It takes strength and vision to lead a successful MAT

Leadership in a MAT is more complex than in a single school unit, as the national schools commissioner explains…

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As we see more multi-academy trusts (MATs) at the core of our school-led system, the trust chief executive has emerged as a new role in sector-wide improvement. While multi-faceted, the role is fundamentally constructed on three core priorities.

Building a vision

A trust without a core set of values results in a workforce that becomes disconnected from the vision of the MAT. Being committed to the school you work in is vital, but so is the belief that the MAT that employs you has a compelling and morally sound vision.

The vision articulated by the board and chief executive needs to filter through to employees at every level, as well as to parents, children and the wider community. A MAT enhances the likelihood of achieving great outcomes for its children when every employee understands how their role contributes to the trust’s vision.

Hand in hand with that is the responsibility of the board and chief executive to embed the MAT’s mission statement in its schools. A strong chief executive will define and communicate these aspects so that they inform the school ethos while the school culture supports the trust’s vision.

Improving outcomes for children

It is important that the chief executive has school improvement at the core of every decision taken. By instilling confidence in the community that the MAT is the employer of choice and that the schools are the first preference for families, there is a common purpose between the trust and the schools. The MAT has to ensure children across the trust are exposed to the best teachers and leaders, so every child has the chance to be better educated as a result of the capacity that the MAT has created.

The strongest leaders have a core responsibility to develop effective leadership in others. Leaders should support and challenge the contribution each school makes to the trust. A chief executive will lead a MAT-wide school improvement model that will prioritise better outcomes for different groups of children across it. While it is clear that schools in different MATs will face different challenges, a strong chief executive will customise the support available in the MAT to ensure the right children get the right support.

Building a sustainable MAT model

A strong chief executive will recognise that each school has distinctive practices. But the chief executive must lead in a way that secures the MAT vision and strategy at the regional and national level while balancing the school autonomy within the micro system of the MAT. This is a challenge, as a strong school ethos and culture has been part of the single-school system for so long. The chief executive needs to be able to build a new educational delivery model that balances the autonomy of the trust with autonomy at school level.

Leadership in a MAT is more complex than in a single school unit. Getting messages out is critical, so the chief executive should find a range of ways to communicate with staff when face-to-face meetings are limited.

A MAT has a larger talent pool, which can be deployed strategically to raise standards. The best chief executive understands how to mobilise their leaders and teachers, and maintain a focus on those challenges needing the most attention. Talent mapping is crucial to creating bespoke training and leadership opportunities, as it allows trust to retain the brightest and best and to have the capacity to improve school performance quickly.

Finally, it is easy for MATs to become inward facing and isolated if they don’t build relationships with other MATs and stakeholders regionally and nationally. Building such relationships, as well as engaging with local authorities and Ofsted, will keep the chief executive well informed to make the best decisions.

Sir David Carter is the national schools commissioner

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