Making the grade: How a digital operating platform will help MATs thrive

28th October 2022

With the march towards Multi-Academy Trusts gathering pace, Civica’s Stewart Mcluskey explains why having the right digital operating system must be front of mind for Trust leaders

The Schools White Paper published earlier this year, chartered a clear course for our education system, with an entirely Trust-led environment envisaged by 2030. For schools, parents, and pupils alike, the move towards Multi-Academy Trusts (MATs) has the potential to be a real game-changer.

Best in class

As MATs scramble to bring more schools into their orbit, they must ensure they stand out from the pack. With food prices soaring, teacher wages set to increase by 6% and energy bills having the potential to soon consume up to 8% of their entire budget, schools around the country are facing ever mounting pressures. In this context, a key attraction of joining an MAT will be a world-class digital operating platform which simplifies and streamlines time-consuming, though fundamentally important, functions from finance to people management and wellbeing to catering. For ambitious MATs leaders, a slick operating platform will also make it easier and faster to onboard new schools, with minimal hassle or disruption for either staff or pupils.

Building that slick operating platform is not, however, as simple as it may seem. MAT leaders have a world of choice when it comes to digital technologies. And therein lies the challenge. To deliver efficiencies at scale, the ideal operating platform must be built around agile, adaptable digital technologies working together in tandem. The more interoperable your finance, HR, catering, and maintenance systems, the less human input and time required. Conversely, if your technologies are not talking to one another, you will end up creating more work – and costs. The right operating platform will almost certainly require technologies supplied by multiple different providers. So long as those technologies benefit from continuous investment and can be easily integrated to your operating platform, then they will deliver the outcomes you want.

Staying the course – the digital journey

MATs must be on a continuous digital journey, so they are prepared for the challenges over the horizon. The financial pressures facing our schools are well known, but what about more global challenges like climate change? There’s a rapidly growing expectation amongst the younger generation in particular that schools should be at the vanguard of climate action. MAT leaders will therefore need to ensure they have a greener approach to everything they do. With multiple school buildings in various states of repair across their estates however, this will not be a straightforward task. Nor is cutting down on food waste in their catering operations. For hard pressed parents in particular, Universal Free School Meals (UFSM) recently announced in Scotland and Wales, will be warmly welcomed. But with every free school meal, comes the potential for food waste and the carbon footprint associated with it. Making every crumb count and ensuring no watts are wasted, will be made a whole lot easier with a digital platform which can help measure and manage your overall environmental performance.

Smarter foundation for a better future

In the coming months and years, MAT leaders will be at the forefront of transforming our educational system. Success in that endeavour will result in a generation of young people with better career and life opportunities, in an increasingly uncertain world. That success, however, will hinge on building and maintaining the right digital operating platform. This will be the enabler of everything an MAT is trying to achieve, from attracting other schools, to building scale, resilience and efficiency, to becoming more sustainable and – ultimately – channelling more funding towards learning outcomes.

MATs face a host of different challenges and when it comes to their digital operating platform, one size won’t necessarily fit all. A key task over the coming months therefore, for both MATs and the software sector, will be understanding what sort of optimum digital platform will deliver the best outcomes for MATs and their pupils. As a leading provider of software for the education sector, we at Civica are keen to work with MATs, individual schools and the wider software sector to help define and build that platform, so together, we can deliver the best possible future for our children.

Stewart Mcluskey is Divisional Managing Director (Education) at Civica

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