Exclusive: Boss of England's most systematic MAT tells how he is risking his job by rescuing Wakefield schools

12th January 2018 at 05:07
Outwood Grange boss Martyn Oliver defends 'systematic and consistent' approach to running schools – which extends to the same paint colour on his academies' walls

The chief executive of Outwood Grange Academies Trust has admitted that his trust’s offer to take on eight schools from the collapsed Wakefield City Academies Trust has left his job on the line.

Martyn Oliver said he would lose his job if he failed to make a success of the re-brokering.

In an exclusive Tes interview, Mr Oliver also defended Outwood’s approach of running all its schools to a single strict blueprint, claiming that to do otherwise would be to “experiment on children”.

WCAT announced in September that it was giving up all of its 21 schools after concluding it was unable to rapidly improve them. Outwood, which currently runs 22 schools across the North East, Yorkshire and the East Midlands, has been provisionally identified to operate eight of the schools

The future of 11 of WCAT's schools was formally confirmed yesterday by the Department for Education, but these do not include the schools that Outwood is due to run.

Mr Oliver said that his decision to step in to take on the WCAT schools had “put my reputation back on the line”.

“If it doesn’t come off, I will lose my job,” he said. “The board will have no hesitation in saying to me that I’ve made the wrong decision. And quite rightly so.”

Outwood is well known for its “systematic and consistent” approach to school improvement, running all of its schools based on a single blueprint covering everything from what is taught in the classroom to the paint on the walls.

All its schools have the same school day with split breaks and a split lunch for different year groups, a requirement to follow the same exam board, common schemes of work, an overarching behaviour policy and strict rules determining teacher contact hours, the number of periods and CPD hours.

Mr Oliver said the corridors in his schools were all painted in the same “willow green” colour, not because of “megalomania” but because when a decision is made about which paint to use, “I don’t want to make that decision ever again.”

He said Outwood’s approach was not about “prescription or restriction” but “efficacy”. “If you’re doing something really well in one school, it’s perverse to withhold it,” he said.

Mr Oliver compared Outwood’s systematic approach to doctors using best practice medical procedures.

He gave the example of a patient who is about to be anaesthetised, when “the surgeon leans down and says: ‘I’ve had an idea about trying it differently’”.

“You would never see that take place,” he said.

“If you know something is working well in one organisation, why would you experiment? Do you want me to go and experiment on children?

“The vanity of adults who say that staggers me,” he added.

This is an edited article from the 12 January edition of Tes. Subscribers can read the full article here. This week's Tes magazine is available in all good newsagents. To download the digital edition, Android users can click here and iOS users can click here

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