Monday, July 1, 2019

Strengthening Trusts through peer review

Strengthening trusts through peer review

In a time where our country appears to be looking in on itself, it is ever more important that school leaders remain outward facing.  Seeking challenge and support from those beyond our own organisation is both energising and affirming.  As a headteacher, I was involved in a range of collaborations across schools, supported by local networks, teaching schools and trusts.  As a CEO of a MAT, there seems to be fewer examples of collaboration across trusts.  This blog shares the emerging stories from collaborative work from the newly formed Kent Multi Academy Trust Alliance and outlines six steps to success for ensuring trust peer reviews have a positive impact on your organisation.

1. Devise your self review document

I devised a trust self review system based on the DfE MAT Development Programme . Each key question was unpacked in the document and given a RAG rating to allow a quick assessment of relative strengths and weaknesses to be evaluated in our cross trust peer review conversations. The image below shows an example of one question and how evidence is succinctly recorded for each trust.

We decided to run the trust peer review with three trusts, this provided challenge for each CEO while making the conversation focussed enough to be helpful. The CEOs decided to meet three times across the year to review the three key elements of self review:

  1. School improvement and developing people
  2. Governance and risk assessment 
  3. Finance and school resource management
The first meeting in the autumn term involved trust CEOs.  The second meeting in the spring term involved trust CEOs accompanied by their Chair of trustees.  The third meeting in the summer term involved trust CEOs and their Trust Business Managers. We also gave an open invitation to other trust CEOs and trustees to attend and observe our reviews to build capacity for future review groups to meet across the Kent MAT Alliance.

2. Make time to encourage a genuine dialogue

Our first trust review meeting was held in the autumn term. It became evident very early on that we had not built enough time to meet and discuss each question in depth for our trusts.  We therefore adapted our practice to provide an initial self-review prior to the meeting to allow colleagues to consider key challenge questions.  This helped keep our discussions focussed and purposeful.  We met for half a day and from each review meeting, we devised shared action that had arisen from any common areas in the self review. 

The discussions helped us as CEOs see our trust through the eyes of another trust executive, allowing us to hold our assumptions lightly as our evaluation was challenged for clarity by our colleagues.

3. Involve trustees

Our second session looked at governance and risk management.  We invited our chairs of trustees to this review session.  This proved powerful as trustees meet and challenged one another.  A common dialogue was formed across trusts to discuss the strengths and relative weaknesses and key documents were offered and shared across trusts to help develop each trust. Outcomes from this review also led to trustees visiting one another's trust board meetings to see how differing trusts structured these meetings. Unpacking the often shrouded approaches to governance across our trusts. This helped trustees think more carefully about their own structures including their trust schemes of delegation to strengthen systems of governance decision making within their trust.

4. Involve Trust Business Managers

Our third trust peer review meeting in the summer term looked at finance and school resource management.  We invited our trust business managers to this discussion after working with them in our trusts to produce an initial review statement using the trust self review tool. I found the discussion of the self review with my trust business manager helpful in deepening my own understanding of the business functions of the trust and this in turn helped me ask increasingly challenging questions of my colleagues during our review meeting. As with the previous reviews, action was shared at this meeting that then fed directly into the work both within each trust and across the ten trusts in the Kent MAT Alliance. In addition, my trust business manager took relevant action to the Kent MAT Alliance trust business managers group for further discussion. 

5. Commit to action

While the trust self review discussions were really helpful, the decision to write a shared action plan ensured the CEOs committed to action.  This agreed action challenged the CEOs to ensure action was followed through. 

In our first cycle of this review, we learnt that our action planning needs refining, as we formed some unrealistic targets that were difficult to follow attain in the timescale given. We will ensure in the future that the targets for action are both manageable and purposeful.

6. Share what works

Our next step is to share our work and to support the work of the second group of three trusts engaging in trust peer review.  We cannot work in silos in education and with our vision of being 'better together' we are happy to share what works and what hasn't worked with our trust peer review.  Knowing the educational landscape is a bumpy place that shifts beneath our feet, we need to remain nimble and take confident steps in order to navigate the winding path ahead. With the introduction of Ofsted Summary Evaluations of trusts with us and the accountability measures for trusts continuing to gain momentum; it is in our interests to ensure we remain outward facing and seek challenge for our work from beyond our trust. This model of trust self review has proved helpful in clarifying our journey as a trust while developing meaningful opportunities to share our own successful practice and being guided by that of colleagues.

If you are interested in finding out more about our work as a collaboration of trusts or trust self review then contact me here.