Multi-Academy Trusts 'will be the new product innovators'

Multi-Academy Trusts 'will be the new product innovators'

Publishers should seek to partner with top-performing multi-academy trusts (MATs) on new product development or risk being bypassed, the Publishers Association's education conference heard on Friday (25th November).

Andrew Thraves, trustee of academy network the Academies Enterprise Trust, told the conference that the multi-academy trusts were "under incredible pressure to deliver changes", with higher spending on books and e-learning resources "not on the agenda".

"The entrepreneurial MATs will make money, including from home-produced learning materials, which can be commercialised by selling to other schools," Thraves noted.  Trusts, which are in a unique position to demonstrate what products are effective, through working with their own students, "will become the new innovators in pedagogy," he predicted.

He advised publishers "to identify MATS which are doing teaching and learning particularly well and seek to work with them to develop the teaching and learning products of the future. Because if you don't, they will do it themselves," he said.

Meanwhile Hugh Greenaway, chief executive of the Elliot Foundation multi-academy trust, warned publishers that in recent years his trust had spent £15-£20 per pupil per year on books, between one quarter and one third of a per cent of total revenue. Meanwhile government cuts means the amount he spends with publishers per pupil in future "is going to go down – this is the reality we are in." He said: "My advice to you is to get creative: find a way to get off my cost line and onto my revenue line."

Jason Gould, m.d. of education data and marketing business Education Company, advised publishers to look at how many MATs they have a footprint in. "If your product is in a high-performing school within a MAT, you are likely to have them selling your product into others; if it's in  a low-performing school, it's unlikely to go the other way," he warned.

In a session on teacher shortages, Ben Smith, assistant head of North Kesteven School in Lincoln, made a powerful case for the value of good quality resources in taking the pressure off hard-pressed teachers, at a time when the number of graduates applying for teacher training is falling. "A good resource, such as textbooks, does free up teachers," he confirmed. "It's a guarantee of quality, a resource that is going to deliver. [Because of the shortfall of graduates applying for teacher training courses] there is a high likelihood that schools will hire staff with a lower skill set – and that has implications on resourcing."

Technology that can reduce the teacher workload is also needed. "If I asked my teachers to mark every piece of [pupil] work, there would not be enough hours in the week for them to do it, even if they didn't sleep," Smith said.   

The day conference, "Shifting Landscapes: How publishers are responding to key changes in the school system", was held by the Education Publishers Council of the PA in partnership with the British Educational Suppliers Association (BESA) in Southwark, London.