While the softened, non-legislative path to drive English schools to become academies within a wider multi-academy trust (MAT) seems an inevitability, let’s remember that it’s also a path that remains at the heart of the Department for Education plans.
For new or potentially expanding MATs, this move has a significant impact on how their senior leaders choose to oversee and monitor quality within each school under their control, says Louise Doyle, a MAT trustee and maintained school governor as well as director of self-assessment and improvement planning resources specialist, MESMA.
Currently, 2,075 out of more than 3,300 secondary schools are academies, while 2,440 of 16,766 primary schools have academy status, according to the latest figures. Slightly less than 1,000 of those conversions are part of a MAT (although it is fair to say some only have one school in them).
Against such a backdrop, it would be reasonable to suggest that the notion of converting as a stand-alone academy is one that will likely be consigned to the recent past. What’s clear moving forward is the expectation that those converting will be either planning to, or already be part of, a proposed MAT as opposed to the solitary academies.
Mesma’s Louise Doyle says that no matter what the size and shape of a trust, quality assurance and more robust governance is critical
In the main, for individual academies within a trust, it will be – for those that provide good education for their students – business as usual. Ofsted will inspect them in line with the Common Inspection Framework, while the head teacher will manage internal quality arrangements.
Where things may start to differ is the way in which the central MAT leadership team decides to monitor the arrangements across each constituent part of the trust.
The need to make decisions based on consistency of reporting, a solid process in place for self-assessment and improvement planning, a clear line of sight to when corrective action needs to be taken based on comparable data are compelling. This notion of consistency and comparability is likely to drive technology decisions that result in changes to business as usual for schools and (hopefully) the delivery of better education for all.
Sir Michael Wilshaw in his letter to the Secretary of State in summarising the outcomes of Ofsted’s focused inspections of academies in 2016 said “A MAT needs to provide robust oversight, challenge and support to ensure pupils in all their academies receive a good quality of education”.
Whilst giving a nod to examples of good practice, the tone of the letter was one of serious concern about whether or not MAT Trustees were any better at driving improvements in educational provision (particularly for those children who most need it) than the local authority from which the academies came. He went on to highlight seven key weaknesses with those levied at leadership concerning confused governance, lack of challenge, an acceptance of information presented and a lack of strategic oversight.
In this harder, perhaps less tolerant landscape, where quality assurance – and the effective management of it – is increasingly to the fore in a culture of accountability (and culpability), the adoption of intuitive technologies have to be seen as an integral part of an effective deliverance strategy.
Where such tools are adopted, the balancing act must always be about the holistic improvement of educational provision and not using the data produced as the proverbial stick to beat teaching staff with. Their involvement and engagement in self-assessment is crucial. What we must do is avoid a repetition of the negativity that has surrounded graded observations for example, where the process and outcome should be one of development and support.
It’s clearly evident that within our brave new world, no matter what the size and shape of a MAT, there’s going to be a critical requirement for quality assurance and more robust governance.
Indeed, in the face of recent findings by Education Policy institute, which found that 20 of the largest multi-academy trusts (MATs) – running more than 300 schools – fall ‘significantly below’ the national average for improving pupils’ attainment, the importance of self-assessment not just within each school but right across the trust, is perhaps more important than ever before; and goes to the heart of addressing the issues raised in the all-party parliamentary group’s (APPG) 21 questions http://www.nga.org.uk/News/NGA-News/Pre-2016/21Q.aspx