Multi-Academy Trusts, or MAT's for short, can be hugely beneficial for schools. By pooling together resources and negotiating power they can get better deals on a range of services.
Yet there is one challenge MAT's face which, if not addressed appropriately can severely affect teaching and learning within their schools:
It makes sense to have a central IT team looking after all the academies within a trust, but each institution will invariably have differences in the technologies they use. When it comes to computers, some will use Macs, some Windows, some Chromebooks, some a mixture of the three. There will be different makes and models of printing solutions, payment tools, tablets, and interactive whiteboards. And there’s always something new on the horizon that needs to be assessed and considered for integration into the network.
These challenges make it difficult for any IT Team to deliver the best support across the trust. It’s not possible for staff to be experts in everything and outsourcing to specialists for several key solutions for each affected institution can become very expensive.
Another challenge for the MAT, is maintaining performance when specific expertise leaves? Finding an affordable replacement with the right level of experience is often time-consuming and costly. Also, being the only specialist in a team can be a lonely job. The lack of colleagues to brainstorm and discuss new developments with is a common reason for staff looking to move on to a new role.
Part of the answer is to standardise as much as possible across all the academies within a Trust. Depending on your starting point, this may take some time, and there will be significant work involved in transitioning any academies that join you in the future. But the investment is well worth it in the long run. A team of ten staff members who can easily switch between supporting different academies rather than having to split into teams of 2 or 3 delivers resilience and the elusive economies of scale.
Another layer of standardisation, which also provides resilience against staff changes, comes from using a common management toolkit across all sites, preferably using a single pane of glass for significant elements. This allows expertise to be shared and can help enforce common methods of implementation and management. Whilst bespoke configurations or scripting for sites may present short-term cost savings, in the long term they create expensive dependencies on the skills of specific people and introduce support liabilities as they need to be updated when technologies change.
That being said, standardisation won’t solve everything. You’ll still need specialist knowledge in certain areas - the configuration and management of some aspects of a Trust’s technology may require highly specialised expertise but not necessarily a full-time one. What do you do when even your best support engineer is stumped by a particularly tricky issue?
This may be where you want to consider layers of external escalation expertise. Having trusted partners to call when your team has exhausted all their troubleshooting skills can dramatically reduce resolution times and have a significant impact on frontline teaching and learning. Identifying the key areas and right partners for this kind of assistance will deliver more cost-effective support when the need arises.
Delivering technology across a Multi-Academy Trust can be a daunting task, but it doesn’t need to be. Standardise as much as you can, adopt trust-wide management tools and avoid bespoke/in-house solutions as far as possible. Then partner with experts to get that layer of escalation support for those tricky and more intractable issues, and you’ll be able to deliver an optimum, cost-effective solution for your schools.