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6 hints and tips for developing a vision for your MAT

Why do we need to spend time on organisational vision? It’s easy to consider visioning as a fluffy exercise that is all too often undertaken in the boss’s office over a cup of tea whilst writing the new prospectus. This is to undervalue the power and influence that vision has and MATs certainly cannot take this approach, intended as these organisations are to lead and facilitate educational improvements across a wide range of schools and contexts. A vision that is both compelling and genuinely owned by all within the organisation does the following:

  • provides us with a clear organisational identity and encourages teamwork because people are bound together by it
  • inspires talented and motivated people to join the organisation
  • inspires other organisations to work in constructive partnership with us
  • motivates and retains people within the organisation, particularly those who relate strongly to the organisation’s identity and purpose
  • sets the expectations for standards and outcomes, and helps to create and maintain a sense of ambition (including inspiring children to have high aspirations)
  • drives behaviour at all levels of the organisation
  • helps us to navigate or bring about change with care and reference to values
  • provides a strong reference point for strategic planning and decision making
  • provides a framework for achieving intelligent accountability
  • helps us to clearly identify our successes and failures and our strengths and weaknesses
  • Provides confidence in us amongst our stakeholders – including parents and regulators. They know where they stand and are more likely to support our efforts as a result.

Research tell us that successful education systems internationally are founded on clear and compelling visions that are sustained over time (see Hong Kong, Ontario or the success of the London Challenge). These systems spend time engaging and consulting education professionals and others in shaping the vision so that there is a shared sense of ownership and a deep understanding of what all involved are trying to collectively achieve for children (and the profession). Compelling and powerful visions speak of long term and wide-ranging ambitions for children, are steeped in shared values, are reinforced by clear expectations around ways of working, and ensure an emphasis on intelligent accountability. Cultures defined by strong visions give rise to decisions, initiatives and changes that are generally justified on how they contribute to fulfilling the vision – rather than being based on the whims of individual leaders of politicians. Sounds refreshing?

As with successful education systems, we believe that new and emerging MATs should work to ensure they are founded on a strong, clear and widely shared sense of purpose. Indeed, recent guidance from the Department for Education reinforces this, stating that: “There needs to be a sense of what the MAT stands for, which is not solely driven by a personality. The mission, vision and values must drive everything”. A strong vision will outline an organisation’s sense for purpose, priorities, values, expected behaviours, and detail the outcomes it looks to achieve. Our vision is important because – if it’s done right – it does all the things outlines at the beginning of this article.

Forum Education has supported a number of MATs across the country to develop powerful and compelling visions that are owned by all across the organisation. We ask MATs to look more broadly than the narrow ‘top-down’ frameworks and accountabilities within our education that too readily define our expectations and ambitions. As one CEO recently commented “In education – what gets measured, gets done.” Instead, we encourage MATs to be far more strategic and to seize the opportunity they have to inspire and steer a culture that will best prepare their children and young people for their lives ahead.

This means being ambitious and:

  • tapping into the deep motivations that lie beneath the MAT’s creation;
  • undertaking what we describe as ‘futures-thinking’ and considering how the MAT can best equip children and young people for the society they will grow into. (Read our earlier blog on futures thinking: MAT DEVELOPMENT: MAT visions must serve children, not the system!);
  • having clear reference to the values and behaviours those within the MATs should model; and
  • being grounded in the available research and lessons around effective multi-academy trust development.

It also means being inclusive – involving all stakeholders in these discussions; and it means creating a sense of accountability around the vision – not allowing the vision to simply become a piece of paper or a sign on the wall, but ensuring it is a living, breathing thing that everyone within the organisation refers to and work towards in their day to day work. As the CEO said, “what gets measured, gets done” and the MAT must be ready to identify ways in which it can make itself readily and publicly accountable against fulfilling the vision it sets for itself.

MATs have a unique and exciting opportunity to revolutionise the educational experience of children and young people through their autonomy, scale and reach. They also have an opportunity to raise the status of the teaching profession and inspire the most talented people to work (and develop) with them. This is an opportunity to create organisations where children and staff alike thrive. Setting a powerful, compelling and shared vision for the MAT is the starting point for this!

 

6 hints and tips for developing a compelling vision for your MAT

IDENTIFY YOUR ‘WHY’. Ask – collectively – what is our sense of purpose and what legacy do we wish to achieve? Don’t fall into the trap of a vision that begins with ‘what’ you are or ‘how’ you do it. Ask: why do we get out of bed in the morning?

LOOK TO THE HORIZON. Consider the REAL job your MAT has to do: preparing your children to thrive and seize the opportunities and overcome the challenges of a changing world. Where do we need to take our children and young people? How do we know when we’ve got there?

THEN ASK ‘HOW’?. Remain focused on your ‘why’ and your destination as you then consider the values, behaviours, and culture that will define the MAT. What do we wish to become known for amongst children, staff, parents and our communities?

SET NON-NEGOTIABLES. Consider the ‘non-negotiables’ of successful MAT development. Make sure these are embedded within your vision for the MAT’s future.

INVOLVE. Provide a meaningful way for stakeholders to engage in this process – your children, parents, communities and staff must have ownership in developing the vision and will provide a perspective that leaders simply can’t!

REINFORCE. Put in place opportunities to regularly and consistently reinforce the vision through communications and events. Let the vision define the framework for trustee and SLT meetings (and decisions) as well as areas such as performance management, curriculum development and financial and resource planning.

Forum Education supports multi-academy trusts in their organisational development. You can read more about our work and research here: Strategy Consultancy