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Governor Live review: Leading a MAT

Image credit: based on Branta canadensis by Chris - licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0.

Governor Live review: Leading a MAT

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The third in the series of Governor Live Considerations for Conversion events was held on Thursday the 1st of December 2016. Christine Bayliss from C:BECS, Michelle Gray from berg and Karen Rae from Armstrong Watson – our panel of presenters who took part in the first two Considerations for Conversion events – took a more detailed look at one of the options any school considering academisation – namely leading a multi-academy trust.

Prior to the presentations starting, those attending where asked to respond to a question about their thoughts on what leading a MAT might mean for them as governors:

Q: What’s your attitude to the prospect of your school leading a MAT? (please tick all applicable answers)

  • 25% It’s in train, we’re going to be leading one
  • 17% Our school isn’t in a position to lead a MAT
  • 33% We’ve not seriously considered it – yet
  • 0% We’re in the process of joining one, so we know it’s currently out of the question
  • 25% We’d consider it, but have a lot of queries before doing so
  • 17% To be honest we’ve no idea

Outline of the event:

Here’s how the event proceeded – for reasons beyond our control the recording wasn’t usable, but we’ve managed to transcribe the answers to questions from participants, which are included below:

  • Introduction
  • Presentation by Christine Bayliss of C:BECS on the decisions to be made when considering whether to lead a MAT or not
  • Presentation by Michelle Gray of berg on the legal issues for schools leading a MAT
  • Presentation by Karen Rae of Armstrong Watson on the financial issues for schools leading a MAT
  • Q&A addressing the following questions (a selection of those asked by participants):

What are the panel’s thoughts on whether the MAT CEO needs to be a pedagogist?

[answered by Christine] There are very few examples of CEO who are not teachers but in time I do think that you may see MATS being led by folk who have come up through the business manager route – but they would need a strong lead for education.
The examples I know of tend to call these people Chief Operating Officers (COOs) then there is always an educational lead who sits alongside them who would lead on pedagogy – that is one of the bonuses from being a MAT, that you can develop your teaching & learning, your curriculum and your pedagogy across the group of schools.
[Karen] The crucial thing that I hope everyone would take away is that this is a legal entity that you are responsible for, so the governors are utimately responsible for the finances and running of the MAT, but you need somebody with quite a commercial head on their shoulders to steer on a day-to-day basis, but education at least as important – if not more so – than the operation of the Trust.
[Michelle] You’re essentially running a business but without making profit, so all of the requirements that a business would run through a limited company need to be applied. My own experience of CEOs is that they have an education background and so they have that understanding – either from one’s own first-hand knowledge, or that support, that right-hand person to provide that input, as the MAT is running to provide a great education for its children – the two go hand-in-hand.

Who appoints the members?

[Christine] Who appoints members is quite an interesting question – they come together to sign the articles… they are replaced by appointment by the other members.
[Karen] Generally the members are the founding people of the academy trust – it can be quite difficult when you’ve got maybe five or six joining together. Obviously in a standalone trust you would have the original chair of governors and the chair of finance – plus, for example, if an academy has a particular focus on, say, engineering then it might be the case that individuals from local engineering firms have representatives as members.
[Michelle] …it’s normally a collectio of people who have a long-term investment in the MAT, if you think that members are effectively the shareholders but don’t play an active day to day role.
[Christine] …the members might sign off the finances or appoint trustees, but have a limited role…

[follow up] To whom are the members accountable? Who monitors their performance?

[Christine] …the members monitor other people’s performance…
[Michelle] …the EFA have a role, but the governing instrument – the Articles of Association will define this – the trust is accountable to the EFA and the DfE.

It’s a challenge to find the people willing to fill these roles on a voluntary basis, is there any support out there for this?

[Michelle] Academy Ambassadors can help with trustee appointments and they will help find certain skills in private practice if necessary.  That is the route I came in – SGOSS can also help.
[Ian] Inspiring Governance has also been launched recently to help recruit governors – it’s effectively the governance equivalent of online dating to put potential governors in touch with schools and academies who need them.

Won’t all of this process take time and effort away from good teaching and learning?

[Christine] I think if you go back to the first two Considerations for Conversion sessions you’ll see that we’ve been very clear – your school needs to decide whether to proceed now or whether to hold tight and wait to see what happens. We’re not plugging any sort of government line here – we’re saying that if this is for you then this is what you need to think about before you do it.

Is there a difference between exec head and CEO? are they separate roles or the same?

[Christine] I think the terms can be interchangeable… but for me an executive principal leads a small trust and steps up to the CEO role when the MAT grows to over 10 schools…
[Michelle] In my experience there are some similarities and some differences – with some issues of overlap – but the CEO of a MAT will have a much more strategic role in terms of the MAT’s growth and vision and a much less of a hands-on role in the day-to-day running of the schools.

What is the logic of having heads report to the CEO and not the LGBs?

[Michelle] In a maintained school the GB is responsible for appointing or removing a head while in a MAT the CEO is charged with that – but the head in a particular school within a MAT is still accountable to the “LGB” or academy council – in those local meetings the head will still need to report on some level to those local groups or bodies.

I know MATs are the Governments preferred model, but is there a future for single academies?

[Christine] If you are an existing academy – no one is forcing that SAT to convert into or lead a MAT – but there are lots of pressures on the horizons in terms of money and staff and it might get to be a bumpy ride as a SAT. 

Is it still essential that a school leading a MAT is Ofsted outstanding?

[Christine] I’m not sure about that – as I said in my presentation at the beginning it’s credibility that’s the key – I think that you wouldn’t get away to lead a MAT if a school had just come out of RI and become Good, for example, but I think if you can demonstrate over a longer period of time that you had moved a school from RI to Good and had some outstanding features, then that gives evidence of a track record.

Are MATs going to become big enough to be LA replacements? Is this just creating a system of grouping schools on a non-geographical basis?

[Michelle] I think the two are clearly different – obviously LAs have different functions – I think it’s more of a timing thing. As more maintained schools convert there’s less need for the LA to be there for a number of functions.

David Carter says there is a shortage of good quality sponsors – is this a blocker to growing the academy sector nationally?

[Christine] I think that’s a really interesting question – what we’ve been talking about tonight is really a peer-to-peer mat – schools of maybe similar types and in similar circumstances, but of course it’s possible that such a MAT could increase its capacity to effectively take on and sponsor other schools which might be in special measures or other circumstances. Tonight has been about establishing these MATs without a sponsors for the moment…

What do you find are the most common mistakes that are made when MATs are formed?

[Christine] Not laying everything out on the table in advance – so when I work with groups of schools who want to come together and form a MAT, my advice is to draw everything up together in a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) which then governs the discussions which lead up to signing the articles of association. It’s all the stuff – Who’s going to lead? Who will contribute what? How are things going to run? – that you don’t want to talk about but are incredibly important and that schools trip up over if things should go wrong and there are problems.
[Karen] I agree – when you join a MAT you are all in this together. Without that MoU, from a financial perspective if and when a school starts to fail in the MAT,obviously the picking at that school starts to happen. You need to remember that the MoU would spell out what would happen if, for any reason, a school’s pupil numbers drop and they couldn’t match their budget. Rather than isolate a school within a MAT it’s about how to you work together to make efficiencies, balance the budget and take that school together into the future.
[Michelle] Due diligence is key – if you’re forming a MAT you must do a thorough due diligence on the schools that you’re forming that MAT with – and they should do the same due diligence on you –  so you need to get into the detail of how they’re functioning. MATs that have failed have sometimes done so because they’ve grown too quickly – some of that can be dealt with by the MoU – that you’re all on the same page, that you share the same 3-5 year vision. Some MATs haven’t sorted their finances out for growth, others don’t have the staff, and in some the scheme of delegation isn’t ready for growth.
[Christine] The MoU is only a little firmer than a handshake in contract terms – I don’t think you could sue somebody for breaching an MoU – but it’s so helpful because it sets out on a sheet or two (or three) of paper the ground rules of how you’re going to work together – a lot of MoUs finish on the day that your Articles of Association are signed, because it’s then that your Scheme of Delegation should become operational and that’s a more substantial document to which you might hold your partners or schools in your MAT to account.
[Michelle] …that’s right, in terms of the vision you might look at a Memoradum of Association but operationally it’s the Scheme of Delegation which lays things out.

  • Evaluations and Thanks for attending

Presentation slides

Here are slides from the main presentation, reproduced and shared with the presenters’ permission:

Feedback from participants

Similarly to the first two Considerations for Conversion sessions, the evaluation and feedback of the session was overwhelmingly positive:

Q: Would you recommend Governor Live sessions like this to your colleagues in governance?

  • Yes: 100%
  • No: 0%
  • Not sure: 0%

Q: In your own words, what was good about this event?

  • Listening to different perspectives
  • Broad coverage -lots of information in just an hour’s session
  • Interactivity and questions
  • Good advice and information – not wishy-washy either
  • Very useful to hear other opinions and have feedback from knowledgeable people
  • As I mentioned at the NGA conference, these academy sessions are extremely helpful and of real practical use. This feels like a real online community.
  • Concise, live and great to be able to ask questions and feel involved.
  • Very informative – I’m very new to the subject and will look up the other sessions. Many thanks for your time.
  • Ability to get answers to questions in real-time is helpful.
  • Knowledgeable panel, open and honest answers. Food for thought! 

The final Considerations for Conversion event

As outlined in this session, the final Considerations for Conversion events takes place this coming Thursday, the 8th of December, at 8pm for an hour and complements this session by looking at the issues around joining an existing multi-academy trust.

To register for this visit moderngovernor.com/c4c – and visit moderngovernor.com/governorlive for an archive of all Governor Live-related information, now and in the future. Once you’ve registered for one of these, the same login information will give you access to all future Governor Live events if you’d like to attend them.


Image credit: based on Branta canadensis by Chris – licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0.


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