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7 Top Tips for Effectively Implementing Change Across Schools in a Trust

School improvement is a complex beast, as schools themselves are complex structures, all with their own unique population and challenges. The rise of the multi academy trust aimed to help improve standards across the board by grouping schools under a central board of directors and a single governing body. This would not only allow for more autonomy but also create a collaborative environment, where resources, best practices and expertise could all be shared. 

As time has gone on however, the nature of MATs has changed.  According to data from Natasha Plaister of the FFT Education Datalab, between 2019 and 2023 the average number of schools in a MAT rose from 5.79 to 7.54  and as of February 23rd, 2024, there are nearly 300 trusts with over 10 schools, compared with just over 150 in 2019. While former education secretary Nadhim Zahawi’s call for all schools to academise by 2030 may be dead in the water, academisation continues to surge on.   

As MAT size grows so, too does the responsibility of its central functions team. Many schools join MATs due to receiving “inadequate” Ofsted ratings or two consecutive ratings below “good”. These challenging schools present a mountain to climb, and overall increased MAT size means there is a lot more noise for teams to sift through to focus on improving these settings.  

So in the spirit of the collaborative environment MATs foster, to help out we have put together our top 7 tips for implementing change across the schools in your trust. 

1. Don’t overextend yourself and try to change too much at once. 

As we’ve already mentioned, schools are complicated and have a lot of moving parts, all of which impact each other. Before diving in headfirst make sure that you do thorough research on the schools you will be focusing on and ensure that you are realistic about the time and resources that you have available to make meaningful change. From there decide which aspects of a school you feel need the most attention and are within your power to change. Trying to tackle every issue at once will likely lead to your attention and efforts being spread too thin and the impact being minimised.  

2. Establish clear objectives within your improvement plan with a defined measurement of success. 

Going in with a generic goal of “improving a school” is not enough. Once you know what areas you will be targeting, you need to agree on what will be considered a meaningful change in those areas. For example, If attainment is an issue, are you trying to raise the level of students achieving A-C at GCSE by a certain percentage? Some changes like teacher wellbeing may be more qualitative in nature, making it harder to pin down what a significant change looks like, so make sure you spend time deciding on a target to aim for and that everyone is on the same page regarding when you want to hit this target by.  

3. Collaborate with school staff and include them in the decision-making process.

The staff working in the school are your eyes and ears on the ground, no one has a better understanding of the day to day state of the school than them. Not only are they wrestling with its challenges every day but they are also your connection to the pupils and parents that your trust is serving. Listening to their voices will allow you to get a better understanding of the causes and consequences of the issues the school is facing, allowing you to better tailor your school improvement plan. 

4. Ensure your strategy is fit for purpose. 

Having multiple schools in your trust means that whenever you want to implement a change in one school chances are you’ve got others that will either have gone through or are currently implementing the same change. Working alongside them can be a big help. However, make sure you take context of these schools into account, just because a strategy worked in one doesn’t necessarily mean it will work in another.  

5. Use this opportunity to facilitate staff CPD.  

If schools in your trust are going to be undergoing significant change staff need to be equipped to deliver it on the ground. Take this opportunity to offer workshops courses and seminars to upskill your staff and help them adapt to the change. Not only will this allow smooth implementation of school improvement but will empower the staff to continue to improve the school in the future.  

6. Gather feedback throughout the process and don’t be afraid to adapt.  

Implementing effective change isn’t going to happen overnight. So make sure you have systems in place to gather data on how effectively any change is being implemented and the reception from those it’s affecting. This will help you know if you’re on track to achieve the goals outlined in your plan or if you need make some changes. Remember adapting is not a sign of failure, new challenges crop up all the time that you can’t plan for, being willing to adapt instead of brazenly sticking to your original plan shows you are committed to ensuring the change happens and sticks. 

7. Be sure to reflect on the process once it has been completed.

Time’s arrow marches forward, meaning that this won’t be the last time you have to implement change in schools in your trust. Once the implementation process has wrapped take time to reflect on the process, note what went well and what you would change if you did it again. Also make sure to reflect on and appreciate the role everyone who was involved played,  this will help you decide who to work with in the future.   

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