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Does your Multi-Academy Trust have a right to grow?

30 June 2024

Let us suppose you had stumbled upon The Great Secret, the knowledge that has eluded all involved in education for the whole of history: a precise formula of how to educate every single pupil, fully.

Knowing such a truth, what then would be the burden upon you?

You would surely be obliged to spread the word, to be an evangelist, to do all you can to ensure the model reached as many pupils as it possibly could.

There is, of course, no such precise formula.

But there are more effective models of schooling than the models imposed upon most of the population today.

So, I would suggest, if you are the custodian of such a model, it is your obligation to spread it and to displace less powerful models of schooling such that as many pupils as possible have as good a chance of possible of emerging from the schooling system as an educated person.

This, I believe, is the only possible moral justification for the growth of a multi-academy trust. When a trust is defined by a coherent philosophy, one that permeates every aspect of school life across every school within its aegis, one that is informed by a living history of what is known and what is to be known about the most effective ways of educating an individual, one of sufficient credibility, complexity and symbolic power that it is possible to organise one’s own life and one’s own learning around it,  it can become the custodian of a model of schooling with the right, and moreover the obligation, to be spread and to displace those models preventing millions of pupils from achieving their full potential.

And when I say a coherent philosophy, I don’t mean three Latin words on some headed paper.


The current educational landscape in England includes over 1300 MATs.  There is no doubt in my mind, or indeed at the Department for Education or the Treasury, that there must be a consolidation of the MAT system resulting in far fewer MATs and much more coherence and clarity.  This consolidation is underway, with MATs joining together or bringing into their fold new schools not currently within a MAT.

As this consolidation gathers momentum and the government marketing machine does its best to instil in the minds of MAT Boards and CEOs everywhere growth for growth’s sake is all that matters, every MAT should grow even in the absence of anything meaningful to offer, and punishment for those who do not will be swift and unforgiving in the way of financial ruin, we are seeing more MATs scrabbling to increase their number of schools and forming new, larger organisations with no coherent story to bind them together.

I am nowhere near young enough to know everything and clearly cannot know how the story of MATs will unfold over the next decade, but, if I were a betting man, I would be happy to place £1 on there being no more than 400 MATs in the near future.

This means millions of pupils having their education provided by larger school groups under the management of a smaller slice of the education world.

This could be a very good thing.  This could be a very bad thing.  This could be a waste of time resulting in no change.

How might we improve the chances of the former?

I am sure the answer is obvious: only allow those MATs with the most effective models of schooling to prevail.

But what does this mean and do such MATs exist?

I would suggest an effective model of schooling results in every child becoming an educated person, which is to say a person who is  aware of the origins and growth of knowledge and knowledge systems, who is familiar with the intellectual and creative processes by which the best which has been thought and said has been produced, who understands subjects as moving histories, who embodies a strong moral and ethical orientation towards the world, who knows they must play a part in the future and the burden upon them is to live up to their potential in the discipline or disciplines in which humanity requires their expert input.

To achieve this, the curriculum must be rooted in an enduring and cohesive set of ideas and attitudes, which give purpose and meaning to what it is to be an educated person.  Only by doing so will all pupils desire to become one.

It is the MAT with such a view of education that has the moral right to grow.

Education here is not child-centred, not training-centred, not skill-centred, not even problem-centred. It is idea-centred and coherence-centred. It is also otherworldly, inasmuch as it does not assume that what one learns in school must be directly and urgently related to a problem of today. In other words, it is an education that stresses history, the scientific mode of thinking, the disciplined use of language, a wide-ranging knowledge of the arts and religion, and the continuity of human enterprise.

The overarching management of such an education is not one of reform or innovation or transformation or initiative, but it one of custodianship and sustainability.

Where can we find such custodians when the current system is so populated by those who have been groomed to fetishise the short-term?

I would suggest we do not have sufficient numbers of individuals with the intellectual, moral and philosophical framework to operate 1300 umbrella organisations, but I am hopeful we do have sufficient numbers, drawn from those currently achieving this and those who are developing as such managers, to lead 400.

Such managers understand custodianship as a contract between the living, the unborn and the dead.  They do not repudiate the accomplishments of the dead, who gave us all we know today, and they understand the mortgage we place on those not yet born and the care with which the living must, therefore, protect the purchases made with those mortgages.

Rights are, of course, balanced in a careful calculus with duties.  If a right exists, a duty also exists.  My right to life, for example, is the duty upon you not to murder me.  Whereas those who are in the custody of more effective models of schooling have the right grow, those who run schools and MATs that deploy weaker models of schooling have the duty to seek out and join an organisation that will improve the education of the children in their care.

It is a fallacy to say we do not know what constitutes effective models of schooling.  This untruth is used by many to justify an education system inescapably caught in a cycle of fads, fashions, initiatives and reforms, where nobody benefits except those whose job it is to justify the cycle.

I do not believe it is an acceptable response to a school failing its pupils to insert a charismatic reformer who will shake things up and pile unproven initiative after unproven initiative on its already deflated workforce.  Rather, a mature system responds to the problem of a failing school by integrating its pupils into an already successful way of being.

How might we identify those who are already custodians of a successful model of schooling?

The temptation is to reduce the identification of success to those things that are easily measured, such as examination results or inspection gradings.  But, although these are indeed proxies for some elements of success, they are not good predictors of sustainability or true custodianship.

This reductionism often goes further and results in a technocrats view of the world, in which the purpose of schooling is to create a cohort of children with a list of marketable skills, ready to be exploited in the workplace.  This positions the end of education as economic utility and does not care if pupils are left without conviction or a point of view.

Economic utility should never be the purpose of education.  Humanity faces significant challenges ahead, but these can be met successfully if we unlock the potential in every pupil.

So, if we are to identify those MATs and managers capable of providing high quality education for the long term, we should look for cohorts of pupils characterised by individuals who have become experts in their own individual fields.  All pupils can learn well and all pupils can attain a strong foundational understanding and knowledge in a wide range of subject areas, giving them the generalised competence necessary for developing a specialised competence.  And these specialised competences are different for different pupils.  Some pupils will become expert mathematicians, some expert historians, some expert artists, poets, musicians, playwrights, dancers, scientists, sportspersons, engineers and all the rest.  It is by mastering a domain and the sense of purpose and momentum that comes with doing so that all pupils can appreciate the truth in education: they are all the best at something.  This truth creates an orientation to learning that builds determination and enables all pupils to learn well in all domains.

Schooling is a race to discover the discipline or disciplines that every individual pupil is the master of such that their experience of schooling is one of accomplishment, purpose and meaning, which enables them to endure the struggle of becoming generally competent in those fields they do not have a proclivity towards.

Select a pupil at random and ask them to explain what they are really good at.  If the random pupil waxes lyrical about their particular talent or talents and understands the importance of becoming generally competent in all other disciplines, then you have found a place with a powerful model of education.  I hope they can spread everywhere and we can finally arrive at an education system that results in educated people who understand they matter.



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