IRIS: How does diversity help leadership teams at Multi Academy Trusts (MATs)?  image

IRIS: How does diversity help leadership teams at Multi Academy Trusts (MATs)?

Lord Jim Knight, Former UK Minister for Schools, Digital & Employment, talked to Simon Freeman, MD of Education at IRIS Software Group, about the matter.

Blog
onThursday, 27 June 2024

Our podcast, UncomplicatED, is all about helping education leaders understand how they can meet significant challenges – including when it comes to assembling a top team for your Multi Academy Trust (MAT). 

During the episode, What does it take to effectively lead a Multi-Academy Trust? Lord Jim Knight, Former UK Minister for Schools, Digital & Employment, talked to Simon Freeman, MD of Education at IRIS Software Group, about the matter. 

Jim chairs the board of the 28-school E-ACT Multi Academy Trust; he understands first-hand how diversity can add all-important insights into a MAT’s top team. 

Here’s a brief excerpt from Simon and Jim’s discussion

Simon Freeman: What qualities do you think are needed across a MAT leadership team, and how can the right dynamic be achieved? 

Jim Knight: Diversity is really important to avoid a groupthink culture emerging.  

Some diversity, with people who aren't necessarily all from education and who haven't necessarily come up through the ranks as teachers, is important. 

I think more important than that is some reflection of the communities that you serve.  

At the Multi Academy Trust that I chair, we have a large proportion of free school meal kids, and we have a large proportion of ethnic minority kids. If we didn't have anyone on our staff who has an innate understanding of those sorts of communities and the struggles that those children have to come in every day, then I think we would really struggle to serve those communities – and to support the staff who are working with those parents and working with those children. 

So, it's a diversity of backgrounds, careers, ethnicities, and genders that I'm looking for in order to make an effective team.  

The CEO has more of a responsibility in recruiting their own team, but in terms of my challenge at a board and a governance level, the kind of question that I'll be asking is: how do we reflect the people that we're serving? 

Simon Freeman: That's really interesting.  

I guess if you look at the Academy policy, that in itself brought interest and experience from outside the sector – but it’s really important to be community-focused and that people understand the specific challenges related to the pupils and the areas that those schools are serving.

Jim Knight: Yes. And I think there was a trend a while ago to almost run some of these academies like a franchise with a cookie-cutter approach, saying, “This is what one of our schools looks like. This is what the behaviour looks like. This is what the curriculum's going to look like. This is how we're going to train our teachers, and you'll recognise them in whatever community they're in.” 

I think that we're moving from that. 

There is a much stronger sense that we are embedded in our communities. We've got to adapt our model according to the setting that we're in and not try and pick pupils, but have pupils come and pick us because we best reflect who they are and where they come from.  

Simon Freeman: Do you think it's suitable, and do you think it's the right thing to bring in HR and finance leaders from outside the sector?

Jim Knight: Yes and no.  

I’m of the view that HR is somewhat more sector-specific than people might give it credit for. There are peculiarities around the recruitment cycle for teachers – the notice periods, the way that the teachers’ pay review body works, funding – there's a whole bunch of things that are quite peculiar to teaching in schools that go beyond the normal HR experience.  

That isn't to say that there aren't some great HR directors who have managed to pick that up, but it requires longer induction and more sensitivity around the peculiarities of the sector. 

With finance, again, you've got a highly regulated environment. You’ve got to ensure that you satisfy the Education and Skills Funding Agency requirements, the Academy Trust Handbook, education law, and all of the audit requirements. So, there's quite a bit there in terms of the regulatory environment, but a good CFO with accountants who've got that understanding can get up to speed with that and can bring in that more strategic commercial nous that they might have built up elsewhere.  

You can do that by growing school business managers into that role. But what's your balance between your CEO, CFO, and COO having experience in the commercial world? 

The COO role, in terms of the operating environment, operating estates, the technology, and all the operational decisions, I think, is one that is really well suited to someone from the commercial world. 

What qualities does a MAT CEO need? Click here to read the blog. 

Or, to hear that conversation, plus more insights from Simon and Jim – including how hiring from outside the sector can influence your systems and technology – click here for the full podcast episode. 

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