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Successful Schools Don’t Standalone – School clusters and MATs

It may seem an obvious statement, but no school can be successful in all aspects if it works entirely alone. It needs to gather ideas, share experiences and access new skills and approaches. It also needs the capacity not just to improve standards and provide a rich curriculum but also to access funding, improve its resources and manage the risks it faces.

The traditional model of the “middle tier” between central government, in the form of the DfE, and schools has been much eroded in recent years. Local Authority education departments have, through policy decisions and funding cuts, been reduced in most areas of England to very small teams that monitor schools and deliver statutory services only. Much of the experienced resource, often talented and effective, that supported schools’ organisation and improvement has been retired or let go.

The new education landscape is seen by many to be a muddle of small LA teams often operating through traded services arms together with an increasing number of social enterprises, including dioceses, who are trying to fill the middle tier void. And then there are groups of schools, many in MATs, seeking, with perhaps limited capacity, to turn around struggling schools, improve standards and benefit from the many efficiencies of working together.

However, a number of successful practices and models are now beginning to emerge and it would be of great benefit to school and MAT leaders throughout England for these to be widely shared. Many of the best headteachers and their governing bodies see forming or joining a MAT as a valuable opportunity to reshape or design their schools to meet the very specific context, needs and requirements of their community (their pupils, their parents and their staff).

To do this schools need to think about:

1. Their infrastructure to support learning

a. Buildings and premises
b. Finance and funding
c. Effective and efficient support activities (back office)
d. Risk management

2. Their educational resources to improve learning

a. People and development
b. Sustainable school improvement model and practices

3. Their organisation and delivery of learning

a. Culture and ethos
b. Governance
c. Leadership and management
d. Teaching and Learning
e. Curriculum
f. Practices and policies
g. Assessment for learning
h. Performance evaluation for improvement

It makes sense for schools and groups of schools to use a structure, similar to that above, to self-evaluate beyond the normal standards agenda and establish a medium term strategic plan. This plan will range from identifying immediate wins from working with existing “friendly” schools and organisations to searching for and identifying other strategic partners that will be key in a school’s future development.

We at For Schools will be publishing a series of short articles over the autumn term to support schools’ thinking about the most effective ways for them to improve their organisation over the medium term. To inform these commentaries we will draw on best practice and the knowledge base of the many schools we work with.

In addition, throughout September we will be interviewing a number of school leaders so that we can gain the benefit of their experiences and share the findings through these articles. If you would like to contribute through an interview, or would just like to be notified when they are published please let us know.

To see the services we offer to clusters and MATS please click here. If you would like to discuss any issues arising from this article please contact us at and ask for Andy, Terry or Rob.



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