Is WCAT the wake up call the sector needs?
After 21 academy conversions, £500,000 worth of additional funding to take on failing schools and accolades about being a “top performing” trust, things at Wakefield City Academies Trust has not gone as would have been hoped or anticipated.
Before we all start discussing structures, policies and funding, let’s not forget that there are countless students, staff and parents wondering right now what this means for their jobs and education. The human impact of this decision is significant.
Yet, in a sector as politicised and opinionated as this, it is impossible not to ask what does this mean for the sector as a whole. There can be denying that this is big news.
Here are my thoughts:
1) Firstly, this is a brave decision. Would you want to be the person who rang the DfE and told them you wanted to hand back over 20 academies? The Trustees and CEO, most appointed in the last 12 months, should not be chastised for making a bold call. This is one of those occasions where, if they really feel they can’t support the schools, we should recognise and acknowledge the bravery it took to face that reality. It looks like the issues, or at least most, were inherited from the previous leadership.
2) There will now be Chairs and Trustees across the country thinking two things:
- Has a precedent been set? This was an unthinkable option at the start of the year. Yes, there have been occasions where some schools have been lost or have have left a Trust – but for a MAT of this size to hold their hands up and go “not for us” – will that leave others to think that they should be doing the same.
- Equally, I have no doubt that there will be other MATs looking at the situation wondering how the WCAT academies could fit into their own growth model. I also have no doubt that the DfE will be desperate to say that they have successfully managed to rebroker to Trusts like Outward Grange, another northern MAT, as soon as they possibly can.
3) Before the DfE starts to think about this, the key question is…how do we know a Trust is ready for growth? Up until this point the formula has been simple.
Better results in a short period of time + funding = growth. That formula is clearly becoming defunct.
The sector, as a whole, needs to look at how we assess who is ready to accept the challenge of more schools. Just as a good headteacher does not automatically make a successful CEO, the structure in a good small MAT does not mean that it is scalable. MAT growth needs to be assessed on something more holistic than just Ofsted outcomes and exam results, it needs something much focused and in depth.
This is why we need structures and measures in place like the Growth Audits I have developed. You need to assess the foundations before you build on a house – why would it not be the same for a MAT looking to grow? Our Growth Audits look at a number of areas, the areas that truly make up the whole. We look at where the Trust has come from, where the Trust is and where the Trust wants, and needs, to be.
I have championed the need for every Trust looking to grow to have a Growth Audit to prove, not just to the DfE/RSC, but to itself, that it is capable of taking other schools and making a positive impact.
To avoid the mistakes of the past, WCAT might just be the wake-up call that the sector needs.