As the debate continues on the conversion of schools to academies, growth of MATs, financial efficiencies, school improvement….. our take on it is that there are a raft of additional opportunities - if only they were viewed from a strategic marketing and communications perspective. There is no getting away from the statistics and the ever-greater number of schools that have converted to become academies; half of all pupils in England attend an academy, over 33% of schools are now academies and over 75% of academies are part of a MAT (S, M, L, XL)!
In our view, a successful Trust (whatever its size), and its ability to establish a quality reputation, is directly linked with the success of its schools – and in most cases a Trust’s reputation will only be as good as its weakest school(s).
Research and experts pontificate on the role of a MAT, its potential, financial efficiencies and sustainability to name but a few. We concur in some areas, primarily that it has to be about the quality of education, and have firm views on others.
The following are a given, with some questions for further consideration:
- The potential of being part of, or joining a MAT, is great but what about the impact? From a communications perspective, ensuring stakeholder engagement, increasing brand awareness, building brand loyalty, establishing a credible identity all whilst enhancing positive perceptions are imperatives.
- Economies of scale, particularly ‘back office support’ such as finance, premises and building support, safeguarding training, and health and safety are some of the key benefits. From a marketing perspective, have you considered the importance of your schools’ public profiles? Consider the important marketing tools your schools will need linked to the Trust’s vision and values in terms of branding, collateral, website and social media.
- Developing the workforce, staff recruitment/retention and CPD opportunities are all huge positives along with offering the widest range of cross-Trust opportunities. How are you promoting these benefits internally and externally to support your teacher recruitment and retention strategies? What about the advantages and benefits from the perspective of other key stakeholders – the pupils? Families? Local communities? Governors? Trustees? Partners?
Our research findings indicate that in terms of communications, MATs are concerned about promoting the Trust to key stakeholders, maintaining a positive reputation (at Trust and school level), promoting the vision of the Trust - all whilst increasing pupil numbers. As ever, the main challenges remain around general negativity towards academisation, marketing ‘weaker’ schools and the squeeze on financial resources.
In terms of Trust development, we recommend looking beyond the literal meaning of growth and conscientiously choosing to be clear about the Trust’s direction in relation to what’s happening in the dynamic environment. A good growth strategy will drive continual improvement within your Trust and move it toward its vision. It will establish a unique strategic position for your Trust - this goes beyond the unique selling points of your offer and means your organisation as a whole is clearly differentiated from competitors (Trusts and schools). There is then real alignment between your people, processes, systems and activities. It will quantify your ambitions and helps to prioritise your resource requirements and will enable you to assess opportunities and mitigate risks.
Strategic marketing is an investment for a Trust and its schools, building individual school reputations that will, in turn, impact on the Trust’s reputation. A natural by-product is building pupil, parental, community and wider stakeholder support whilst gaining clarity on what a growth strategy looks like, beyond numbers – pupils/schools. The future is full of possibility; sustainable growth is by far the biggest challenge with different perceptions and misconceptions – good luck!