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The landscape of multi-academy trusts (MATs) seems to be one of polar opposites. Whilst some trusts are instrumental in assisting their schools in overcoming academic failure, others seem to be powerless to turn around schools that need significant improvement.

In January 2018 the DfE published a statistical analysis of ‘the performance of state-funded schools in multi-academy trusts in England‘. 

While 30% excelled, 45% “were found to be “performing significantly below average” in their pupils’ progress”.

And yet there are multiple shining examples out there when it comes to MATs.

Take the Mill Primary, in Ifield. After joining The Kemnal Academies Trust (TKAT) in September 2013, the Crawley-based school achieved a ‘good’ Ofsted rating after years of being ranked ‘inadequate’ or ‘requires improvement’.

It’s fair to say that some multi-academy trusts have received targeted and significant criticism, not least of which were the cutting words of the outgoing OFSTED head, Michael Wilshaw:

We undertook a survey of good Mats and we were really struggling to find them. We have established that there are about half a dozen, but there are a lot of mediocre trusts out there. Some multi-academy trusts have been allowed to grow too quickly. Executive head teachers wanted to show how many schools they had rather than how good they were.

So, what’s the secret of successful MATs?

James Toop, CEO of Ambition School Leadership argues that an effective multi-academy trust begins with one thing – great leadership, and more specifically, coherently great leadership.

After spending a year with colleagues researching high-performing MATs, I now believe that great leadership is about coherence. Coherence starts with one thing: a shared mission to transform the life chances and outcomes of children.

Trusts need to start with a crystal-clear mission

Every MAT, Toop argues, needs a clear mission – one specific enough to be a continual reference point and guide for strategic choices. This is the base from which culture and school values arise, and from which a solid school improvement strategy can be put in place – influencing structure and operations.

One question – what is the purpose of your organisation?
This is the key question – and a good answer will form the foundation of coherence, in turn delivering results. Let’s look at two shining examples.

The Kemnal Academies Trust (TKAT) has clearly defined their vision, ethos and values:

Vision: An educational Trust that respects the identity of each school, driven by the desire to add value and inspire a community of aspirational learners.

Ethos: The key objective of TKAT is to ensure that the life chances of all pupils in our Academies are significantly improved as a result of our educational provision. TKAT is committed to providing outstanding teaching and learning to enable all pupils to meet the challenges of the twenty-first century.

Values: Passion, Collaboration, Integrity, Delivery, Agility, Resilience.

This is a clear mission statement outlining the goals of the organisation and what teachers, parents and pupils can expect when joining one of TKAT’s academies. No obfuscation, no confusion, and no limiting of ambitions.

Let’s now draw on the example of the Eastern Multi-Academy Trust, which runs 14 schools in the east of England.

We exist to provide exceptional opportunities for all our students so that they can develop their potential to reach the highest levels of education. Everyone member of our academy family will be supported to aspire to be the very best that they can be.

All will be empowered to become stronger and more confident. Students will be supported to develop the skills, abilities and mental attributes to succeed for themselves and to develop a love of learning that will continue into adulthood.

Another clear mission statement that sets out the goals for the trust.

Of course, it’s not enough that MATs have clear goals and values, they have to implement a supporting structure across all their schools, hire staff who genuinely want to contribute to their success, and gain support from parents to enforce the rules and regulations that help to create a successful learning environment.

A successful MAT should provide staff with continuous professional development, opportunities to advance, a central support network, and the resources to do their jobs properly.

All of which is only possible when a MAT has a coherent mission statement and a strong and committed management structure.