As you might expect, the answer to this question is: it depends, on several factors. One is, of course, the predilections or perhaps management style of the MAT's senior leadership team, but there are several others according to a recently-published report.
Granting a certain degree of autonomy to schools sounds like a good thing to aim for, but important factors in the decision are:
- How large is the MAT?
- How successful are the individual schools in the MAT?
- What functions should be delegated?
How large is the MAT?
The report referred to above identified what it called 'break points'. These are points at which a MAT grows in size with a non-incremental (qualitative) change as a result. Size may even be geographical rather than numerical.
For example, if a mainly urban MAT acquires a rural school, it is unlikely that a standardised curriculum will continue to be feasible for the newcomer. That would be an example of a geographical break point.
An example of a numerical break point would be where the MAT acquires too many schools for the CEO to visit each of them within a reasonable time scale. Indeed, in one of the schools looked at in the study there was no single space large enough to accommodate everyone from all the schools at the same time. In such circumstances, delegation (of something) is a necessity.
Size is also influential in terms of finance. Some MATs have too many schools to be able to afford to centralise certain functions, and this could affect their efficiency (see below).
How successful are individual schools?
Some MATs favour a decentralised approach, allowing schools to devise their own curriculum, say, within a broader framework. For example, the Trust may require schools to adopt a learning enquiry approach but not be specific in terms of what must be taught.
However, the Trust will have a need and a desire to ensure that all schools within the MAT are meeting a particular standard (however defined). For this reason, some Trusts have adopted an 'earned autonomy' approach. As the term implies, under this system schools have to earn their autonomy by proving they can meet the requisite standards without help from the centre.
What functions should be delegated?
A number of Trusts have centralised and/or standardised particular functions, albeit for different reasons. For example, HR is an obvious candidate for a standardised approach. Another one is data management. If different schools have different pupil tracking systems it would be very difficult to easily obtain a snapshot of what was going on across the MAT at any one time. In such circumstances it makes perfect sense to adopt one tracking system (such as Analytics), in every school, and then to standardise the timing of data drops (i.e. the collection of data).
In fact, many Trusts benefit from a sort of 'mixed economy' in which matters like the curriculum are left to individual schools to decide, but data collection and what might be called 'back office' functions are centralised or standardised in the interests of efficiency.
It's useful to remember, too, that there is a certain amount of interdependence in these areas. For example, centralising back office functions often makes sense even for a school that is very efficient at them. Why? Apart from the savings in office staff, it can free up senior leaders in the schools to focus on curriculum and pastoral matters instead.
What's the best approach for your MAT? That's for you to decide! But two useful starting points would be to read the research report in its entirety, and to look at how Analytics can help your MAT to achieve its goals.
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