What are the risks in growing an academy trust?

Expanding your MAT image

The growth of a Multi-Academy Trust (MAT) is an exciting yet challenging journey. As more schools join the trust, the complexity of operations increases, presenting new risks and challenges. 

Risks, Rewards & Realism

Adding more schools to a trust brings practical and cultural challenges. The volume of routine 'day to day' activities goes up, as do the levels of complexity. Spans of control change and the gap between senior leaders and what happens in schools and individual classrooms increases.

Operating as a larger organisation raises stakeholder expectations and increases the potential for high impact failures. It can also challenge a trust's ability to maintain a consistent culture, ethos and impact on its school improvement model. Without adequate planning, an exciting period of growth may reduce a successful trust's ability to improve and maintain the performance of its existing schools as well as preventing it onboarding and supporting new schools.

However, these risks should not deter MAT leaders from pursuing growth. With careful planning, effective monitoring, and adjustments to where operational responsibility resides, it is possible to successfully navigate these challenges.

Growth represents a chance to do things differently. Rethinking systems and processes in order to accommodate additional schools and demands on the trust can result in changes which revitalise and ramp up the trust's ability to support its schools and achieve its vision.

However well managed a period of growth is, it will inevitably reduce the trust's capacity to do other things whilst the onboarding and growth process takes place. The resources and personnel required will be drawn from other aspects of the trust's operations – temporarily changing what the trust can deliver. That period should be factored into long term plans.

Pitfalls of successful growth

Just as investment advisors warn "past performance is no indicator of future outcomes", your trust is not guaranteed to be able to successfully add more schools without adequate planning to avoid the potential pitfalls.

Some key areas of strain that can come from MAT growth can include:

Spans of control

As the number of schools in a trust increases, the span of control for trust leaders also expands. This can lead to difficulties in effectively managing and overseeing all schools.

Suitability of Systems and Software

Existing systems and software may not be scalable or suitable for a larger number of schools, leading to inefficiencies or breakdowns in communication and management.

Increased Stakeholder Expectations

With more schools, there are more stakeholders; including parents, students, and staff. Their expectations may increase and become more diverse, which can be challenging to meet.

Greater Complexity

More schools means more variables and more complexity. This can make decision-making, problem-solving, and strategic planning more difficult.

Culture and Ethos

Maintaining a consistent culture and ethos across all schools becomes more challenging as the trust grows.      

Leadership Distance

Senior leaders may become increasingly removed from what's happening in individual schools or classrooms, making it harder to make informed decisions.

School Improvement

Operating at a larger size may impact the trust's school improvement model and its ability to improve and maintain the performance of schools

Track Record

Belief that prior growth will result in future success is a common misconception. Inflexion points in a trust's growth journey may necessitate brand-new working practices and systems.

It's not all negative. Growing your academy trust is an exciting prospect, but it is also helpful to have a clear vision of any changes this can bring. With the knowledge of the these potential pitfalls in mind, we hope we can offer some useful starting points when planning your growth roadmap. 

Trying to manage these risks alone can be overwhelming, which is why we have a dedicated team who can help, with a wealth of experience managing growth in MATs. If you're looking for assistance along the way, our strategies for mitigating these risks involve robust planning and a thorough risk management plan, all built bespoke with a clear understanding of our clients' needs. 

Find out more about how we can support your growth plan here. 

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