Joining a MAT part 7 – Updating and Harmonising Policies

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This article is part of a series and follows on from “Joining a MAT part 6 – Things I Wish I Had Known” which takes an insightful and retrospective view of comments taken from conversations with headteachers, school business managers and governors about the conversion process and working in a Multi-Academy Trust.

In the rush to complete the conversion of a school or an academy into a Multi-Academy Trust it is easy to overlook certain aspects of integration.

One area we often get asked to look at is policies.  Unfortunately, it is usually an inspection or Regional Commissioner’s review that picks up that certain statutory policies are either not fit for purpose or that governors are not aware of the procedures or their responsibilities for ensuing that the policy is applied.Joining or Forming a Multi-Academy Trust

A common issue is that the suite of policies available on the website has one or other of the statutory policies missing and when we dig deeper it appears that often it doesn’t even exist.  Many MATs are now keen for their member academies to retain some independence. However, it is usual that any policies requiring direct Trust involvement, either through monitoring or managing part of the procedure e.g. an appeal or complaint, are harmonised across the family of schools.  This makes it much easier for the directors and governors to be made aware of how a procedure works and their place in the process.  Not only that, if the policy deals with staff issues such as capability or conduct the employees should be able to expect equal treatment whichever academy in the family they are working at.

Another problem is probably down to version control.  As several schools join together to become a MAT, policies are collated and various versions of the same document can be created as it goes through the editing and approval process.  In the worse-case scenario we have come across situations where an old version of a policy has been mistakenly rebadged as the “2016” version but refers to out of date legislation or statutory guidance that has long since been revised.  On a day-to-day basis it is difficult to keep up with changes in legislation and statutory guidance and as many Local Authorities have long since lost the capacity to regularly update schools on such issues the process of review and revision isn’t always as robust as it might be.  Schools converting into a MAT should be particularly aware of the risks of carrying over the old LA standard policy as it may be several years out of date.

In our work with MATs from just a handful of academies to 20 plus we do policy reviews and HR audits that highlight these issues.  A frequent area of misunderstanding is that since the Equality Act 2010 schools no longer need a separate Racial Equality or Disability Policy. The Disability Act 1995 is often still cited although it was repealed and replaced by the Equality Act 2010 except in Northern Ireland where the act still applies.  With the introduction of the Equality Act 2010 many schools introduced an all new Equality Policy but we still find a worrying number of schools that have not replaced their earlier policies with a single overarching statement.

There has also been fairly recent guidance on what should be available on school and Academy websites.  While some MATs have addressed this very well some academies appear to have added the information piecemeal to the website and it isn’t always easy to see all the curriculum and performance data together or the information that is required in relation to Trustees and Governors.

Most of the actions required to bring policies and the websites up to date are easily managed but sometimes it just needs a short review exercise to highlight them.  Better to have planned your review and responded appropriately rather than have it required by an external inspection.