The Church of England’s vision for education - Deeply Christian, Serving the Common Good – is generous and hospitable. It defines educational excellence in terms of its rootedness in the Christian Gospel and its power to promote human flourishing in mind, body and spirit. The vision is worked out theologically and educationally as the pursuit of wisdom, hope, dignity and the centrality of relationships in community. Few would deny that these are laudable aspirations for any church school - but do we rise to the challenge of embodying them fully in academy governance structures that promote educational excellence everywhere and for everyone?

In order to create a ‘healthier plural education system’, the Church of England vision urges schools to embrace diversity and to build collaborative alliances and new relationships for the common good. The vision is not at odds, in this respect at least, with government thinking on the benefits of MATs. Yet, since the Academies Act (2010), there has been a strong pull in the opposite direction: the rhetoric of ‘earnt autonomy’, where local governing bodies within a trust continue to operate semi-independently, has continued to dominate conversations about academy conversion. Schools often fear that joining a MAT will lead to a loss of identity and the power to govern their own affairs. The threat of losing the right to appoint their own headteacher or seeing their best teachers redirected to weaker schools within the trust looms large. Attention is focused on representational governance models, Schemes of Delegation or how best to retain control of the school’s budget and any associated surpluses. The vision for educational excellence secured by a relationship which advances the common good can sometimes be an early casualty of such conversations.

And yet, the vision of the Church of England is profoundly relational, promoting interdependence and mutual accountability, where working together in a spirit of reciprocity, generosity, honesty and trust is the means of achieving the greatest good for all. How then can we ensure that this vision informs the strategic thinking of trust boards and that local governing bodies conduct their business and assess their needs with reference to the wider priorities and values of the trust? How can we ensure that we do not lose our focus on championing the dignity and worth of each and every child?

The Church of England’s vision for education invites deeper creative thinking about how we make our education system truly fit for purpose, bringing life in all its fullness for children and families everywhere. It also poses particular challenges for MATs, to establish governance structures and ways of working together that genuinely embody that vision. We live in a world where trust business can become dominated by managing risk and regulatory compliance. Important though these undoubtedly are, at a time when many trusts are poised for significant growth and the effectiveness of governance and operations come under scrutiny, it is perhaps also timely to ask whether they truly reflect the vision for Christian education in which Church of England academy trusts are rooted.

The experienced Education Team at Stone King offers a range of professional services to support MAT growth. In this and a short series of “500 words on…” articles, we will be exploring practical ways of ensuring that MAT strategy and practice support the development of excellent education provision through living out the Church of England vision. The first article will turn the spotlight on governance structures in growing MATs.

MAT Governance Support - The art of delegation

With deep education sector knowledge, Stone King is a leading legal specialist with extensive experience of all aspects of school and academy trust governance.