- I am always concerned when I read high profile ‘World class’ (self-proclaimed) educational leaders spout out rhetoric about how wonderful the multi-academy trust system is for our education system and remind us how did we ever thrive without such a model in the past? It is dangerous when people are deluded and wedded to the MAT model when it is clear there are tectonic cracks appearing in this ‘system.’ Schools were successful before MATS and I find it irritating to read and hear from many sectors of the edutwitter ‘fan’ club that The MAT model is the only model to sustain education. Such binary arguments are unhelpful. It is impossible to cover all the arguments in this blog, but I think it is useful to consider key issues. So in this mini- blog, I want to consider the following questions:
- Why is the MAT system perceived as failing ?
- Is it time to abandon the MAT model?
- is it time for radical new thinking for school organisation?
Why is the MAT system perceived as failing?
In my view, its a complex mix. It includes the following (by no means exhaustive):
- Lack of local democratic accountability – Trusts play at being warm and fuzzy towards their local communities but the reality is that for many, local people have no real say in the running of the MAT trusts.
- Secrecy – despite having to show public accounts each year, MATS often act in a very secretive way and this is compounded by the lack of transparency in RSC Headteacher boards. The expansion of MATs , certainly in the early days was compared to the ‘Wild West’ with sponsors gobbling up and cherry picking the best schools with handsome grants on offer from the DFE. Those heady days have now gone; hence the orphan schools.
- The CEOS are often not fit for purpose. Many of the CEOS are self-appointed former Headteachers and I am afraid to say some are just simply inadequate in the CEO role. The role is very different to being a solitary Headteacher and to be frank, many are failing miserably in the role. They appear to spend most of their time in their fancy executive cars driving from school to school with their rucksacks in the hope of a free lunch and the chance to have a few meetings sprinkled with some book monitoring. Yes the life of the CEO MAT is tough. They pretend to understand finance but tucked away is a £100K finance director to do the hard bits of their job. They collect their mileage claims at the end of the month. Then there are organisations offering CEO courses at £10k a go. They also seem to always be at conferences?
- There are simply not enough good sponsors
- The multiplicity of MATS v the number of old LA’s presents big issues on a monumental scale for the DFE. No one really has a grasp of what MATS are up to as LA’s have very little human resource left.
- There is a lack of coherence in school improvement. The caring sharing model of the MAT doesn’t really work in reality for many. Let’s have a MAT moderation day- yes whats the impact of 200 tired teachers arguing over standards when they could be planning exciting lessons?
- Then there is is the MAT conference – the annual get together where we all ‘sing from the same hymn sheet’ and the CEO gets to present that awesome power point that has been designed 6 weeks in advance. These conferences are akin to North Korea career convention.
- Children don’t always seem to be at the heart of some MAT decision making. That’s a real worry.
- Ofsted are not able to inspect MATs and I believe this is a real problem – there is no robust accountability on educational standards.
- The MAT system does not engage with local communities particularly well – schools forced to academise without warning.
- Some MATS are run like military establishments which is not really an effective paradigm for education. Maybe we should have free-school military schools?
- MATS are run as businesses when in fact they are at best social enterprises. Why do some MATS have reserves that are excessive when the pritt-sticks in their schools have dried up (other glue types can be purchased too)
- System designed to save money by economies of scale but in fact wastes money and is also faced with cliff edge financial cuts.
- People still don’t understand what MATS are.
I am sure there are some MATS doing a decent job. It is by no means all gloom and doom. The problem is that there are not enough and that’s why its not proving fit for purpose
Is it time to abandon MATS?
I believe that it is time to radically look at the existing MAT structures? Will they survive? I think it is unlikely in the current format. I can see regional MATS – maybe 100 similar to the old LA model!
Is it time for radical new thinking?
Most definitely. Our curriculum is not really fit for 21st century. We really need to find a way where academic and vocational learning have the same value in this country. We also need to drop the nonsense of a ‘rich knowledge’ curriculum and the awful binary curriculum debates. Its time for radical thinking.