This article was originally published by TES.
Growing your MAT is a tough decision. That’s why these tough questions need to be answered first.
It was a meeting of minds that provided the perfect opportunity for MAT growth.
When Steve and Paula Kenning, CEOs of Aspirations Academies Trust, were introduced to Ian Livingstone CBE they quickly realised they shared a common vision and the same moral purpose with regards to education.
The fortuitous encounter served as a springboard from which the trio launched their plans to create a brand new all-through school. That school, Livingstone Academy Bournemouth, is on course to open this September (2021).
Aspirations Academies Trust is home to 15 schools across the country. The Livingstone Academy Bournemouth will become the 16th when it opens its doors September 2021.
Expansion is a serious decision for all MATs, and making the right call is critical to ensure the success of all existing schools in a Trust. So what advice do the Kennings have for other MAT leaders who are about to undertake the process of initiating expansion?
1. Do we know why we’ve been successful so far?
Steve and Paula Kenning knew they had a formula that worked: Combining academic excellence with self-worth, engagement and purpose. They had both been headteachers of struggling schools that were successfully transformed, and they felt confident that they knew what needed to happen in order to turn around struggling schools.
“As educators, we have always considered the national model of education to be significantly outdated as it does not prepare young people with the skills they need to succeed in this century,” says Kenning.
“We saw creating the Trust as an opportunity to convince policy makers that our approach to education is so much more fit for purpose. By developing work and world-ready learners who are able to hit the ground running in any workplace, focussing on developing know-how alongside knowledge, we are truly preparing young people for the modern workplace and lifestyle.
2. Is our staffing right?
Growth for any organisation is a challenge but nurturing a group of schools to flourish comes down to one core element: The right team.
“Growing our own staff who understand what we are trying to deliver and developing a regional model with talented principals, regional and central team staff has been pivotal to the success of our growth.’’ says Kenning.
3. Is the school going to be a good ‘fit’ for the trust?
When choosing a school to add to the MAT, leaders should always balance the needs of the school to their own capacity as a team. Sometimes, warns Kenning, you have to accept a challenge will be too much for what you can offer.
“Given that we have a strong regional model, that would prevent us from being able to support academies significantly geographically beyond our reach,” explains Kenning.
Leaders need to ask themselves whether the school fits the trust’s model- not just philosophically, but practically. ‘’It’s important not to over-reach – doing so is a recipe for disaster for the Trust’s model, systems and structures,’’ says Kenning.
4. How can we be sure the new school and its leaders will share the ethos of the trust?
When a MAT brings in new voices and new leaders, then there can’t be a split in the vision of what the school is setting out to achieve. Priorities have to be aligned, else you risk weakening the entire structure.
“The prospective school’s philosophy must be a good match and the ambition and intention of the school’s leadership, both its executive leadership and its governance, must be strong,’’ explains Kenning.
5. Are we growing at the right speed?
Although Aspirations Academy was looking to expand its numbers, moving quickly was not a priority, says CEO Paula Kenning.
“Our goal is not to grow as fast as possible but to create a MAT with schools that care about raising standards and aim to provide an authentic education for children that is fit for the 21st century world we live in,” she explains.
”The opening of the first Livingstone Academy has been in the pipeline since 2017. This has given us time to embed concepts from Livingstone’s digital curriculum into our existing schools.”
“All our academies have Creator Spaces and there is a focus on employability skills through our Aspirations Employability Diploma which helps our students in the next stage of their lives.”