For the past three years we’ve asked teachers, SLTs and other school staff across the UK and Ireland about their schools’ upcoming strategic plans.
In this year’s State of technology in Education 2018/19 report, almost 70% of survey respondents confirmed that their school has a clear strategic vision for the coming academic year—2.4% more than the year before.
This year, we’ve also broken our insights down by school type, including independent schools, local authority schools and academies. Doing so, we learnt that only 42% of educators in academies believe their schools have a clear vision for the year ahead, considerably lower than other schools.
What does this mean for the MAT system? Are academy schools and their governing MATs less strategically positioned than other teaching institutions? Or are academy staff simply less informed of their schools’ strategies?
According to our survey, almost 70% of school leaders and SLT members across all schools believe their schools have a clear strategic vision for the year ahead.
When we asked all school staff, including teachers and IT managers from specific schools, however, the numbers were lower, with academy schools the bottom of the group.
More complex decision-making
According to statistics, nearly a third of publicly-funded schools in England are now academies. Over 73% of all these academies are run by Multi Academy Trusts (MATs). The schools with your MAT cannot, therefore, independently decide to leave your MAT.
This legal set up can lead to a greater number of strategic difficulties and potential leadership issues within your MAT than in local authority funded and independent schools. As you know, there are other schools and directing bodies to consider, which adds layers of complexity to your operations.
“Since being part of an academy chain, leadership can no longer make strategic decisions and our academy masters are incapable of making timely decisions.” Teacher, academy secondary school, South East England
Less visibility by teaching staff
In independent or local authority schools, the head teacher and other SLT members, in consultation with other school staff, work together to outline their schools’ key priorities. Academies, by contrast, are often strategically positioned by the MAT.
The teaching staff in your academy schools may, therefore, have less visibility or offer a lower contribution to the overall school goals, as a result. This does not point towards a lack of strategic vision in MAT schools, but perhaps less transparency between the board of trustees and the education staff on the ground.
As a MAT director, it may be worth considering whether your teaching or IT staff could offer a valuable contribution to your MAT strategy, going forward.
Greater strategic responsibilities
Generally, the governing bodies of local authority-maintained schools do not have the same legal and financial responsibilities as you or the other members of the multi academy trust board. This means your weight of responsibility is greater as a MAT director.
You may face negative feedback from within your school teams, whilst you’re also looking for tech that is both scalable and future-proof across your MAT. This is all whilst facing pressure from your board, adding to your strategic challenges.
“The best MATs are using the power of the group of schools to bring about rapid and fundamental change, based on powerful models of school improvement, deep collaboration and professional learning across the group.” Leora Cruddas, CEO of Freedom and Autonomy for Schools, National Association
So, despite our State of technology in Education 2018/19 report survey results, MAT schools are not necessarily less strategic—they simply have greater challenges to overcome and a higher number of boxes to tick when it comes to meeting these strategic goals. Perhaps our survey results indicate that academy teaching staff feel less consulted or involved in their schools’ ongoing strategic visions.
It could prove valuable, therefore, for MAT directors to involve more school staff as well as their schools’ SLT members in their strategic plans. IT staff, for example, may have a unique insight on failing systems or future-proof technologies your schools could benefit from. Your edtech partners, meanwhile, may help with training and adoption within your schools to improve the sense of collaboration.
To read more about the strategic plans of schools across the UK, download this year’s State of Technology in Education Report. It’s packed full of first-hand insights from real teachers, heads and other school staff in the UK and Ireland.