Kyra Development Day: Synopsis

On Wednesday 30th November, Kyra heads, governors, business managers and other senior leaders came together for the Kyra Development Day: Embracing Change at the National College in Nottingham.

The event was driven by a number of factors, not least the reduced role of local authorities in school improvement, the tighter financial climate, and the fact that multi-academy trusts are becoming such a force in the education landscape. With that in mind, colleagues felt that no school could afford not to contemplate its options and to make an informed decision about its direction over the next three to five years. The development day – as with previous Kyra development days – brought leaders together with national experts to plan for the future. On this occasion we were delighted to welcome Simon Bramwell, CEO of Vantage Academes Trust; Emma Knights, CEO of the National Governors Association; and Sir David Carter, National Schools Commissioner.

Simon Bramwell provided colleagues with an insightful perspective on the development of a multi-academy trust. He described his own journey from leading a standalone school to becoming CEO of a multi-academy trust of four schools (with two more due to open as free schools next year) and made some key conclusions:

  • It had been a huge learning curve for him as a headteacher;
  • It had not brought about any major changes on a ‘day to day’ level for his staff (with the exception of his School Business Manager);The growth of the MAT had brought more development and growth opportunities for his staff – either through secondments, through the various support and training delivered across schools, and through opportunities for promotion. This had also helped him to retain great staff;
  • Joint procurement and purchasing had resulted in more resources for children and ensured access to specialist provision;
  • There has been a general awareness (amongst staff and pupils) of ‘being part of something bigger’.

Simon was clear that, from his point of view, the pace of change within education (and in society in general) is extreme. He told colleagues that they had a choice to make – to either plan for change and be proactive or to wait for change and react later to whatever is to come. He also spoke around the importance of governors and school leaders weighing up the balance between freedoms and constraints associated with joining a MAT, entering into partnership with schools and leaders who are genuinely committed to ensuring one anothers success, and setting some clear non-negotiables for conversion to academy status – being clear about what must be preserved through change and what outcomes should be guaranteed.

Simon ended by reminding colleagues that they should approach change:

  • with a deep sense of clarity around their values
  • with clarity about what they and their governing bodies see as being the non-negotiables or ‘red
  • lines’ throughout any change – i.e. what MUST be guaranteed or secured through change
  • being mindful that deciding not to act is a decision in itself,
  • with the right of every child to a good quality education at the forefront of their minds, and
  • with awareness of the changing educational and wider world around them. Change is happening now and it is our responsibility to respond to that in the best interests of children and young people.

Emma Knights reminded colleagues of the paramount importance of governance – particularly as schools become more autonomous organisations with increased freedoms to make a difference to so many children and increased legal and corporate responsibilities and accountabilities.

Emma spent some time talking to delegates about the responsibility of governors in determining vision and strategic direction. All governing bodies (and senior leaders) looking to join a MAT, create a MAT or simply considering its options for the future must consider the school’s values and vision and where it wishes to be in the next three to five years. “It is only when you think about this that you can consider what other schools you may wish to be partnering with. Culture and ethos is so important, as are the relationships between the senior leaders and the governors.”

Emma encouraged governors and leaders to have deep conversations around their hopes and ambitions for their schools and children as a starting point, looking to what was important to them and to their communities in terms of the educational experience of children.

For those that wish to create a ‘stepping stone’ to academy status, Emma suggested that “Leaders may wish to consider federating first, bringing all the schools into one governing body and then separately consider whether you wish to convert to academy status.”

Emma also advised colleagues to prepare for a ‘change of mindset’ when moving into formal groups of schools and specifically when establishing and joining a MAT. These included the need to look beyond the individual school and be willing to demonstrate the same responsibility to all schools across the group.

Sir David Carter gave a very clear message to colleagues around the motivations for becoming a MAT: “If your main justification for becoming a MAT is economies of scale or finance for instance and not because it will improve outcomes for children and young people then don’t do it.”

He explored the current context for the education system. The days of local authorities with ‘armies’ of school improvement experts able to support schools are over. Local Authorities’ role is now to monitor the quality of schools that are not yet good enough and to facilitate the brokerage of support to those schools. He added that school leaders will never get a better time to lead the system, with the role of academy trusts and teaching schools being so extensive and so responsible for school improvement.

Sir David warned delegates that a structure is not enough to achieve successful schools. The structure has got to be conducive to enhancing standards and provide the basis for achieving better teaching, leadership and organizational. Not all MATs are strong, but, in his view, MATs are the best model for achieving and sustaining educational improvement.

He highlighted the analysis recently undertaken (October 2016) by Ofsted into the eight characteristics of effective multi-academy trusts (See Research Digest later on in this journal) and described the new MAT ‘health checks’ which are due to be introduced next year with the primary objective of supporting and informing the development of multi-academy trusts (whilst also providing a degree of challenge and accountability).

The day also involved significant opportunity for discussion and debate, with colleagues from Kyra coming to a number of conclusions about how they should prepare for the future:

  • Schools should begin to plan now, deciding what they wish to achieve over the next three to five
  • years (in the context of current change and challenges) and exploring which models may serve
  • them best. Schools should set clear timescales for making any changes they feel necessary;
  • Schools should work together (with some brokerage by Kyra) to discuss potential synergy in
  • their visions and plans for the future, with a view to exploring formal groupings which may lead
  • to academy status;
  • Kyra should provide a toolkit, including guidance on the steps to becoming/joining a multi-
  • academy trust, case studies of successful MAT models, examples of alternative models, and a
  • digest of relevant research and guidance;
  • Kyra should support schools – including small schools and Church schools – by engaging with key agencies (DfE, RSC, Diocese etc.) on the challenges they face in relation to formal partner ship working and transition to academy status;
  • Kyra should explore how it can support schools to ‘behave like MATs’ as they plans for transition – not least through opportunities for joint procurement, recruitment and formally sharing resources.
  • Kyra should explore creating a mentoring scheme so that heads, business managers and
  • governors can easily access the experience and knowledge of those that have been through
  • the change process – including conversion to academy status or joining a multi-academy trust.


 Read the full Report Here Embracing Change Kyra Development Day 2016 Report

Our keynote speakers share their advice and reflections