Taking the school into a MAT, either from a stand-alone Academy or as a group of schools collaborating to form a new MAT, will bring about significant changes in the way you work. The drivers for joining the MAT in the first place will largely determine the type of change that your staff experience. Is it improvement driven i.e. does your school need to change rapidly to meet DfE or OfSTED expectations or is it resources driven i.e. your school can’t find the type of support it wants locally?
The key decision makers, senior leaders and governors, need to think through what are the key changes that the transfer to a MAT will bring about. Obvious areas may be changes to policy that will affect the way staff operate. This may involve contractual issues, such as the way performance management is handled, or operational matters to do with the way that safeguarding or child protection is handled within the context of a MAT.
If there are several like-minded schools proposing to join the MAT it is easy to assume that each school will somehow absorb any changes. However, from our experience switching to centralised services within the MAT or changing the operational procedures across the schools doesn’t by itself guarantee change.
Where MATs have grown quite quickly there often isn’t sufficient centralised resource. When questions the individual schools have can’t be answered quickly or accurately, then staff will instinctively revert to doing things in the way they have always done because they feel under time pressure or the old ways are perceived as safe. The problems that then emerge are associated with inconsistent application of policy, unequal treatment of individuals and use of non-compliant procedures.
One area where primary schools particularly will find more time and effort is required is payroll. Whether you remain with a Local Authority service or move to a commercial provider the relationship between the Trust and employees has changed and the provider will not accept the risk of potentially authorising payments without a robust approval system. The EFA will also expect the Trust to have full awareness of its responsibilities in this area. This often means that the staff responsible for the payroll administration and management of the monthly approval process will need support and training to make sure the process runs smoothly across all schools.
Change is not a one off event and the staff who will need to manage things differently will need support in changing attitudes and sometimes values. Change can be threatening to some people and destabilising to others and your change plan needs to reflect this understanding. The tendency for some staff and governors is to regard the conversion or transfer to a MAT to be little more than a checklist.
Change of any description is a two way process. The way forward on changes to some policy decisions may involve feedback from staff or their representatives. One area where this is critical is on deliberations around the pay policy for the MAT or, linked to that, performance management. A lack of adequate change management in this area can be very demotivating for staff when the purpose should be just the opposite.
This is an area that often needs careful consideration. When several schools join a MAT it quickly becomes apparent that what happens in one school is not always what happens in another. Even people who hold the same job title may not have the same responsibilities. We discuss this further in our next paper but, for the time being, let us just raise the point that in order to fulfil their obligations to employees and act equally and fairly Trustees will have to consider how these differences are harmonised.
Commitment and collegiality has to be developed. If the MAT is to maximise the benefits the schools will have by being a member, then the culture of the organisation will have to be adopted in all of the constituent parts.