Improving education for those children who are not yet in “good” schools will take longer if we don’t find ways of harnessing the skills of our best teachers and deploying their knowledge beyond their own school gates.
When I became a head in 1997, leadership was different. It was only in the late 1990s that we began to challenge the notion that leaders could not influence outcomes in other schools. Nearly 20 years later, the situation has changed almost beyond recognition.
The establishment of more than 1,000 multi-academy trusts (MATs) has resulted in more leaders taking collective responsibility for the results of more children across a wider community than ever before.
As national schools commissioner, I have visited MATs in all of the Department for Education’s eight regions. My “residencies” with each regional schools commissioner always include a roundtable with key system leaders. I have seen how many are building capacity from the classroom up.
The best MATs have collaboration firmly embedded – but they go even further than this. They actively seek out what is working and, at the very least consider whether that practice should be adopted across the trust so that best practice can be spread far and wide.
To realise this potential, they focus on getting recruitment right and planning development opportunities, including allowing teachers to work across more than one school. For many developing leaders, this is a key incentive.
Building a secure MAT takes time
One of the strongest arguments in favour of a MAT-led system is that it cements the idea that schools can help each other to improve. The authority of the CEO or education director to lead any improvement is central to this.
The best MATs have a trust-wide improvement strategy and a team in place that not only monitors progress but also delivers support at the classroom level. This investment in school improvement capacity is not optional. I would expect this to be a key priority, which is why I encourage MAT boards to think about their staff as a group across the whole trust rather than viewing staff teams at the school level only.
Much has been said about the potential for MATs to deliver greater efficiency. While few will form a MAT solely to achieve greater financial efficiency, there are considerable economies of scale and benefits that can be achieved through the use of a well-thought-out strategy.
A central team that has the experience and expertise to lead finance, human resources or IT network management, for example, adds capacity to the educational leaders so that they can focus on raising standards.
Building a secure and sustainable MAT takes time, and it is an incremental journey. The government wants to build more capacity to raise standards in schools where pupils are not getting the education they should rightly expect.
Trust bosses should know where they are needed and my hope is that this new way of working will enable us to move faster, and with more agility, to deliver the improvements that we need in more schools in England, so that more children get a better start in life.
Sir David Carter is the national schools commissioner