Whether it’s a financial notice to improve, a poor Ofsted report or a failure of governance, news stories about MAT scandals have become all too common.
The questions often asked are why it took intervention from Ofsted, the DfE or the ESFA before people realised how bad the situation was, and why nothing had been done up until that point. Well, a MAT can’t lose all of its money or shift from Good to Special Measures overnight – these things happen over time.
How can you know if you’re working in a mismanaged MAT? What symptoms should you be looking out for that might lead to a detrimental diagnosis in future? In my experience, there are three key areas you should assess to determine whether your MAT is being mismanaged:
Consider the constitution of your board and governing bodies. Determine whether they’re the right people to undertake these roles in terms of their values, skillset, personal interests and capacity. Review your existing governance and self-evaluation systems, while considering how objective these processes are, how often they’re undertaken and how effective your MAT is at following up on areas for development. Also evaluate the effectiveness of your scheme of delegation.
Assess the quality of your meetings in terms of how they’re scheduled, how agendas are drawn up and how discussions are recorded. Any evidence of accountability, scrutiny, challenge and support should always be clear and documented. Consider also your governance systems’ level of transparency. You should be able to clearly articulate your decisio-nmaking process and justify the actions of governors to both local stakeholders and external bodies.
Consider the capacity of your leaders to deliver sustainable improvement within your MAT. Assess how well your leaders tackle poor performance and conduct, and whether they execute their own leadership role fairly, equitably and consistently. Determine how well your leaders apply your MAT’s policies and consider your own role in ensuring MAT systems and processes are followed with respect to education, employment law, finance and compliance. Review the performance management processes for your leaders and ensure that they focus on MAT-determined core competencies beyond education-specific targets. Consider how well the leaders within your MAT respond to challenge and opportunities for collaboration. Issues in those areas can indicate underlying cultural problems that may erode the effectiveness of the MAT over time.
Consider your finance staff’s level of experience and the qualifications they hold within the context of the role you’re expecting them to perform. Assess their ability to provide correct and timely information, and to present this in an audience-appropriate way.
Determine your finance team’s effectiveness in responding to challenge and scrutiny in meetings and from external bodies. Questions that can’t be answered and data that can’t be supported are both red flags that shouldn’t be ignored.
Review your MAT’s financial systems to ensure that appropriate checks are in place and able to act as an ‘early warning’ system. Financial issues within your MAT shouldn’t come to light for the first time during an external audit report.
Finally, consider how the finance function integrates with other areas across the MAT, including school development planning, curriculum planning, staffing strategy and capital expenditure. A financial team that works within a silo cannot be effective.
Laura Williams is a former MAT chief operations officer and school business manager, and the founder of LJ Business Consultancy