Despite the government’s emphasis on schools choosing to join multi-academy trusts (MATs), research shows that many headteachers regard separate relationships with local schools outside their trust as more important.
Megan Crawford, director of the Plymouth Institute of Education, Plymouth University, spent a total of three years studying schools’ networks in three different areas of the country. She found that many headteachers whose schools were members of a MAT believed that local networks had a value that their MAT networks could not match.
“MATs can be geographically spread,” she said. “So there might still be local systems where headteachers are supporting each other.”
Nadia Paczuska, headteacher of Meadow Primary Academy in Suffolk, agrees. “I have a very strong relationship with my local secondary headteacher,” she said. “He needs my kids, and I need his school to be good. Otherwise, all our work goes to pot. So that’s the most important relationship with another head that I have at the moment.” Ms Paczuska also meets regularly with several local headteachers, all appointed to failing schools through the charity Future Leaders, to talk about problems that are specific to their area.
“It’s essential to have a local network,” she said. “Where I’ve wanted professional engagement with what I’m trying to do specifically in my school, I’ve had to look outside my MAT.”
Harry French, principal of Greenwood Academy in Birmingham, said that there were other benefits to working with local schools that MATs could not provide.
“We’ve been looking to develop careers guidance,” he said. “The local networks enable me to access local businesses. I can really direct young people to opportunities on their doorstep.
“For me, it’s just about no school being an island. Local networks enable me to access local intelligence.”
Malcolm Trobe, interim general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: “The movement into MATs should not stop people from working with local schools.
“Geographical proximity is very important. If schools are too far apart, it’s going to make cooperation and coordinated programmes – particularly any professional-development opportunities – a lot harder.”
But Michelle Strong, headteacher at Caister Academy in Norfolk, insists that sometimes it is less complicated to work with other schools in her MAT than it is to work with local schools.
“The problem is that you’re in direct competition for numbers,” she said. “That makes it very difficult to work together.”
Professor Crawford will be presenting the findings from her research at the British Educational Leadership, Management and Administration Society conference in Cheshire next month.