I’m sick and tired of hearing things
From uptight, short sighted
All I want is the truth
Just gimme some truth
It must be a tough gig being a Regional Schools Commissioner (RSC). I mean, no one in education must ever want to talk to you. If I got a call coming through saying the RSC was on the line, I’d immediately order the shredding of my RaiseOnline and fax Justine Greening my application to convert to a grammar school, just so I could avoid talking to them. Their sole purpose, according to the DfE website is ‘to sack work with school leaders to make more academies take action in underperforming schools’. That basically means: if they need to talk to you, you’re yesterday’s news.
Still, that doesn’t seem to bother them much. In fact, you can’t help admire their single-minded visionary approach to education. It turns out anything can be solved by becoming a Multi Academy Trust (MAT). I genuinely did not know that. I knew that it was a Tory policy to transform any type of school into a MAT by 2020 but I didn’t know that it was actually the best thing that could happen in education. Until, that is, I heard the South West RSC talk to a group of Heads last week.
Rebecca Clark began her talk by saying that she believes MATS are the best vehicles for effective partnerships. I looked around the room, at all the Heads I have worked with over the years, and I realised she was right. For years we have been pretending to work together: turning up at cluster meetings, conducting peer reviews, taking part in moderation activities…and for what? Selfishly working with other schools to help our own. If only we were a MAT. Then we could really work together, rather than pretending to, and we could probably afford better coffee.
The nail had been hit. But, there was more.
For too long, Rebecca said, in this MAT-less landscape we call our home, any successes have been accidental. I scanned the room and I saw the shamed faces of my colleagues, all of whom had previously claimed that they had systematically improved their schools through careful and diligent planning. All they could do now was stare at the floor as they heard the truth: their improvements had in fact been accidents. But MATs are not accidents. MATs are planned. MATs are good.
And don’t start with some lily-livered lament about moral purpose. Everyone knows, declared Rebecca, moral purpose isn’t enough. Only a moral imperative works. And of course, that’s right. Heads only cared about disadvantaged children once they were given a budget for them and held accountable for their progress by Ofsted. I thought back to all those conversations I’ve had with Heads who talked about the only reason they’re helping the poorer children was so they had something to brag about on their website. ‘Don’t know if 1:1 tuition helps the little sods but Ofsted bloody love it!’ I once heard a local authority Head say at conference whilst a chain of MAT Heads walked out in disgust.
Rebecca, and I’m sure this is true of all RSCs, can’t stand it when she hears Executive Heads bang on about their school development plan being financially viable. Excuse me? But what about it being educationally viable? How about you put your ego aside and focus on the child before the cash cow Mr Executive? The only small issue here – and I hate to bring it up – is that I think only MAT Heads call themselves Executives. Maybe the RSC should change that bit because I’m sure it’s the local authority school Heads, like me, who brag about our massive budgets.
For the second half of her talk Rebecca discussed how school improvement works and how schools should think about the academic and emotional education they provide their communities in order to have a positive social impact. Every school leader should be committed to ensuring that no child in their community, or their neighbouring area, should attend a poor school. Schools should work together on common areas of need. Schools should add value to their communities and be able to sustain any improvements they make so that they are a viable option for years to come.
But, of course, I didn’t really understand that bit because this is only what MATs do.
I guess it won’t be long until I do understand it though. Because, luckily, MATs are coming. It’s time to declutter and repair all that nuanced and individual leadership that has accidentally, and yet steadily, improved the state of education over the last decade. Now is the time of false dogmas that help those in power peddle the concept of structured school partnerships. We all, apparently, need to be intentionally (not intelligently) re-designed so that we can all stand on the same MAT, hold hands, cross our fingers and hope it works out for the best.
Until then though, I think I’ll carry on screening my calls.