first blog of the series. To read the original please click here.

As a MAT leader, how can you support successful growth?

The number of multi-academy trusts (MATs) is continuing to grow, and along with this many MATs are expanding too in order to reap the benefits associated with size. It’s clear that in order to be viable, as both economic units AND as agents of school improvement, small MATs need to grow.

Of the 2,723 academy trusts, over 1,700 comprise just one academy (either a free-standing converter or a MAT with just one school waiting, or trying, to acquire more). Over 700 MATs have five or fewer academies and just 350 are responsible for six or more schools. However, the number of academies in a MAT doesn’t tell you everything – the number of pupils is also relevant. Modelling undertaken by the National Schools Commissioner suggests that:

  • when MATs have around 1,250 pupils (or three middle-sized primary schools) a topslice of five per cent will typically enable them to fund an executive head, finance director and HR manager. Beyond these posts, schools will still need to buy-in or employ other expertise they need – including for school improvement.
  • as MATs grow towards having between 2,500 to 3,000 pupils (or one secondary school and four primaries) they can additionally pay for extra functions to be provided centrally such as ICT strategy, management and procurement, school improvement support and estates and maintenance.
  • when MATs double in size again and have 5,000+ pupils (or two secondaries and eight primary schools) their topslice could also buy executive heads for their clusters, estates, finance and HR teams, ICT network support, a range of school improvement support, marketing and PR.

However, MATs face three big challenges in trying to grow to a viable size. First it is often hard to find the right schools that fit with their vision and expertise. There is no easy answer to this, though the more MATs establish a clear strategic view of the sort of trust they want to develop and the geography they want to serve, the more this will provide the basis for a focused conversation with local authorities and the Regional School Commissioner’s office about suitable opportunities for growth.

Second, MATs are now aware that there is a risk of biting off more than they can chew in terms of making commitments to bring about school improvement. A later blog in this series will discuss this.

Third, how do MATs build the infrastructure they need to support a larger number of schools in advance of additional schools joining the trust – and having the extra income they will bring? Again there is no off-the-shelf answer but here are my five top tips.

Five top tips for building the infrastructure needed to support growth

1. Develop a plan for managing the increased scale of the MAT. An executive head or a CEO can oversee three – or if they are geographically concentrated and not too big – four or even five schools. But at some point the MAT will become too large and unwieldy to sustain this model. Learnings from both the corporate sector and existing larger MATs suggest that geographical clusters provide the appropriate scale to share resources, leaders and learning – and to exercise oversight. So MATs need to work out which functions might best be carried out at school, cluster and MAT level and how they can complement each other.

2. Set a realistic level of topslice to fund the development of the MAT’s infrastructure. Resist the temptation to reduce the amount charged to schools in order to try and make it more attractive to join your MAT. The average topslice among MATs with two or more academies is 4.6 per cent.

3. Sort out your approach on autonomy and standardisation. Some MATs aim to cede as much autonomy to their schools as possible – it’s seen as a ‘reward’ for a school making improvement. Other MATs operate fairly tight centralised models. But autonomy and standardisation should not be seen as polar opposites. It may well be right for some systems and procedures to apply to all schools – whether because of legal necessity (in areas such as HR and safeguarding); financial or operational efficiency (ICT, procurement, performance and financial management) or because it aids the development of a common language about learning and school improvement. In these cases MATs will either immediately or over time be wise to adopt systems that automatically collect and enable data to be analysed in multiple ways – i.e. at pupil group, subject, school or MAT level.

But if everything is standardised then the opportunity to learn from difference or for a school to express its identity is limited. Deciding what goes in which column is, therefore, important. And so is the process for agreeing this. MATs should be aiming to align their practice by co-constructing with their school leaders and local governing bodies the answers to these issues.

4. Review arrangements for leadership and governance. Arrangements for MATs to involve and consult with school leaders and local governing bodies in a small trust may be relatively informal. CEOs and boards should think ahead to how they will operate when their MAT is double its existing size. MATs might need to consider restructuring their board, reviewing the local governance model, establishing a forum for liaising with chairs of governors, holding more structured executive team meetings with school principals, formalising how middle leaders across the trust work with each other, and using intranets, websites and apps to communicate with pupils, parents and staff.

5. Appoint a chief operating officer (COO), or director of finance with a broad remit, as early as possible in the life of the MAT to lead the work on developing the MAT’s infrastructure. Funding may be an issue but the expectation should be that a COO will rapidly earn back their salary from the savings they make in rationalising the operations of the trust. The next blog in this series will look at financial management across academies and MATs.




Governors and @researchED1 matters

researchED is a grass-roots movement which aims to improve research literacy and allows educators to access best research. As governors we need to be interested in education and this interest should go beyond governance in our own school. As governors we may, at times, feel slightly detached from what happens in classrooms, what do teachers think and the direction education and educational research is moving in. Attending events such as these gives governors a chance to meet and exchange ideas and views with teachers. It may help you to better understand what is happening in your school, especially if your teachers are engaged in research. Understanding what educational research is all about and what good educational research looks like may help you to question and understand the impact of what teachers in your school may be doing. It may be that some of the teachers from your school are also interested in attending the event. This provides an ideal opportunity to go together and discuss educational matters with your teachers outside of a board meeting. Such interaction between staff and governors is invaluable.

These events usually have a presentation from Ofsted. I have had the opportunity to listen to Mike Cladingbowl, Sean Harford and Amanda Spielman at these events. The presentations are usually followed by a question/answer session and I have always used the opportunity to ask a governance related question.

The other good thing about attending such events is the networking opportunities they provide. Some of the contacts you make may be helpful to teachers in your school too. Best of all, unlike many other events, researchED is very reasonably priced. This is important to me as I do not ask the school to purchase my ticket for me. The ticket includes access to all sessions and includes lunch too.

I have attended researchED conferences in the past and have blogged about them. If you are interested in reading these blogs then the links to them are as below.

Ed 2014 Matters

Governors Go To researchEd Cambridge!

Governors go to #rED15 because research matters Part 1

Governors go to #rED15 because research matters Part 2

If this has whet your appetite then there are two researchED events coming up. The first on 1st July 2017 in Rugby and tickets can be bought using this link. The second is the 2017 National Conference on Sept 9th 2017. More information about this (including how to buy tickets) is here.

If you do go to either or both of these then please do tweet/blog. And if you do go to the National Conference, then hopefully I’ll see you there!

Multi Academy Trusts matters; Education Select Committee Report 

At midnight tonight (28th Feb 2017) the Education Select Committee published its report into the inquiry examining a range of issues relating to multi-academy trust accountability and governance structures. The report also looks at characteristics of successful trusts and the Government’s plans for future expansion.

The Report can be read here.

Evidence given by Lord Nash, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the School System, Department for Education, and Peter Lauener, Chief Executive, Education Funding Agency. Oral Evidence Watch the session.

Evidence given by Jennifer Bexon-Smith, Regional Schools Commissioner, East Midlands and the Humber, Rebecca Clark, Regional Schools Commissioner, South West England, and Janet Renou, Regional Schools Commissioner, North of England. Oral Evidence   Watch the session

Evidence given by Dr Melanie Ehren, Reader in Educational Accountability and Improvement, UCL Institute of Education, Professor Merryn Hutchings, Emeritus Professor, Institute for Policy Studies in Education, London Metropolitan University, Natalie Perera, Executive Director, and Karen Wespieser, Senior Research Manager, National Foundation for Educational Research; Paul Barber, Director, Catholic Education Service, Reverend Steve Chalke, Founder, Oasis Community Learning, Andrew Copson, Chief Executive, British Humanist Association, Reverend Nigel Genders, Chief Education Officer, Church of England Education Office, and David Wilson, Director, Freedom and Autonomy for Schools, National Association Oral Evidence   Watch the session.

Department for Education-Written Evidence

Jamie Reed MP Written Evidence

Philip Kerridge Written Evidence

Governors go to #rED15 because research matters Part 2

Saturday saw people interested in education and research make their way to South Hamstead High School for the Annual ResearchED Conference. This is Part 2 of my blog about the day and covers sessions by Tom Sherrington, David Didau and Sam Freedman. Part 1 covers sessions by Laura Mcinerney, John Tomsett and Carol Davenport.

Tom Sherrington: Research Literacy and Literacy Research

Tom started his session by talking about research. According to Tom a high proportion oi conversations we have about research don’t reference specific research. Tom had a look at a DfE publication which ranked various interventions. He found that the study which ranked first was done over 20 years ago and was based on work done in one school. Tome said that sometimes citations have a power greater than what they should have. Citations get reported! Tom made the point that we should question the validity of the research. Tom said that in publishing that report DfE had been lazy but teachers cannot afford to be. Some well known literacy intervention research is based on a small scale enquiry. Tom made the point that in secondary schools with students with literacy problems, ordinary literacy teaching is ineffective. Tom’s school used “Accelerated Reader” but it required 1:1TA support and ICT access so they are going to stop using it. His school is going to start using the Thinking Reading programme. Tom was very clear that he was not recommending this programme at this stage as he hadn’t started using it. 6TA’s will be trained in the delivery of this programme. Students will be taken out of lessons for 3 half lessons so they don’t miss an awful lot of the lessons they are being taken out of. Tome says he realises this programme is an investment but in a secondary school where you have students with a reading age of 9 you have to make that investment as because of the literacy problems these students can’t access the rest of the curriculum either. The way this programme work, each lesson will generate a score so Tom and his school will be able to evaluate the programme. Tom ended by appealing to teachers that if they are asked to participate in studies by universities they should say yes! As a governor what I took away from this session was the fact that if the board is asked to sanction spending money on an intervention strategy, then the board should ask for the evidence which supports that strategy and to evaluate that evidence thoroughly.

Tweets about Tom’s session are Storified here

Tom’s blog is here

David Didau Foxy Thinking: How to Use Research to Embrace Uncertainty and Take Sensible Risks

David’s talk was about knowledge and ignorance. David used Ted Hughes’ poem The Thought Fox as a metaphor for how we may be thinking about research (feeling our way through ignorance before grasping an idea). At the same time dealing with the “unknown unknowns” is like looking for a black cat in a dark room when the cat may not be there anyway. It is, therefore, easier to concentrate on the known knows. But certainty has problems too. We don’t know what we don’t know and we prefer people to be sure even if they are wrong. David then went onto talk about foxy thinkers (know many little things, know more about what they don’t know) and hedgehog thinkers (know one big thing, usually see what they want to see). The link to education comes from the fact that when we do find answers they may lead to more questions. Education is complex and trying to say that this is what good teachers do so you should too. Every tool we have (observations etc) have drawbacks and this makes people think teachers shouldn’t be held accountable. David argues that what we should be looking at is developing “intelligent accountability” so teachers feel trusted, supported and accountable. This will mean they will be concerned with “being” good rather than just “looking” good. This reminded me of the system John Tomsett has started introducing in his school where there is joint lesson planning, no observation and then a joint discussion to evaluate. As governors we need to strike the right balance between trust and accountability.

In other words, from this

to this

Above two images courtesy David Didau

Storify of tweets from David’s session can be accessed here

David has blogged about his session and also included his slides.

Sam Freedman: Five Big Policy Challenges for the Next Government

Sam started by warning us that this was going to be a depressing talk. But I think, firstly this needed to be said and secondly Sam did offer some possible solutions so not all doom and gloom!

Sam started by talking about school led system where improvement is led by a good school. This doesn’t mean that the school has complete autonomy over the “what” which should still be prescribed by the government but the “how” is up to the school. Though some chains are doing amazing stuff, on average academies are performing the same as other schools. Similarly although some free schools are doing very well its still too early to tell. There is no systematic evaluations of NLE’s/Teaching schools/School Direct. So, what can we conclude from this? School improvement can happen in chains and federations but that is due to effective deployment of good people. We thought 5-10% of school leaders had the capacity to be system leaders. But system improvement is much harder to achieve, harder than we realised and one reason for this is that we were London centric. We can now either make this work or go back to the government telling us what to do and national Strategies.

Sam then went on to talk about the five challenges facing education which are

  • Resources
  • Infrastructure
  • Teacher supply
  • Leadership
  • Expertise

These are actually all to do with capacity. As far as resources are concerned, this will be a great challenge for school boards. Boards will see £3 billion drop in 5-16 funding. If you govern urban schools you may see pounds being moved out of these schools to rural ones. Boards will have some very difficult decisions to make when funding cuts start hurting even more than they do now. Sam thinks universal free school meals will go. Welfare cuts will have an effect on schools too. If schools can think of ways top use teacher time more effectively then they may be able to make some savings.

Sam then touched upon the role of regional school commissioners. Although they play a hugely important role (and this will increase when they become responsible for “coasting schools”) not everyone seems to know about them. Sam thinks the government will either have to rethink the RSC role or reshape it into smaller areas. The role that LA’s play is another issue. When the student number bulge hits the secondary schools LA’s will face a school place issue which will be a challenge as LA’s can’t force academies to expand. The government may want to rethink this. Sam thinks that one of the biggest problems was the over expansion of chains which clearly not able or ready for this expansion. This is again an area where boards have to think really hard before they decide on joining MAT’s for example. They should explore all options, including those of smaller, local groups.

The next challenge is of teacher supply. Even in subjects such as English where we are told targets are beig met, schools are saying they are having difficulty recruiting. There is a “perfect storm” emerging due to economic recovery, falling graduate numbers and financial pressures on schools, Sam’s proposed that tuition fee for PGCE should be scrapped and there should be a central application system.

Leadership challenges are to do with the fact that Sam and other governors are finding that it is becoming increasingly difficult to recruit heads. Around half the heads will be retiring. There are not enough people who are equipped top do the executive head or chain CEO roles. Increased accountability is also putting people off, especially true of headships in challenging schools. Sam thinks this can be solved to some extent by non-teachers talking up chain CEO/executive head roles. I think this idea has merit and needs to be explored further by boards. As far as accountability is concerned Sam is of the opinion that schools need an inspection system, but the present system needs a rethink. What is needed is a system which will not penalise schools with low ability intakes.

The last challenge is that of expertise or lack of. There is lack of high quality CPD. Change has started to happen but it will take a long time to bear fruit. Assessment levels have gone but have been replaced by similar systems. Assessment expertise needs to be built up. Management expertise is lacking in schools and schools are panicking leading to teacher burn out. School environment for teachers has a huge impact on student outcome. Sam thinks we need to start thinking of bringing expertise from outside to improve school environment for teachers.

Sam’s session may have been “depressing” according to him but it was a very good session and he did present some possible solutions to the problems faced by education and educators.

Tweets from Sam’s session have been Storified here

Sam’s slides are here

Further reading:

Blogs and presentations, collated

Links to the Storify of tweets from the sessions covered in Part 1 are given below

Laura McInerney

John Tomsett

Carol Davenport

Governors go to #rED15 because research matters Part 1

Saturday saw people interested in education and research make their way to South Hamstead High School for the Annual ResearchED Conference. Amongst them were four governors from my school (Steve Penny, Jo Penn, Colleen Young and I. Colleen was wearing three hats; governor, SLT and secondary Maths teacher). The day’s programme was packed full of interesting talks being delivered by wonderful people. I’m sure the day will come when this event will have to be held over two days! I’ll write this blog in two parts. Part 1 covers sessions by Laura Mcinerney, John Tomsett and Carol Davenport. Part 2 covers sessions by Tom Sherrington, David Didau and Sam Freedman. I have previously written why governors may want to attend these events.

Laura McInerney: What Works for One Might Not Work for All

As I was leaving home I received an email from Dropbox informing me that my photo flashback was ready to view. The photos were from Laura McInerney’s session at last year’s ResearchED! So, it was fitting that this year I started the day by going to her session and I’m really glad I did as it was a very fascinating talk. Laura spoke about group psychology and why what works for one may not work for all. Laura highlighted some studies which we should be familiar with, how “power” is gathered in groups and how group work actually works. Asch Conformity Study has shown the effect peer pressure can have. In experiments people were asked a question. All but one member of the group had been told how to respond to the question, sometimes giving the correct answer and at other times the wrong one. The researchers were interested how the last person responded after having heard the others. This person was later asked why he responded the way he did. Results showed that 5% of people will change their minds from the start. 72% will change their minds at least once. When asked why, they said they thought they were wrong! This fascinated me! Thinking in terms of board discussions this is something the Chair, perhaps, should be aware of, especially if there are one or two new board members. During a discussion or vote would they conform to what the rest of the board was saying or the way they were voting? Is there any way the Chair could perhaps make sure that the new members were saying what they really felt rather than thinking they were wrong and following the rest of the members? Laura then talked about the Zajonc Drive studies. These showed that people (and cockroaches!) perform better when watched. The third study (Robert’s cave experiment) showed that groups competing with finite resources (including teacher support and attention) do not behave rationally. The take away message, for me as a governor, from these studies was that we need to be aware of these when we are deciding whether or not to invest in a certain intervention technique. When evidence is presented to you that the technique works ask yourself could the Zajonc and Robert’s cave studies explain why it worked. Laura also explained how what works for one teacher may not work for all teachers. If you want to see what people were tweeting about Laura’s session click here to read my Storify of her session.

John Tomsett: Hope Over Fear

This is the first time I heard John speak and it won’t be the last! John talked about what evidence based teaching isn’t. He explained what role a research lead could play in a school. This, I think, is important. I would love to see more schools think about research leads and I would love these research leads to work with governors as well as other school leaders. A good research lead can help the board to ask the right questions. He/she can help the board evaluate the evidence, as John put it scrutinise the evidence for the “how”, “who” and “why”, all questions which a board needs to be asking. John went on to talk about lesson observation and the question he asks of himself; “How can I observe you in a way that will best help you improve your teaching?” John now does joint lesson planning and then the teacher comes back to evaluate together and discuss. As governors it is not our job to make judgements on individual teachers. John’s talk made me realise that when formulating a governor monitoring policy what the board should be asking the head and SLT is how can we monitor what is happening in the school to best help improve outcomes for our students. I think we stand to gain much more from a monitoring policy which has this question as its basis. John went on to discuss this year’s A Level results. He is convinced that developing metacognition through medelling thinking has great benefits. He also mentioned that he invites his students to take part in his 360 o evaluation. This is something which is considered best practice for board chairs as well. I think chairs and heads should be encouraged to adopt this practice and each should ask the other for an evaluation as well. Few John Tomsett quotes which I especially liked are

  • How can I observe you to help your teaching?
  • Exams are done. Results are in. Now use them to learn from them
  • The best pastoral care we can provide is a good set of exam results

All of the above are equally applicable to boards as to teachers.

John has previously  written about improving lesson observation.

To read my Storify of tweets from John’s session, please click here.

Carol Davenport: Gender Equity in Science

Carol talked about trends in subject uptake looking at years 2013-2015. Fewer girls studied Computing or Physics as compared to boys and whereas fewer boys studied psychology. While looking at the popularity of STEM subjects, maths has shown the most improvement and this may be because it is seen as a useful subject to have while applying for university places. Carol then discussed the finding of three reports; Aspires, Five Tribes and “Not for people like me?” The Aspires study reported that the low uptake of STEM is not because of the negative image of STEM. As governors the important message for us is that the family’s “science capital” plays an important part as does the white, male, middle-class image. If, as governors, we are finding that our girls and minority groups are not opting for science then we need to ask our SLT what they have identified as the problem. Is it the image or are family attitudes putting them off? Can this be changed and how can the board help in doing this? Do we, as governors know, if our school is focusing more on the higher ability students to get them to opt for science? Do we, perhaps unconsciously, give out the message that science is only for the “brainiest” students? What information do we provide to our children regarding STEM careers? Are our students thinking that science is “not for people like me”? If we, as governors, are finding that girls and students from minority backgrounds are not taking up STEM then are we aware why that is? Carol emphasised that for change to happen we will have to involve families and start talking about the various STEM careers early enough and regularly. This was a fascinating session and if I had had time I would have liked to ask Carol’s opinion on whether schools should be looking at segregating genders for STEM lessons.

To read my Storify of tweets from Carol’s session, please click here.

You may also want to have a look at Wellcome Trust’s Questions governors can ask about maths and science and Wellcome Trust’s Review of the extent to which Ofsted reports mention science.

Further reading:

ResearchED 2015 blogs and presentations, collated

Links to the Storify of tweets from the sessions covered in Part 2 are given below

Tom Sherrington

David Didau

Sam Freedman