MAT is the future of education in the UK, says Schools Commissioner Janet Renou

By Alison Rebello

Gateshead May 9: Janet Renou, the Regional Schools Commissioner (RSC) for the North of England spoke passionately about the cause of MAT (Multi Academy Trusts) and how she is willing to extend every possible support to schools wanting to embrace MAT, during the North East Regional spring conference of National Governors Association (NGA) recently.
One of the 8 RSC’s in the country, Janet said her role is to oversee the monitoring of academy performance and prescribing necessary intervention and helping arrive at decisions on creation of new academies.
Janet, as the RSC for North has 14 local authorities with 1800 schools in the region, under her jurisdiction. The current NE regional scenario comprises of 375 academies, 84 sponsored, 275 converted academies and 16 free schools.
Similarly the MAT size across the North varies with only 6 MATs with 7 plus academies, 34 MATs with 3-6 academies and 64 MATs with 0-2 academies.
Janet’s plea was to help co-operate form bigger groups joining together and helping stronger MATs. With 72 Teaching Schools in the North, Janet intends to focus on three areas of work namely schools, teacher training and development.
The RSC concluded saying the benefits of setting up a MAT will give the opportunity to improve more children life chances, offer career progression and leadership succession planning ,economies of scale, transmission of the best practice into some/ all schools, help in strategic governance allied to educational focus at local governing bodies. 
Andrew Bayston, CEO of Northern Star Academies Trust and Headteacher Board Member spoke about his experience of MATs saying:
 “We have lots of MATs in the NE but we need to move with a measured approach to growth. I recommend the three-tier of governance with Trust members/ directors and local governing bodies forming part of the structure of MATs.
At the Trust members and directors level he recommends appointing independent people, who have nothing to do with the school, and to pick strategically important people through the LGBs.
The three core functions should include clarity of vision, holding CEO/HT to account and overseeing the financial aspect of the institution.”
To a specific question, he said: “The current trend shows Church of England schools are more open to taking community schools under their fold but Catholic schools are only taking Catholic academies.
Mixed MAT is yet to work, but we are hopeful that it will work in the future with the right kind of mixture. “
Paul Aber,(pictured) NGA’s Head of Training Development touched on financial efficiency of schools.
He highlighted the advantage of using benchmarking report card for schools which captures highlights of school’s spending and compares them with similar schools.
He also spoke about the efficiency –a strategic and creative approach using the new DfE (Department for Education) tools which comprises of four stages- review(the efficiency metric), investigate(ten checks for governors, benchmarking score card), resolve(deal with issues arising, 3-5 year plan) and generate (consider income generation).
He said that most efficient schools constantly challenge the status quo and help set up education based financial planning.
He also pointed out that currently forty percent schools have access to School Business Manager and sixty percent do not have which means that the educational leaders of the latter, have to also divide their time on non teaching activities which takes the core focus of education, away from them.
The chief executive of NGA, Emma Knights, spoke of succession planning for governing boards and appealed everyone to check InspiringGovernance.org which has appointed a North Regional Manager Claire Leman, who could be contacted for more advice.
 Emma added: “As a good practice the chair of governing bodies should continue in their role for a maximum of 6 years and a succession plan needs to be drawn right from the very beginning on smooth succession.
Governing bodies need to work on distributing leadership roles, have a co chair, if possible; delegate the role of vice chair(s), and see if more than one vice chair could be roped in. Besides this, the chair should meet with all other members individually to see the potential for other roles that they could be offered within the governing bodies and finally for aspiring chair’s who want to equip themselves with the skill sets they can join the chair’s development programme licensed by the National College.”
The last session of the day focussed on school improvement and the arts led by Arts Education Consultant Christina Birt and assisted by Jeanne Hale, an independent consultant working with Culture Bridge North East developing Artsmark in the region.
Christina spoke on how arts will achieve SMSC (spiritual, moral, social and cultural) aspects judged by Ofsted.
In the spiritual strand reflection and imagination, moral with focus on ethics and behaviours, social with team work and communications skills and cultural with diversity, viewpoints and context.    
Jeanne spoke about Artsmark’s availability to whole school development plan making it an effective tool for delivering school targets.
The author is a Foundation Governor at St Stephen’s RC Primary School, Longbenton in Newcastle upon Tyne