There are few more passionate advocates of the multi-academy trusts (MATs) than me. I recognise the leadership capacity a MAT can unleash, yet we must not assume the benefits extend only to those who are directly accountable for raising standards across trusts.
More teachers and support staff than ever before are employed in MATs and the advantages go beyond the employer-employee relationship. CPD is often cited. We should not underestimate the capacity of a single school to provide quality experiences for its staff, but the size of the talent pool and potential to personalise CPD in a MAT is greater.
Gemma Green, a teacher with the White Horse Federation in the south of England, says: “Through regular meetings and professional dialogue with others across the MAT, I have been able to develop my role as an English subject leader to improve the outcomes of children in my school.”
Those of you on Twitter will have seen frequent sharing of great teaching, curriculum and assessment experiences. The commitment of these professionals is admirable. But what if this could be replicated every term, as it is in many MATs, where fellow employees communicate the learning issues of children in their care?
When I led the Cabot Learning Federation, I instigated a “Federation Network Night” every half term, to bring together teachers from the same subject, year group or key stage. In the secondary sessions, 20 to 50 colleagues would plan resources and develop new assessment and differentiation models.
Career development and succession planning are another benefit. The best MATs take succession at all levels seriously, and plan and talent-spot at a strategic level. They do not, however, see internal candidates as the obvious choice; they test the ability and skill of their colleagues against highly talented external candidates.
Career development is an important part of the offer that a MAT can make to employees. The retention of new cohorts of teachers has never been more crucial. Annie Radley, a newly qualified teacher with GLF Schools, a MAT with 17 schools in the south of England, says: “The federation has really helped my professional development, offering me courses with other NQTs and time to reflect on practice with experienced teachers as well. Mixing with other schools is very important, and the courses have motivated me to want to progress my career further within GLF.”
While it is not the only strategy, being able to “paint the picture” of a career trajectory that means a young teacher does not have to leave an employer they believe in, or an area of the country that they have chosen to live in, can be persuasive. In a standalone school there are not enough roles to satisfy the demands of the best teachers who are eager to develop their careers.
Being identified as someone MAT leaders believe in is a huge confidence boost. I’ve seen primary staff develop quality phonics practice and heads of maths and English leading their subject across a trust.
The MAT construct is still fairly new: the earliest trusts are not yet 20 years old and the majority have been formed since 2010. But if we are to engage seriously in why this model works, the experience of the adults who work in MATs will make a compelling argument.
Sir David Carter is the national schools commissioner