Against a backdrop of school league tables, academy trust educational and financial performance statistics, as well as a raft of other measures on which to compare and contrast relevant data, it would be easy to assume that trusts are generally competing against each other.
We spoke to Tom Meeks, Senior Manager at Price Bailey, and chair of a five-school multi-academy trust. Tom explained how, in his experience at least, it is collaboration rather than competition, that is the norm and is undoubtedly more effective.
“As a trust, we collaborate on many different levels. For example, while there’s a lot of high-level, principle-based guidance about what good governance means – and how you can transpose those theories into the world of multi-academy trusts, with the wide range of stakeholders and regulators involved – there isn’t a vast amount of practical guidance out there.
Which means that at a practical level, a lot of the time we are partly working it out as we go along. We also rely on our peers to help collaboratively solve the issues of the day.
We’re fortunate that our trust runs a successful teaching school. By engaging in the School-Centred Initial Teacher Training (SCITT) programme, and through our CPD offerings across the teaching school, we also come into contact with a lot of other committed and effective professionals from other trusts. This generates the perfect opportunity for sharing and collaborating on ideas and initiatives.
Early on in the process of running a teaching school, we also realised that commercially it wasn’t going to be viable to operate in isolation. We knew we had to work with other teaching schools to ensure we were offering the right breadth of provision in terms of teacher training, leadership training and skills development. We engaged with other trusts that also run teaching schools in the local area. As a result, our teaching school is now part of a three-strong teaching school alliance.
Tom Meeks, Senior Manager at Price Bailey, and chair of a five-school multi-academy trust
We also collaborate on individual levels. Our executive headteacher – the principal of the trust, our ‘CEO’ – is very, very well connected at a national level. She is engaged in the National Professional Qualification for Executive Leadership (NPQEL), which means that she gets a lot of insight into the way other executive leaders do things.
Likewise, I completed the National Governors Association led, DfE funded Development for Chairs Programme during the last twelve months. It gave me more opportunities to share ideas and best practice with other Trustees in my position. I was also lucky enough to have access to a mentor, and this helped me deal with issues such as challenging conversations, strategic thinking and organisational planning. These skills have been fundamental to help break down the perceptions of competition in favour of collaboration. Whatsmore, it is working. Our Trust now has much more confidence in its current and future position in the educational landscape. I’m lucky enough also to be able to collaborate through my role here at Price Bailey. As an auditor, I act for more than 20 other academy trusts. I get lots of opportunities to observe other board meetings and speak to lots of people – mainly in finance – in the world of multi-academy trusts. It gives me quite a unique insight into the operational workings of other trusts that I can take to our own Board.
So we have lots of ways of collaborating, all of which I believe helps us to be more effective and in turn, financially efficient as a trust. They are all self-instigated – none of them are imposed upon us – and rely on goodwill and finding the right people with the appetite for working with others. This is key to the success of any multi-academy trust.
If you’re involved in an academy trust and can identify others, whether neighbouring or further afield, who share your approach to working together, I’m sure you’ll soon discover that collaboration rather than competition is the cornerstone for success.”
If you have any questions or would like more information on this article, please contact Tom using the form below.
We always recommend that you seek advice from a suitably qualified adviser before taking any action. The information in this article only serves as a guide and no responsibility for loss occasioned by any person acting or refraining from action as a result of this material can be accepted by the authors or the firm.