The composition of Multi-Academy Trusts (MATs) varies across the country. Great examples can be found of umbrella trusts, collaborative partnerships and MATs made up of different school sizes and types.
But where their composition varies, their potential for helping to develop a self-improving system does not.
What each trust has in common is their drive towards a self improving, school-led system with collaboration at its heart. This makes them hugely important both individually and collectively for the future of our education system. However, collaborative impact can be hard to achieve and there is a risk that MATs become rulers of their own kingdoms, halting our collective capacity to improve, to the detriment of our education system. When developed well, collaborative CPD has a lot to offer MATs, including bringing academies together across multiple sites and geographical locations to work collectively to share challenges, good practice and cost efficiencies.
But, before we discuss the different ways in which collaborative CPD can be developed it’s important to understand the challenges - sometimes overlooked - that can arise when working in partnership with other schools.
Jump to sections of the blog:
- Challenges of collaboration across MAT academies
- Supporting school improvement as a trust
- 6 ways you can support schools in your trust and lead collaborative CPD
- How can leaders ensure successful collaborative CPD
- Inter-Multi-Academy Trust Collaboration
- How IRIS Connect can develop trust-wide CPD
Challenges of collaboration across MAT academies
Competition between schools
Competition among academies within a Multi-Academy Trust (MAT) can potentially impede collaboration, stemming from factors such as uneven allocation of resources, differential performances in areas such as academic outcomes, student attendance or retention rates. Moreover, school leaders might put their individual academy's achievements ahead of the overall success of the trust, thereby intensifying the challenge.
Building and sustaining trust
Building and sustaining trust within a MAT is a challenge because of the difference in school cultures, values and methods of working. Differences in policies and procedures may introduce a divide in how much trust is given to other academies.
Ensuring consistency and quality
A lack of alignment in terms of vision and values is a challenge which could lead to inconsistencies in the quality of education provided. As mentioned, quality is always going to vary between academies so allocating the right resources and attention is a challenge for all MATs.
Providing CPD activities that impact on pupil outcomes - discover what the DfE recommends here
It’s challenging for MATs to provide consistent trust-wide CPD when schools and individuals are so varied in terms of abilities, career progression and geographical locations. If a solution exists, how can MATs afford such a solution in the current educational climate?
TDT reports a strong correlation between autonomy and a sense of job satisfaction. While academies within MATs have a certain level of autonomy, collaboration requires some level of coordination and standardisation. Balancing autonomy with collaboration can be a challenge, as academies may have different approaches to teaching, staffing, and resource allocation.
Supporting school improvement as a Trust
As we’ve mentioned, supporting the schools in your MAT is essential for driving up standards for all pupils. But remember, each school is different and operating under different circumstances.
The effectiveness of the support you offer your schools is often not defined by the expertise available, but by the method in which it is applied.
In the DfEs ‘Multi-academy trusts: Good practice guidance and expectations for growth’ (pg28) it mentions how some trusts have found it helpful to use the four stage model of school improvement when they have identified particular areas of weakness.
However, you should make sure that you use strategies and systems that are right for your schools. There are other approaches and models available.
6 ways you can support schools in your trust and lead collaborative CPD
Set clear expectations
Ensure every school is clear about what’s expected of them and what they can expect in terms of support by developing a trust-wide school improvement model. This will also make sure that trust leaders have a consistent understanding of the best ways to improve standards.
Have a clear focus
Keep it simple to make teaching as good as it can be. This should be at the heart of everything your school leaders do, and ensures everyone is working towards the same goal. Having a clear, common goal makes decision making easier, as you can always ask yourself if the decision is in the best interest of the teaching and learning.
Harness the expertise of Lead Practitioners and SLEs
Share your best teachers so that their expertise is accessible to everyone else and contributes to their development. Enable SLEs to work between schools - either one day a week or for a whole term or year - so they can work with a new set of colleagues in JPD activities.
Know your schools
Be aware of any underperforming schools and be able to identify what they need in order to improve. Consider, also, how you can make the most of your capacity to help them develop.
Done with, not to
Every school should be both a giver and receiver of support. There will be pockets of strong practice in weak schools as often as there will be pockets of weak practice in strong schools. Adopting a reciprocal model of support leaves teachers and schools feeling valued, making them more keen to nurture and grow themselves as well as staff across your trust.
One size does not fit all
Recognise that you will need to give different schools different levels of support – some trusts describe this as ‘tighten to improve, loosen to be great’. You should always seek to fully understand and evaluate different school dynamics ahead of helping to bring about change. You could also provide a Directory of Expertise listing all lead practitioners available to offer school-to-school support.
The role of leadership in successful collaborative CPD
For collaborative CPD to be successful, Senior Leaders need to drive improvement beyond their own school and find ways of sharing your good practice, so that everyone across you MAT can benefit from existing expertise.
In his presentation on Deepening a School-Led System of Improvement Through the Lens of Leadership, Sir David Carter mentions that Senior Leaders must demonstrate:
- Their ability to improve the performance of the school they lead
- Transmit effective strategies from one school to another
- Identify and develop talent and potential in others
Therefore, establishing a culture based on trust, openness and collaboration in order to build social and decisional capital, to develop teacher self and collective efficacy is paramount.
How can leaders ensure successful collaborative CPD
Investigate teaching and learning
No one school has all of the answers and there will be excellent examples of teaching across your whole network that everyone can benefit from.
By auditing the teaching and learning across your MAT you can ensure that good practice is shared effectively and efficiently with others who need it, and vice versa.
Leaders should be able to have open and honest conversations about the respective weaknesses and strengths of their schools.
Try asking staff the following questions:
- What could you offer someone?
- What would you like to gain from someone else?
- What aspect of teaching and learning are you not happy with?
- What could you learn, improve or evaluate more effectively in partnership with others?
Try asking staff the following questions:
- What can our school offer a partner school?
- What can our school learn from a partner school?
- What aspect of teaching and learning are you not happy with?
- What could we learn, improve or evaluate more effectively in partnership with others?
Model and build trust
Which brings us onto establishing a culture based on trust within and across schools. This must begin at teacher level and permeate through everything you do. Leaders can start to increase trust by modelling it, helping to create a climate that shows trustful relationships are the norm. In The Speed of Trust, Stephen Covey explains how trust is all about consistency.
Tips for establishing trust with your staff
1. Talk straight - Don’t hide your agenda, say what’s on your mind but tactfully. Hurt feelings destroy relationships.
2. Demonstrate respect - Your actions show you care, so you should treat people the way we want to be treated through the little things you do every day.
3. Create transparency - Share information honestly and do things out in the open. Transparency is based on honesty, openness, integrity and authenticity.
4. Right wrongs - Don’t try to justify or cover up wrongful behaviour. Admit it, apologise and make steps towards restitution.
5. Show loyalty - A leader should never take credit for someone else’s success, so give credit where it's due. It will foster a culture where people are encouraged to be creative and innovative.
6. Deliver results - Results will give you instant credibility and trust, helping to convert cynics, establish trust in new relationships and restore trust that has been lost.
7. Get better - When others see you continually improving they become confident in your ability to lead.
8. Confront reality - People will trust you if you confront challenges head-on rather than evade them.
9. Clarify expectations - When expectations are not clearly defined upfront, trust is lost and so is time.
10. Practise accountability - Great leaders build trust first by holding themselves accountable, then holding others accountable.
11. Listen first - Giving advice before you have all the facts is a waste of time and not fair. If a person feels you don’t understand they will not take your advice. Listen first, to both verbal and nonverbal messages.
12. Keep commitments - When you make a commitment you build hope. When you keep that commitment you build trust.
13. Extend trust - The behaviours outlined above help you become a trusted leader. But extending trust helps you become a trusting leader. Once you’ve established trust, it’s also a good idea to monitor levels of trust using questionnaires that staff can complete anonymously.
Create healthy (not comparative) competition
Whilst things are changing, the nature of our school system can often mean there is an inherent sense of competition that exists between schools. A competition that comes from parents wanting to choose the ‘best’ school for their children, and politicians believing it will raise standards.
While this sense of competition exists, collaborative CPD will struggle to thrive. According to Professor David Hargreaves (2012), it’s therefore essential to establish collective moral purpose among staff i.e. a common understanding and commitment to make a difference to all pupils (not only those in their own schools and classrooms).
Leaders must lead by example here, showing that they are willing to work across classrooms and schools in constant pursuit of what works for all pupils.
Evaluate and challenge
For collaborative CPD to have an impact across schools it must be evaluated and challenged so it can continue to grow.
Leaders must agree how projects will be assessed and to share what is working well. Teachers must be given time to analyse and refine their findings in and outside of the classroom.
To ensure consistency across academies, it’s important to align with all executives, principals and senior leaders to establish trust-wide goals for CPD. Ensure you are all on the same page about where you would like the trust to be in 5 years, and then you can make objectives to establish how those goals can be accomplished.
Create a CPD plan that ensures every teacher has the opportunity to develop professionally, and that CPD is tailored to every teacher. There must then be tools in place to evaluate the effectiveness of this plan. More information on implementing a trust-wide CPD solution can be found here.
Providing CPD activities that impact on pupil outcomes
When creating a CPD plan, it is important to consider not only the needs of the staff, but also the students and their outcomes too. It will be worthwhile to incorporate CPD activities that are backed by research, like self-reflection, coaching and collaboration.
When designing a CPD plan, think about the needs of the individual teachers. What are their strengths and where can they improve? There are tools available that incorporate personalised pathways which are tailored to individual teachers depending on their needs. For tips in creating a CPD plan, read Zoe & Mark Enser blog, ‘A CPD Curriculum’.
As mentioned earlier, there is a strong correlation between autonomy and a sense of job satisfaction. So how can trusts improve autonomy across their academies? Firstly, they can give teachers control over their own CPD. By allowing teachers to take ownership of their CPD, they become ‘centrally involved in decisions concerning the direction and processes of their own learning’. (Day, 2017)
What else do staff need? A supportive and trusting environment where teachers feel comfortable sharing their practice, and taking the odd risk. A culture of relaxed improvement that promotes sharing of ideas and welcomes constructive feedback.
Lastly, the time and resources they need to continuously improve. Have they got access to a mentor or a trained coach? Do they have a professional development tool that they can use to work through personalised pathways, either alone or with a peer?
Inter-Multi-Academy Trust Collaboration
It is one thing to achieve trust and collaboration within a school, but establishing these types of relationships across MATs is a whole other challenge.
However, if we are to truly achieve a self-improving system it is imperative that MATs are not siloed, as schools once were, but work together to improve the education landscape as a whole.
To ensure that collaborative CPD does not get stifled across MATs, it’s therefore important to achieve collective moral purpose for the entire system.
What is collective moral purpose?
Rather than financial reward or social status, what motivates and sustains most teachers' professional commitment is moral purpose; preparing the next generation through education.
Teachers experience moral purpose in relation to the pupils that they teach. But this presents a challenge for inter-school partnerships, where teachers do not know (and rarely have the chance to meet or work with) pupils in partnership schools (let alone schools in other MATs).
As mentioned earlier, it’s therefore essential to establish a common understanding and commitment among staff, to make a difference to all pupils and not only those in their own schools and classrooms (.i.e. collective moral purpose).
Research projects, universities and other educational organisations focussed on wide-scale improvement to teaching and learning must be the catalysts for this type of collaboration. MATs should seek out opportunities to take part in these projects and then disseminate what works across their networks. These new or refined approaches could then form part of a JPD activity internally within their own MAT.
Imagine that specialists from different MATs could collaborate on research projects with each other and the wider education community to disseminate findings and further the impact of collaborative CPD. With IRIS Connect any group of schools can securely share teaching examples and collaborate over distance easily.
How IRIS Connect can support trust-wide CPD
IRIS Connect bridges the gap between teaching theory and classroom practice through our market leading video technology and PD solution, trusted by 400+ MATs in the UK. Building on years of education expertise and research, we have developed a unified professional learning solution that contains all of the PD mechanisms shown to lead to sustainable, positive change in teaching practice. One centralised, secure and easy to use platform across the trust that provides tailored professional development for every teacher at every career stage.
With IRIS Connect, Trusts can:
- support effective self-reflection
- easily identify barriers to learning
- conduct remote lesson observations
- provide coaching over distance
- share good teaching practice
- maximise trust-wide collaboration
- save money on lesson cover and travel costs
- ensure consistent high quality PD standards across the trust
- give schools the flexibility to align its use with their school improvement plan
- utilise UnityPD’s ECF-, CCF- and NPQs-aligned learning modules or create their own course content and bespoke pathways to concentrate PD efforts on a particular development focus
- and more.
Click here to meet with us to discuss your Trust’s needs and discover how IRIS Connect can help you further develop the quality of teaching and learning across your trust.