Headteachers may balk at the potential loss of control they may experience if their school joins a multi-academy trust. However, there are plenty of potential advantages of doing so. An obvious one is economies of scale in terms of the bulk-buying of items like printer paper and other essentials. Perhaps less obvious, though, is the potential to afford higher specification communications systems, including wireless technology -- both through each school and between schools.
On the subject of information technology, schools in a MAT can have a common set of cloud servers and backup systems. By the same token, common registration and other systems can be installed in each school. For example, if Groupcall Xporter is used on each site, attendance and other data can easily be amalgamated and analysed without the need to go through laborious file conversions first. This makes it easy to identify trends across the MAT and to use the statistics proactively.
Collecting and storing data in a common way across all schools in the trust naturally leads on to another consideration: data protection. The MAT will have (or should have) a high-level approach to satisfying the new data protection requirements, GDPR.
Common hardware and software also makes technical support much easier. Indeed, if high-specification communication systems are installed, it should be possible for many IT-related problems to be solved remotely. The same applies to other systems within a school, such as payroll.
Having the same systems in each school also keeps retraining costs low should a teacher in one school be obliged to work in another. They will not have to learn a new way of taking the register or collecting in dinner money, or any of the other data-related functions that are carried out.
Joining a MAT also means that the school can benefit from shared good practice, and support from other schools in the trust. These are obvious benefits if the school is weak, but even if the school is strong it can make sense to join a MAT. That is because good school leaders can discuss improvements to every school in the trust. It even paves the way for some specialisation. For example, if the Head of school A is excellent at motivating staff through CPD programmes, and the Head of school B is excellent at attracting support from government or local industry, it makes sense for each one to be given overall responsibility across the whole trust in their specialism.
Also, the potential benefits of sharing the experience of school governors, trustees and parents should not be overlooked either.
Another area for cost-saving is in professional development. A MAT can organise common staff training for all the schools together - it may well be cheaper to hire a venue for a day than to run the same training multiple times. Another possibility is asking a specialist teacher from one school to train the staff in another. In the case of a shortage subject such as maths or computer science, a teacher can even be allocated to teach in more than one school as a matter of course. This can help to alleviate staff recruitment challenges, even if only temporarily.
There may also be a possibility of moving students around, and offering more specialised courses. For example, if two students in school A wish to study psychology at ‘A’ Level, and seven students in school B, it may be feasible to offer a psychology ‘A’ Level course in one school and require the students in the other school to travel there for lessons.
Also, each school can benefit from joining a trust in other areas, such as a common set of documents and report templates, a common letterhead, and a common approach to organising events such as parents’ evenings.
And crucially, there can be a common set of protocols covering such issues as when and how teachers are to communicate with parents. For example, if a teacher is concerned about a pupil, should she text, phone or email the parents? Whatever the answer, it is clearly much better for all concerned if the same approach is used in each school in the trust -- imagine the potential for mistakes if each school is autonomous in this regard, and teachers are working in more than one. This is another area in which the experience of each school can be pooled, and the most effective approach, as shown from experience, adopted.