Who benefits most from the creation of a multi-academy trust? If the answer is not the children, we are seriously missing the point.
Parents and carers form a unique relationship with the school that their children attend. I cannot see this changing. Parents are going to become more demanding of what a MAT responsible for the education of their son or daughter is doing to support them. “What value do you add to my child’s education?” is just the starting point for this discussion.
This added value is achieved in different ways and it is worth exploring a couple of examples.
First off, the leaders, teachers and support staff who combine to educate MAT children should be better trained, developed and supported. Becoming the employer of choice in a community is a large incentive for a MAT and they know that one way to achieve this is to develop the capacity of the workforce to deliver great student outcomes.
In the primary academy sector, a teacher of a Year 3 class in a one-form entry school might need another Year 3 teacher to plan and assess with, or to team-teach with. It may be nothing to do with improving performance as both teachers might be outstanding practitioners. What is missing is the mutual challenge and support of two pedagogical thinkers combining to look at how best to accelerate performance for all children in the year group.
Richard Cosburn, a Year 6 teacher at Stradbroke Primary Academy in Norfolk, part of Inspiration Trust, says: “We’ve been able to work with secondary and sixth forms in the trust much more closely than before, helping me to develop our lessons and also providing new opportunities for pupils. Visiting our other schools really helps to raise aspirations by showing pupils something outside of their normal world.”
The strongest MATs also create opportunities for children to enrich their learning beyond their “home” school. I have seen MATs across the country providing a range of events and activities for children to take part in – such as university open days, music festivals, sports teams drawn from across the trust, science and engineering festivals and poetry slams.
Of course, schools non-MAT schools can do this as well. It is just that, within a MAT, events are easier to arrange, it is easier to translate the idea into something that is deliverable and gives children who attend different schools in the same community the chance to work with each other.
Two girls in Year 10 at a MAT event I visited told me that they had been in the same Year 6 class in primary school but this was the first time they had seen each other since then as they now went to different secondaries. I like the idea that, through the links it provides, a MAT can renew friendships.
What about the more vulnerable students in MATs? Those who are less likely to take part in an arts performance, a debate or an engineering festival? Coordinating the provision map for these students through the deployment of support staff colleagues with the talent to best assist them is an excellent strategy.
MATs are considerably more than the sum of their parts, and some have yet to define the roles that they want their schools to play as MAT educators. When we get this right, the capacity it will add to the system will mean that MATs delivering world-class education in every town, city and region will become deliverable, not just aspirational.
Sir David Carter is the national schools commissioner