Joining a MAT part 5 – Senior Roles in the Trust.

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This article is part of a series and follows on from “Joining a MAT part 4 – the Evolution of the School Business Manager” which looks at how the  School Business Manager roles and responsibilities within a multi academy trust are affected.

Unless you are considering joining an existing Multi-Academy Trust (MAT), when schools come together to create a MAT it is essential that there is an early conversation about what senior roles are needed in order to run the Trust. There may well be several existing Headteachers or a combination of Executive Headteachers, Headteachers and Heads of School.  The conversation will inevitably turn to the question of whether a Chief Executive post will be required going forward.

Our experience shows that it is often taken as a given that a Chief Executive is required.  Indeed we have come across embryonic MATs where a Chief Executive post has been included in the new staffing structure even before there has been a discussion about:

  • the cost implications of creating the post;
  • the role and its responsibilities and accountabilities; and
  • how the role will interface with the leaders of the individual schools.

The Chief Executive Officer role is a fairly recent development and probably arises from the view of a MAT as a multi-million pound business.  It is very true that for larger MATs, or those with significant centralised services, a role that looks after the service contracts, procurement and operational requirements is a necessity.  Whether this is through a Chief Executive Officer, a Chief Operating Officer or Finance Director is a matter of choice for the MAT and will be based on an assessment of local need at the time.

joining an existing Multi-Academy Trust

In smaller MATs it is not always a foregone conclusion that a CEO post is essential.  We have come across a number of small MATs where the division of responsibility for driving:

  • outstanding outcomes for children; and
  • organisational efficiency

have been shared between an Executive Headteacher and a Chief Operating Officer without the necessity for an additional layer of leadership.  There are also MATs where the headteachers run the individual academies to an agreed set of principles and standards and report to an executive board created by the Trust.

The simple message for those thinking of forming or enlarging a MAT is that structures that work well for two or three primary academies (or two or three secondary academies) may not be as effective in a much larger grouping of schools involving perhaps 20 schools.  Likewise what will work in an exclusively primary or secondary grouping will almost certainly not work in a larger group that includes primary, secondary, Special and Alternative Provision academies.

If your strategy is to expand the MAT, a successful structure that has worked for a like-minded group of 2 – 3 successful academies may not be appropriate, or may at least require significant amendment, if your plans for expansion include bringing into the MAT 5 or 6 additional academies, some of whom may be currently in need of significant additional support.

There is also a current tendency in many newly forming MATs to identify an Executive Headteacher as the Chief Executive.  In such cases the Trust will need to consider very carefully a job description and a supporting contract that identifies responsibility for specific targets or outcomes across all of the academies.

For those of you who are more familiar with a traditional Local Authority environment you may not be fully up-to-date with the concept of an Executive Headteacher.  As a starting point, remember that in law there needs to be a clearly defined role that acts as the substantive Headteacher of the school.  The recent emergence of the concept of an Executive Head means that this role is by no means as clearly defined and there are various different models in operation around the country.  An Executive Headteacher may be:

  • the substantive head of one academy with a mentoring or school improvement brief in others;
  • the substantive head of two or more academies in the MAT whilst other individual academies that are making good progress have their own substantive headteacher; or
  • the substantive Headteacher of all the schools in the group with a Head of School in each of the individual settings who takes operational responsibility for the site on a day to day basis.

The increase in Executive Headteachers has come about as a response to:

  • difficulties recruiting headteachers in certain areas of the country or in certain sectors;
  • the need to build management capacity in underperforming schools; and
  • the development of distributed or system leadership models.

Where this model has been adopted the Executive Headteacher has invariably developed a more strategic approach to their role and a Head of School (or similarly titled person) has taken more of the operational or day-to-day leadership responsibility.  The local context and current OfSTED assessment of the schools joining the MAT will determine what the primary focus of the Executive Headteacher’s role will be.  For example, the primary focus of the role may be:

  • schools that need rapid improvement;
  • ensuring that the vision, ethos and values of the Trust are embedded in all the academies; or
  • addressing difficulties with recruitment.

In medium sized MATs the Chief Executive Role is often combined with that of one of the Executive Headteachers.  In the planning stages the Trustees should consider very carefully whether this structure is the one that will deliver their vision and the common needs of the schools.  The exact roles of the senior officers in the group will depend very much on the immediate needs of your academies at the time you set up the Multi-Academy Trust but these may change over time.  Questions such as:

  • Is there a growth plan?
  • Does the MAT expect to be welcoming more schools in the near future?
  • Will the leadership structure be appropriate with more schools in the MAT?

should all be addressed.

It is also not an easy task to find someone with the breadth of skills to:

  • keep a firm hand on the teaching and learning outcomes in existing academies;
  • take a lead in turning around a number of underperforming schools;
  • manage several conversions to academy status; and
  • run a multi-million pound business with possibly several hundred staff.

In our experience many MATs have had to change their leadership structure and team very quickly after start up as they quickly realise adding more schools doesn’t just mean doing more of the same.

If the MAT has considered its direction and vision early on in the planning it doesn’t necessarily mean that changes won’t still be needed but at least they’ll be expected and planned for.  A forward looking Trust will consider its vision and strategy at an early stage and regularly revisit it.  Many small MATs that have been in existence for three or more years are also now revisiting the vision as circumstances have led them to review their future.  Factors driving this decision include: the growth of MATs generally; the future of stand-alone academies; interesting changes in the market place for support services; and decline of services offered by Local Authorities.

We’ve talked a lot about roles and responsibilities within a multi academy trust but that leads us to consider where the job descriptions fit in the order of things. As you change and grow consider what jobs are needed. What do you need the people in those roles to do?

There is no clear framework for an Executive Head acting as a CEO and also no clear framework for salary. The Trust will want value for money and effectiveness in the senior roles so plan the job descriptions to ensure roles don’t overlap and there are clear lines of accountability.  If there is duplication of roles within the MAT consider how you will deal with this at an early stage.

Carry out robust due diligence on the schools joining the MAT, not just data on employees but understanding the culture and operation of those schools and where it might be at odds with Trust policy and procedures.  Every school has probably operated as a semi-autonomous unit before joining the MAT and you are now bringing some element of standardisation and harmonisation across the group.  It may be a balancing act worthy of Blondin’s trip across Niagara Falls.

There are also implications for TUPE.  If the Head, Executive Head or Associate Head moves into a new role in the MAT you will need to offer new job descriptions and possibly contracts (we’ll consider contracts in part 6).  If there is a reduction in the number of roles as well e.g. only one Executive Head is required where we have had three in the joining schools beforehand then a recruitment exercise may be required.

There are a lot of issues around staffing and structures that many MATs only realise after the event but with careful planning and taking advice in the early stages some of these can be foreseen and overcome effectively.