Why was the Queen Street Group founded?
With the development of MATs occurring so fast, Ministers, Whitehall officials, regulators, funding agencies and Trusts have all needed to keep pace with the implications. Assumptions have to be checked, and understandings updated and clarified.
Ministers meet with the chief executive officers (CEOs) of MATs on an ad hoc basis and the Regional Schools Commissioners, established in 2014, meet with the CEOs to discuss matters relating to specific geographical areas. Of the principal regulators, Ofsted (inspection) engages separately with each school while ESFA (funding) deals with both ‘stand-alone’ academies and MATs on
an individual basis.
From the perspective of the Trusts, such meetings as take place face-to-face provide an opportunity to brief those in authority on the operational impact of the government’s emerging policies and procedures. However, these are ‘vertical’ encounters in the sense of being dialogue between those governing and those governed. Undeveloped until recently has been any ‘horizontal’ discussion through which senior executives across a stable, like-minded and ethically committed grouping of MATs can regularly exchange operational insights, peer-to-peer, and thus test collective understanding and develop joint perspectives and priorities.
It was to meet this need – and to emphasise joint endeavour and collective responsibility – that the Queen Street Group came into being.
How did the Queen Street Group originate?
In June 2015, a group of 10 CEOs met to discuss how more-effective peer support might be developed between MATs which share similar values, so that the capacity and effectiveness of each Trust might be enhanced. Chaired as a one-off event by Lord Adonis, this meeting was not primarily concerned with examining national policy. Rather, its aim was to pinpoint those key areas of operations that required greater practical sophistication in the way they are jointly shaped by government officials and MAT executive teams.
Three urgent themes emerged from this discussion:
- securing the availability of a quality teacher workforce in each school;
- managing capital and revenue funding to the best effect at scale;
- articulating more clearly how MAT management works in practice, so that the understanding of regulators can become better developed and more nuanced.
Those present also agreed that, in 2015, the first of these themes was the most pressing.
How does the Queen Street Group operate and who are the founding members?
Following the June 2015 meeting, the discussion group broadened until around 20 MAT CEOs were meeting once each term during 2016–17 and 2017–18. At this stage there remained no formal membership, with those initially involved simply having contacted peers they felt would be interested in joining the discussion and adding further viewpoints.
As a result, several more priorities to increase the efficacy of Trusts were added to the three initial themes: curriculum planning; the problem of MATs assuming responsibility for struggling schools that have substantial financial liabilities; the effectiveness of local planning undertaken by Regional Schools Commissioners accountable to Headteacher Boards; and the operation of the Education Services Grant through which MATs provide services formerly managed by local authorities.
Early in these discussions, attention turned to whether the grouping should become more formal. The practicalities of developing in this way were worked out in detail during 2017–18 and the decision taken to establish the Queen Street Group as a not-for-profit company with a defined membership.
In taking this step several advantages were envisaged.
- The voluntary alliance of like-minded Trusts already in place and like-minded in their ethical commitments could become more firmly established;
- Creating a formal entity of this kind was ‘light touch’, cost-effective and added clear value, while also representing a formal commitment on the part of each participating MAT to share insight and develop expertise on a regular basis.
Establishing a corporate framework would: enable clarity of vision; encourage organisational development, both collectively and within each Trust; underscore a common adherence to ethical standards and high-quality pupil education; and stimulate thinking ahead as to how school improvement more generally might develop.
Queen Street Group member Trusts and their CEOs
|Academies Enterprise Trust||Julian Drinkall|
|Astrea Academy Trust||Rowena Hackwood|
|Avanti Schools Trust||Nitesh Gor|
|Big Education||Liz Robinson|
|BMAT Education||Helena Mills|
|The Brooke Weston Trust||Dr Andrew Campbell|
|Cabot Learning Federation||Steve Taylor|
|Communities Academies Trust||Philip Hamilton|
|Creative Education Trust||Marc Jordan|
|Dixons Academies Charitable Trust||Sir Nick Weller|
|Education South West||Roger Pope|
|The First Federation Trust||Paul Walker|
|Future Academies||Paul Smith|
|Lead Academy Trust||Diana Owen|
|Leigh Academies Trust||Simon Beamish|
|Oasis Community Learning||John Murphy|
|Ormiston Academies Trust||Nick Hudson|
|South Farnham Educational Trust||Sir Andrew Carter|
|Star Academies Trust||Hamid Patel|
|Summit Learning Trust||Catherine Anwar|
|Unity Schools Partnership||Dr Tim Coulson|
|Ventrus Limited||Gary Chown|
|The White Horse Federation||Dr Nicholas Capstick|
What does the Queen Street Group stand for?
The formal object of QSG is “to advance education for the public benefit”. The meetings which have taken place in 2018–19 indicate that the member Trusts believe this object can best be met through the structured set of activities described in the next section of this report. These activities have indicated to participants that QSG:
- is a very practical body – it exists so that the leaders of MATs can enhance their joint effectiveness through sharing information, exchanging insight, identifying the operational goals they share with regulators and undertaking data analysis;
- is committed to developing the expertise of specialist senior staff, notably the directors within MATs responsible for Education, Finance and HR;
- is active in identifying jointly those steps in the management of groups of academies that lead to greater sophistication, better value and improved pupil education;
- is concerned primarily with operational effectiveness rather than developing a critique of national policy. (The Confederation of School Trusts has this remit as the ‘national voice’ for academies and its members overlap with those of the QSG.)