Each leadership team is unique, so find the right one for your trust.
When it comes to the overall performance of a multi-academy trust – both operational and educational – effective and inspiring leadership is a crucial (perhaps the most crucial) component. As a trustee of a multi-academy trust, it’s also probably the area I find most challenging.
One of the problems is that just as no two trusts are identical and comparing them is inherently difficult, so there are significant differences between leadership teams which make comparisons tricky.
For example, what is the leadership team structure in a school? Is it assistant head, deputy head and headteacher, or is it subject leaders, assistant head, deputy head and head?
How you structure your leadership team can then alter people’s perceptions about whether your school or trust is top-heavy, how steep the staff hierarchical pyramid should be, and what are the costs associated with that. Of course, a key question for trustees is, are we overpaying or underpaying our senior leadership team, or have we got it just about right? Getting the performance management process right for senior leaders is crucial to a trust’s financial efficiency, which is linked almost directly with the extent to which pupils are making academic progress.
All of these issues have a particular bearing when it comes to trying to benchmark your school or trust’s spending on leadership. The Schools Financial Benchmarking Service can be a useful guide but is also something of a blunt tool. While the website can help you to understand how you measure up to other trusts on financial issues, it needs to be remembered that the figures the service provide (on leadership as well as other areas) are only as accurate as the information that it receives, and there can be a bit of subjectivity as to where different financial information is supposed to be reported. For example, where does the cost of taking the bins out go – does it go in facilities or does it go in premises? That may be a niche example, but you could say the same for lots of different categories of cost.
If your trust considers that department heads are playing an important senior leadership role and you are remunerating them accordingly, but that spend is not appearing on the Service website as a senior leadership cost, how accurate can any benchmarking process be?
Of course, leadership structure and performance is not just down to cost and spend. One area where it would be particularly interesting to compare the effectiveness of senior leadership would be on how outward-looking both the senior team and the trust as a whole are.
Multi-academy trusts are intended to be a school-led improvement model. If you have five good or outstanding schools in a multi-academy trust with no specialist or national leaders of education, it would be difficult to argue that this is a model of school-led improvement. It sounds more like a group of quite cosy schools that are just sitting tight, and co-existing together – a bit like a house share. However, that inward-looking trust could potentially have quite a lean leadership model, as it doesn’t need lots of additional people.
By contrast, a trust that is very outward-looking, and which carries out lots of deployments in other schools and trusts in need of support, will invariably have more need of greater resource in the centre, and probably a larger leadership team. It will have a greater capacity for generating revenue, and for developing people both in its organisational sphere and beyond. That trust will be working for the greater good – but that will invariably come at a cost. It then becomes open to criticism of being top-heavy, both in terms of staffing and salaries.
So while it’s clear direct comparisons between trusts are difficult at the best of times, trying to compare leadership structures is something of a fool’s errand – at least, until there is some sort of benchmarking system in place which identifies the variables and those common denominators. Until then, while collaboration can give us an insight into how other trusts approach the issue, its crucial that as trustees we ensure that our leadership teams have both the structure and skills that work for our own trust, and can deliver improved educational and operational outcomes for the pupils and the trust as a whole – regardless of what other organisations are doing.
This post was written by Tom Meeks, Partner at Price Bailey, Head of our Academies team and a trustee at a multi-academy trust. If you 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.
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