We have a wonky MAT. There are no two ways about it. Given a clean slate now or a free pick of all the schools in the UK five years ago, we may well not have seen the schools that now comprise the LIFE Education Trust as a natural fit. Sorry colleagues, but it’s true.
Seven is meant to be a perfect number but our seven schools do not have the geographical proximity, consistency of phase or similarity of intake that one might immediately prefer for a Trust. One large all girls secondary, one 2FE Primary, four rural church schools and an independent school for secondary pupils struggling with their mental health does not seem to demonstrate the cohesion that one might desire. So why flag this up? Why seemingly invite the regulators to come and see a failure at work?
EM Forster urged us to “Only connect” in Howards End and making meaningful connections for our pupils, staff and stakeholders has become our raison d’etre. It started with a clear awareness of why we exist. Our charitable objects make it clear that we exist for the advancement of education for the public benefit in the United Kingdom. We call this our mission of building great learning communities.
And every learning community, every school, every group that seeks to advance education needs to work that out in practice.
Take the Curriculum. And our four rural half form entry voluntary controlled Primary schools in close proximity. Surely uniting them in a common curriculum is obvious? But a rich deep curriculum which flows across different phases and different local authorities whilst ensuring every pupil benefits in their own particular context? Welcome to the world of the wonky MAT.
So we started with high level curriculum goals.
What do we believe are the things that pupils most need to learn? What do we feel is universal? We call these our curriculum principles and we have enshrined them in our Curriculum Framework. Our stakeholders came up with these and our schools now make them work in their own context. Now we are looking at Teaching and Learning then Assessment and then Behaviour.
What this kind of debate does is bring teachers from different phases and social contexts together to discuss the purpose of education, their philosophy of behaviour management, and what the evidence says.
Our experience has been that having a wonky MAT makes you even better at thinking big and small at the same time and justifying your thinking and actions. Why do people think that reading is foundational for schools? What is the evidence really saying? How do we develop reading in the early years, at secondary and for pupils who find mainstream school really hard to access?
This kind of deep discussion is bringing our schools, staff and pupils closer together and providing a richness and depth to our work. Of course we could do this in our local authority context but as a Trust, a single entity, we are legally bound together to find solutions. And as Einstein once reportedly said, “it’s not that I’m more intelligent than others, it’s that I stick with problems longer.” MATs have to find answers and stick with wicked problems.
So let’s not fear our wonkiness as a Multi Academy Trust but embrace it as a chance to stick with hard issues and let’s seek out and share solutions for the benefit of all pupils.