My experience is overwhelmingly friend. So why the deep concern. Here are a few of my reflections.
With the Secretary of State’s announcement yesterday there is time to stand back. Since the Budget speech so much hype and news has been devoted to academies and MATs and misconceptions do arise among the facts. Let me say firstly I am not on the side of forced conversion. That is unless the school is failing its children and then action should be taken and academy status in a MAT has frequently been shown to provide the answer. We know children cannot wait. Their education is immediate and every one of them deserves the best we can provide.
So what is good about MATs. MATs are about collaboration not about structures; they are a formal partnership between schools that believe by working together they can improve standards for all their youngsters. They are invariably local groups of schools. Even where the MAT may be national, and there are only a handful, they form into local hubs to work together. The Chief Executive is more ore often than not an educationalist from an outstanding school in the group, not a distant bureaucrat. So accountability is local and firmly embedded in relevant experience.
MATs increasingly have secondary and primary schools in their federation. What could be better for students than a pathway option that is seamless from 3-18? Thus avoiding the transition dip after year 6. Having been Principal and CEO of such a Trust with 6 schools, I know there is benefit for children and staff working across and smoothing this divide.
Good and Outstanding schools have been questionning what benefit there is for them to become academies and join Trusts. Research has shown that good schools get even better when they share expertise. There are more promotion opportunities working across a group for staff so retention is better. Sharing of expertise from a good school supports the schools who are still on the journey and in so supporting staff gain very valuable CPD. There is never a one way street either, even schools in challenging circumstances have gems to offer their more successful partners. It is all about the profession supporting itself through formal collaboration. The formality gives sustainability, the partnership in a Trust is not just there in the good times or in the short term. You stand together. Successful MATs link their schools in as many ways and at as many levels as possible.
Small schools in rural and coastal areas have nothing to fear from MATs. I have seen small schools working together and enjoying mutual advantage from sharing of resources and staff. Small schools are stronger in Trusts than standing alone. You can have a local hub where schools are half an hours drive away or more. See examples in the SW and in East Anglia.
The future now is clearer and less contentious. Academies in MATs are the preferred way forward but is up to the leaders in the profession now as it should be. I hope more schools will consider setting up MATs of their own within and across their LA areas. I hope more good and outstanding schools, more small schools, more grammar schools will grasp the opportunity and develop creative partnerships of their own that focus on bringing their combined expertise to the benefit of even more children. They have so much to give.
Every child deserves a good school. How else shall we do it but through schools working together and leading the system.