Earlier this year we launched our A Growing Philosophy: How are Multi-Academy Trusts developing their operating models through centralisation? report. Here we share our full interview with Leora Cruddas, CEO of the Confederation of School Trusts, the national organisation and sector body for school trusts in England where we discuss her views on Trust centralisation.
What is the strategic rationale for Trust centralisation?
“I often talk about inflection points – the point where we cannot keep doing what we have been doing or the model fails – and I’m not sure this concept is well enough understood within the Trust sector overall. Trusts need to be aware of inflection points in their growth journey. For example, centralising operational functions may be one way of preparing for growth.”
In your experience, what is the starting point for Trusts looking at centralisation?
“The question around what is centralised, how and to what end, is one that is pertinent across the sector. As Trusts grow they often look at centralising the finance function first. This is a hard process as the legacy management is with the schools. Money is a sensitive subject, and whilst schools may have self-managed very sensibly for years, in a Trust structure things are different and they need support to understand why changes are necessary. There is a governance implication too – and this is often overlooked – that if the Trust takes a centralised approach to finance it no longer makes sense to delegate financial management to local governing bodies. This is the stage where the school is no longer responsible for its money, the responsibility is the Trust’s, and that is often left out of conversations about centralisation.”
How about non-financial approaches to centralisation?
“Centralisation more widely is less developed. Strategic HR, for example, is rarely used to drive conversations at Board level about talent management and building professional pathways but this is particularly important as the Trust grows. Even less likely is centralisation of educational approaches. It is less common for Trusts to have one approach to the curriculum. However, the philosophy underlying the curriculum and pedagogy, is core. The Trust sector is ‘emergent’, heading towards maturity, but there is a lot of learning to do. We sometimes see Trusts being developed with a local authority maintained school mindset – no core identity, no core philosophy of education.”
Where do you think Trusts are on the centralisation journey?
“For many, centralisation is a really scary word. It implies a corporate top-down control, when what we are talking about is developing an organisational culture that is interconnected and creates professional reciprocity. Discussion on the creation of a single organisational culture within a Trust, if delivered in an inter-connected way, is more likely to engage colleagues. If we have a single organisational culture there cannot be different finance or HR systems.”
GAG pooling is often interpreted as one of the more explicit outcomes of centralisation. What’s your view?
“I’ve no problem with GAG pooling as a concept, especially if there are different funding settlements across boundaries within a Trust, and providing it is motivated by the principle of creating a single organisational culture as well as fairness and equity. This philosophy is appropriate for a Trust with any number of schools. What is key is feeling a strong organisational identity, one that is much more inter-connected.”
What is your closing message?
“It is important to set the educational and organisational philosophy early on in the Trust’s journey and the culture will be stronger for it. When this is done effectively we have seen evidence of clear impact on educational outcomes, underpinned by strong finance and operations.”