Earlier this month, following the huge Virtual HPN Expo, we were thrilled to hold our first virtual networking event for the education sector – Virtual MAT Expo. During the event, we hosted 60+ speakers from multi-academy trusts and the wider education sector, 45 exhibitors and 1000+ delegates representing multi-academy trusts and education organisations across the UK.
Across the two days, chaired by Delta Academy Trust Chief Executive Paul Tarn, the event played host to over 55 hours of sessions, workshops and discussions with industry thought-leaders and those at the forefront of guiding and delivering education. Amongst guest speakers were Chief Executives of 9 of the largest MATs in the UK, international award-winning speakers, experts on driving the diversity agenda within education, and representatives from Ofsted.
Guided by our education and MATs steering committee, the sessions and virtual exhibition stands were organised into four key themes, representing the most relevant challenges and opportunities in the sector: buildings, estates and facilities, finance, operations and back office, edtech and digital innovation and workforce, recruitment and skills. The focus was on how MATs can respond to the current challenges, and the challenges to come, in order to develop the citizens of the future.
Across all of the discussions, sessions and workshops that took place during the event, these were just some of the key takeaways:
- According to leaders of the biggest MATs in the UK, the pandemic exposed existing problems with both the most highly vulnerable children, but also those who were previously “just managing” and slipping under the radar.
- Supporting leadership in individual schools has been vital – helping them to make in-the-moment decisions and interpret government guidelines into actionable steps.
- A continuing focus on pupil, parent and staff wellbeing is high on the agenda – the pandemic has had a massive impact on mental health and steps must be taken to ensure people don’t get left behind.
- Increasing diversity in education leadership is vital. Currently, less than 2% of school business leaders are from a BAME background. There is a lack of understanding in the sector on how to engage with the issue of race in particular, but these conversations must occur in order to ensure that BAME children are properly represented, and in order to equip non-BAME children for the world they’re living in.
- In addition to increasing diversity in leadership, change is needed in the curriculum to better educate our young people around the UK’s black history. Currently, black history is not taught outside of October, which is designated Black History Month. There are fantastic initiatives in place to increase the presence of black history in the curriculum, year-round.
- Many schools rapidly deployed technology solutions to help them support remote learning during the pandemic. There is a need to close the loop between the technology provision and how this is actually supporting learning and driving educational outcomes.
We were privileged to host a number of insightful, thought-provoking and useful discussions and workshops across all of our themes and involving education leaders and suppliers alike. Here are just a few of the highlights of Virtual MAT Expo in 2020.
Diversity in education leadership panel discussion
Event chairman Paul Tarn hosted an important and enlightening panel discussion on day 2 with Stephen Chamberlain, CEO of the Active Learning Trust, Ann Palmer, Chief Executive of Fig International, and Cheryl Campbell, Chair of the Association for BAME Business Leaders in Education.
The panel discussed the vital importance of increasing diversity and BAME representation in the higher levels of MAT leadership, as well as generally in the education profession, enabling and encouraging the training of more BAME teachers and their progression into leadership.
Ann Palmer, who is a former headteacher, set the scene by commenting, “I’ve spent over 30 years in education. What’s disappointed me significantly is that looking at statistics they remain very low.”
Cheryl Campbell validated this by adding that less than 2% of business leaders in education are from a BAME background.
The panel outlined the importance of reflecting a diverse and inclusive society in education leadership, and how representation at the highest level provides vital support for BAME children and vital perspective for non-BAME children.
All three panellists stressed the importance of starting and continuing an appropriate conversation at the highest level of MAT organisations around diversity and race. Cheryl Campbell offered some specific guidance, emphasising “appropriateness” as an important consideration. Is the time appropriate? Is the setting appropriate? Do you have the appropriate participants? She added, “Don’t get upset if someone gets angry in a conversation about race. Step back and consider where this anger is coming from.”
Large MATs improvement and challenges during COVID discussion
Also on day 2, Paul Tarn hosted an incredibly useful and insightful discussion with 5 fellow chief executives of some of the UK’s largest MATs: John Murphy, Dr Karen Roberts, Nick Hudson, Sir Steve Lancashire and Sir Daniel Moynihan. The topic on the agenda was the challenges large MATs had faced during the pandemic, and what we can learn and take forward from these challenges.
The five guest panellists all identified a key challenge during the pandemic of ensuring that the most vulnerable students got the support and engagement they needed.
John Murphy, CEO of Oasis Community Learning, highlighted the dramatic effect that the pandemic had had on the wellbeing of students due to the loss of key adult relationships – resulting in a staggering 43% increase in trauma, abuse and mental health issues.
Sir Daniel Moynihan, Chief Executive of the Harris Federation, added that in their organisation particularly the challenges around the pandemic had highlighted not just the most vulnerable students, but also those who were “just managing” pre-COVID, and how the trust is now looking more closely at how they can support this larger group. At TKAT, Chief Executive Dr Karen Roberts has introduced a pupil premium strategy focused on “a champion for every child”, wherein each child gets an ambition tutor.
The panel also discussed how their organisations’ use of technology was accelerated during the pandemic.
Oasis Community Learning distributed 6000 devices with test and exam year groups prioritised, but John Murphy noted that despite being able to track engagement levels (i.e., when students were logging on), they were now focused on tracking what was going on “at the other end of the pipe”. That is, how the student is interacting with learning and the impact on their outcomes.
Ormiston Academies Trust Chief Executive Nick Hudson and Sir Daniel Moynihan emphasised the importance and the challenge of “plugging the gaps” for young people who don’t have access to these kinds of devices. Academies Enterprise Trust Chief Executive Julian Drinkall added “devices are useless without broadband, and they’re equally useless if you don’t have a quiet place at home to work”. Julian also noted that the UK is significantly behind other countries on the use of technology in education, describing our use as “terrible” and highlighting that “in Finland and Estonia, children were trained and had devices before they were sent home during the pandemic.”
This quote from Sir Steve Lancashire, Chief Executive of REAch 2 Academy Trust, neatly summed up the mood and learnings from the panel: “We now value other things more than we did before the pandemic. Let’s hold on to that.”
Stay tuned for more information about our multi academy trust events for 2021.