With the impending launch of our “economics of unification” research report in partnership with the Education Policy Institute, we’ve been thinking more and more about the potential challenges schools joining academy trusts, and trusts themselves, can face. And obviously, as technology is very much in our wheelhouse, we’re always keen to better understand those challenges which centre around IT.

 

Through chatting with both our customers and prospective future partners, we’ve already gained a good grounding for understanding the obstacles they must overcome to achieve standardisation and cohesiveness. Here are the top 4 challenges we see Multi Academy Trusts (MATs) facing with IT.

 

 

Inconsistency/disparate systems

When a number of schools are thrust together into a trust (whether by choice or through necessity), there’s undoubtedly going to be challenges with joining a number of different IT systems together. Member schools can be at completely different stages with their investment in technology. You could have a technology-led secondary with an established BYOD policy and advanced infrastructure co-existing with a small primary with one IT suite and ancient wireless in this brave new world. Eventually, as one harmonious organisation, they are going to need be hooked up to the same systems and to have a unified ethos around technology in order to work together effectively. There are number of hurdles to get over when it comes to this though, and it’s no mean feat to join up all the schools in a trust when it comes to technology.

 

When it comes to inconsistency, there could also be a more “human” component. Undoubtedly, with different systems and different technologies come technicians with different ways of doing things and solving problems. It could be a challenge to get these teams to work together in a way that makes the whole organisation more efficient.

 

 

Staffing and resource

That leads me nicely to my next point, which is the challenges that new and existing trusts can face with technical staff and resource. In the cases where primaries are joined with secondaries, the primaries often don’t come with their own technicians, and have historically been supported by the Local Authority. Their presence in the trust means that they will need to be supported by the technical staff employed by the secondary schools. This means that the technical teams will be stretched to the limit when it comes to supporting the technology across the trust. And very often it’s difficult as a new trust to invest in recruiting more technical staff.

 

But it’s not just a numbers game. I’m pretty sure that most humans hate change. For many schools joining or forming trusts, there’s still a lot of uncertainty and even unrest. Jobs can be at stake, and people can be shuffled into new roles and TUPE’d across to new organisations. This can lead to problems with communication and a lack of cohesion between staff (and not just technical staff) across the trust. The ideal for any MAT is that teaching and support staff alike will be able to collaborate effectively and ultimately raise standards. This unfortunately isn’t possible for many new MATs and they may have a long wait until it is.

 

Another potential staffing issue is varying levels of expertise and knowledge. As addressed above, it’s highly likely that in a new trust, infrastructure and technology across the different member schools will be a mixed bag. It’s unrealistic to expect a technician who’s spent most of their career supporting a small primary to be able to hit the ground running on supporting technology across a whole trust. This can mean an investment in training and development as well as potentially putting pressure and the more experienced technicians in the trust.

 

With a bigger remit for the technical team and a renewed importance set on raising standards, it’s also beneficial and therefore common for many MATs to bring an IT director to strategically oversee the development of and investment in technology across the trust. This means another – potentially big ticket – salary for the trust.

 

 

Cost

Which again leads me nicely to the final significant challenge MATs face with technology (I’m really flowing today!). The associated costs with trying to technically join up even 2 schools can be significant. Systems and data will need to be seamlessly merged in order for the trust to operate smoothly and achieve the ultimate goal: to provide a great learning experience. For many MATs, this can mean spending money to upgrade the lead school’s infrastructure in order to support the other schools, investing in end user technology to standardise across the trust and as mentioned above, potentially expanding their technical team. These can all mean incurring significant costs.

 

 

Geography

This is a seemingly small but salient point. As MATs get bigger, they can be spread across a wider geographical area. Different locations can have an influence on everything from the speed of broadband the school can access to the attainment and ability of the students in its catchment area. This could ultimately affect the decisions that are made around standardising (or not, as the case may be) technology across the trust.

 

Having schools in a trust spread over a large geographical area could also have a bearing on the infrastructure that joins them all up. This component means that many MATs are turning to the cloud as an easy and relatively inexpensive way to effectively join up the systems across all of their schools.

 

Considering the issues and challenges with technology that the trust will need to overcome is vital to ensuring success. Without effective collaboration and communication between the schools across the organisation, the MAT has very little chance of being successful and achieving its goals for teaching and learning.

 

 

The Education Policy Institute (EPI) will be launching their Economics of Unification report in partnership with us at the BETT show in January. You can receive it :

  • By visiting the Stone stand (E240) in digital format.
  • By registering to attend the launch event held as part of the School Leaders Summit in both hard copy and digital format.
  • By booking to slot to meet with Stone’s MAT team (who’ll be based in the Microsoft Partner Village) in both hard copy and digital format.