While there is uncertainty in the air about the future of Multi Academy Trust inspections, since 2014 Ofsted has been carrying out focused MAT reviews, giving each Trust a detailed inspection outcome letter. We read through all 21 of them to identify what are the common areas Ofsted believes most MATs should improve in.

While each MAT is unique, we found 4 common themes that occurred consistently in the inspector comments: improving governance, collaboration, data-use, and equity.

In the next section I will give examples of each of these and would welcome your comments on which are most relevant for you!

Improve governance

MATs vary greatly in size, shape, and age — and so do their governance structures. Some tasks will be dealt with centrally within the executive team, some will be delegated, and some might get lost in limbo, especially as a trust changes.

Setting clear schemes of delegation — and taking into account MAT growth—is a good first step that's emphasised in the outcome letters frequently.

Revisit the scheme of delegation to ensure that it takes account of changes to the trust’s size and makes clear the demarcation of roles and responsibilities of the trust board and local governing bodies.

Once the schemes of delegation are set up, your job is not done. Making sure that everyone in your trust is up-to-date on both your MAT's vision and the country-wide regulations is vital, so:

Make sure that local governing bodies carry out their responsibilities in developing up-to-date policies that meet statutory requirements and ensure that policies are monitored and reviewed for impact within the required timescales.

For additional advice on how to achieve this have a look at the DfE's Governance Handbook for academies, MATs and maintained schools.

Improve collaboration

A MAT is more than a cluster of individual schools. The network effects to be gained are one of the key elements that make these structures so promising, but making collaboration work is not easy.

Ensure the good practice that exists in teaching, learning and assessment is more widely shared across the early years, primary and secondary phases of education in the Trust’s schools.

Recognising the patterns of best practice is important, so “pockets of underperformance” can get the full extent of support they require. But, as with governance, having a few success stories is not enough.

Establish a systematic approach to identifying and sharing best practice across the trust.

We are currently writing a guidebook on facilitating school collaboration — on finding a systematic way to set up the shared moral purpose, as well as the infrastructure required for collaboration. If you are interested in contributing your experience or want to stay in touch on our progress, do let us know at schoolimprovement@edurio.com.

Improve data use

Although data use is not a cure-all — and if misused, they can drain a lot of time for little value (here are the DfE tips to reduce data-related workload issues)—it has a huge potential to bring about a more efficient, more systematic process for school improvement and a culture that values evidence.

Make the monitoring and analysis of schools’ performance more rigorous by ensuring that they focus precisely on the impact of teaching, learning and assessment on pupils’ progress.

However, impact for your MAT may have a broader meaning than academic excellence alone. Finding a way to capture your pupils' progress in areas that cannot be measured by GCSE results might be difficult, but it's definitely recommended by MAT reviews:

Increase the range of key performance indicators further so that they provide an accurate check as to whether all pupils are achieving well.

In case you're struggling to take the first steps for a data-driven MAT, try the first exercises in our book on using evidence for school improvement.

Focus on equity

The power of data is most powerful when it comes to fighting for every child's ability to achieve the most — with a razor-sharp focus on the disadvantaged student groups.

Improve the company’s oversight of the use and impact of pupil premium on the achievement of disadvantaged pupils.

Over-reliance on simple metrics reminds me one of the old joke about a doctor reporting the average body temperature in a hospital as evidence of everything being OK. To do better than that you should differentiate between SEND and non-SEND students, pupil premium students, boys and girls, and other potentially useful comparison angles. And, as with data, relentless tracking of impact is vital, so you don't waste your time and resources pursuing a fruitless idea without effect.

Ensure that actions identified to raise achievement of underachieving groups such as boys, disadvantaged pupils and pupils with special educational needs drive the required improvements and narrow further the gaps where they exist.

So why do these matter?

Let’s get the obvious out of the way: every MAT is unique. Even within a trust you'll have a wide range of schools, a wide range of leaders, a wide range of teachers all trying their best.

This in mind, patterns do exist. Therefore, we hope that the most frequent recommendations to other MATs might come in handy as you reflect on your own organisation. Think through, to what extent these key improvement priorities are relevant for you — good governance processes, a collaborative network of expert practitioners, an evidence-driven culture, and a clear focus on alleviating inequalities.

This project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020SME programme for open and disruptive innovation under grant agreement №733984.