What makes an effective MAT?  And the leverage of sharing of best practice

Ambition School Leadership (ASL), the charity dedicated to developing the current and next generation of school leaders, last week published the first part of a three-phase project looking into the characteristics of high-performing multi-academy trusts.

Commissioned by ASL, the Education Policy Institute’s (EPI) first piece of research was to identify the characteristics of the MATs that have achieved sustainable growth – that is maintained or improved performance while increasing in size. 

They looked at MATs of every type – large and small, concentrated and dispersed, primary, secondary or mixed.  They then looked at how these MATs performed in five areas – pupil progress at KS2 and KS4, improvement in value-added over time, outcomes for disadvantaged pupils, whether schools are rated ‘inadequate’ and how financial sustainable they are. 

We are pleased that their research has found that when considering pupil outcomes, Oasis Community Learning is one of the highest performing fourteen MATs meeting two of the three criteria:

  • "Current performance is significantly above average in two of reading, writing and mathematics progress at Key Stage 2 or is significantly above average on Progress 8 at Key Stage 4,
  • Performance is significantly above average in either improvement in Key Stage 2 reading, writing and mathematics at Key Stage 2 or Best-8 value added at Key Stage 4
  • Performance of pupils eligible for pupil premium is above the national average of all pupils in reading, writing and mathematics at Key Stage 2 or Progress 8 at Key Stage 4”[1]

As a MAT - a team of over 4,500 education staff - the progress of our 25,000 young people is the important thing; it is the reason we chose to join the profession.  This is the latest evidence that our collective commitment to serving each pupil and student, regardless of background or starting point, is working.  It also reaffirms our decision to focus on experiences to develop our young people’s character and competence; we want them to leave us with the knowledge and skills necessary to become active and responsible citizens in 21st century life.

While this is just the first of three phases of this project, ASL and the EPI’s overall finding is that the evidence gathered suggests ‘there is not a single structural feature that is conducive to sustainable growth.’

To those of us in the privileged position as school and MAT leaders, I think this conclusion tallies with our experience on the ground.  Each MAT is unique, each school; each community that we serve has its own personality, the teachers have distinctive talents, and of course, our children have different gifts and challenges. 

When a MAT grows and becomes responsible for a new school, that decision must be laser-focused on what is best for the young people. We have to ensure that there is great entitlement for every student in each one of our classrooms.

There are of course many aspects of a MAT that are hugely beneficial to a new member school; making the most of sharing best practice, providing teacher training and development opportunities, replicating work that has been successful elsewhere, are all vital in driving up teaching and learning standards and subsequently pupil progress.      

It is a huge responsibility of MAT and school leaders to recognise the importance of tailoring our actions to the needs of those we serve, the benefits of being a sharing local and national team of education experts, and harnessing that intelligence. 

For Oasis that means prioritising investment in our staff.  With a number of external partners we are currently providing National Professional Qualification opportunities for middle leaders, senior leaders and head teachers (NPQML, NPQSL and NPQH), as well as developing a new Executive Leader Course. 

We will only meet our commitment to raising the bar for all our students, and closing the gap for the disadvantaged, if we are serious about supporting our staff to progress to exceptional.  I am pleased to report that 125 members of our team are on these courses, and over 70 percent of our senior leader appointments are now from internal recruitment.

When it comes to driving up educational outcomes, there is one thing that we can be sure of -   schools, MATs, educationalists, charities, civil servants and researchers must prioritise working together, prioritising the sharing of best practice and being open to change in how we serve.