Sharing support staff across schools in a multi-academy trust
Deploying therapists centrally at the Eden Academy shows the efficiencies that are possible through cost sharing in multi-academy trusts.
The Eden Academy in London is a multi-academy trust (MAT) comprising 5 special schools. Each school in the MAT requires therapists for pupils with special needs.
In the past, the recruitment and retention of therapists was managed individually by schools. There would sometimes be delays of weeks when recruiting, during which time children would not receive the therapies to which they were entitled. Budget pressures also meant there were times when a school wanted to recruit a senior therapist but could only afford a junior one. Compounding the situation was the absence of a progressive career structure for therapists, which meant turnover was high.
The MAT’s senior leadership team (SLT) decided that effectiveness and efficiency could be improved. It commissioned an external review into the provision of therapies across the MAT. This recommended centralising the process for recruiting and deploying therapists to remove gaps in therapy provision across the MAT. Each therapist would still be based at a ‘home’ school at which he or she could build close relationships with staff, parents and pupils. All therapists, however, would be able to work flexibly at other schools when required. This would lead to a culture of therapists ‘belonging’ to all of the pupils at the MAT, rather than to individual schools.
The recommendations also included the development of a single pay structure for therapists. Under the existing arrangements, therapists were employed on ‘spot contracts’, with some schools contracting therapists for more hours than others, for no additional pay. These contracts did not allow therapists to progress, either in terms of pay or management responsibility. So, a further recommendation was made to develop a progressive career structure for all therapists at the MAT.
To enact the recommendations, SLT worked to a 2-year implementation plan. SLT first consulted with the heads of school and their governing bodies to discuss and agree the proposals. It then appointed a head of therapies to lead therapists across the MAT in a central therapy team, and to develop the new, progressive career structure.
The next step was a consultation with unions, the MAT’s human resources adviser, and existing staff. Through this SLT agreed each element of the proposal, including the start date at which therapists would transfer to their new centralised contracts. SLT then drew up a service level agreement between schools and the therapy team to set out the new centralised system. Under this system, schools would discuss with the head of therapies their projected therapy needs for the following 2 to 3 years, and agree how much the school would pay the therapy team. The therapy team, in turn, would deliver on the service level agreement with each school.
SLT planned well in advance. This gave:
- time to think each step through
- all staff the chance to consider the change and feed in their views
- time to ensure new pay arrangements were fair
The changes have led to cost savings and improved working practices. Recruiting and retaining therapists is easier across the MAT, thanks to a progressive career structure. Therapists are working more closely together as a result of better coordination and sharing of effective practice across the MAT.
Better long term planning is also now possible. The therapy team benefits from a guaranteed income stream that gives it the flexibility to deliver a high quality service. Schools are guaranteed high quality therapy for a fixed and known expenditure.
Finally, the newfound stability of therapists has had wider benefits. As well as improving therapy provision within the MAT, SLT is able to support therapy provision outside the trust, at a nearby primary school and at the local authority.
Susan Douglas, the CEO of the Eden Academy, believes that similar changes can work for MATs across the sector. She said: “the model we have applied for our therapists could be applied to other staff as well. It has been a ‘win-win’ situation, making the service more efficient while improving outcomes for both therapists and pupils. This demonstrates what is possible by cost sharing in MATs.”
If you wish to contact the Eden Academy directly to discuss this case study in more detail, please email Susan Douglas.