Many academies do not make one good MAT
The value in coordinating schools into Multiple Academy Trusts is still unclear when so many MATs cannot demonstrate impact. SIS’s work with MATS over the last three years has shown that, as a group, Head teachers often recognise that people, culture, change management and communication are the top reasons for integration failure. Few MATs completely understand how to tackle those issues head-on.
That is one of the reasons why Head teachers need to ask salient questions when joining a MAT or a partnership. Senior teachers will undoubtedly struggle with managing the change that comes with working with different stakeholders who have different cultures. In many cases, these issues often quickly become hidden by the immediacy of reality and only re-emerge, much later, when it is patently obvious they should have been dealt with and not brushed under the carpet.
The questions will need to focus on a clear challenge: devise a strategy which will provide a step-by-step approach to realigning all key members of staff whilst keeping the focus on teaching and learning at all times. Flipping this challenge the other way around does bring clarity: devise a strategy which is entirely focused on teaching and learning and that challenges every key individual to step-up to a brand new world.
The aim is not to integrate. The aim is to teach better and enable students to learn better by making better use of existing skills across the organisation. Integration will arise as a result. Right now, you probably do not even know what the integrated model will look like.
Managing change during an integration must focus on priorities arising from the different school’s development plans. By using organisation-wide resources to deal with specific school issues, management, procedures will be refined and processes upgraded. HR changes will arise as a result of this work and not as a separate exercise. So let’s not put integration and HR at the top of our to-do list. These will work themselves out if you focus on standards.
Integrating different schools into one bigger organisation will yield dividends (improve results for all) when the overall’s organisation development plan is initially made up of different individual development plans. Cross school themes will emerge, quick wins and synergies will make themselves obvious and the job descriptions of the ablest leaders will change whilst weaker leaders will be re-deployed in an area where they can be more effective.
This dynamic approach is not ‘pretty’, it is not ‘simple’ as it requires an eye for detail. It will shape the organisation into what it needs to be. Successful leaders or partnerships who have led multiple complex organisations end up with different answers every time. The not so successful either try to re-create or just create according to their ‘vision’. This is why advisers, challenge advisers and external experts have so little impact in turning a school around: they come in with a set of pre-formed ideas.
* Centralise all school individual plans and challenge each of them. Build or re-shape the team which will most likely meet the needs of these separate plans. Identify common themes between plans, think of organisation-wide synergies. This will align the top team into a new culture. They will be the ambassadors and cascade change into the whole organisation.
* Review roles and responsibilities and accountability lines. Understand the implications of keeping things as they are. Change your culture by driving behaviour change: focus on accountability.
* Build strategic priorities on the basis of existing needs, not pretty diagrams on a page.