The 4 pillars of my new role

Oct. 30, 2018
Sir David Carter

Sir David Carter

Executive Director of System Leadership at Ambition School Leadership

Not only is this an exciting time for Ambition School Leadership and the Institute for Teaching, but also for me personally. I thought I’d write a few words about why I have chosen to join this team and what I want to achieve.

Having led the academy system and the development of MATs across the eight RSC regions as the National Schools Commissioner for the last three years, I now want my next role to be even more focused on our system leaders, many of whom are playing decisive roles in multi academy trusts, diocese and local authorities.

My motivation as a leader – ever since I undertook my first headship in 1997 –  has been to build capacity so that all children, especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds, get a better education.

Even though I started teaching 36 years ago, this goal still motivates and excites me. 

What better way to use this experience than to develop the leadership capacity of the system, improve governance and to support MATs to improve more quickly. I see my role as being an integral part of sharing the most effective strategies that MATs use more widely, building better benchmarking tools and sharing some of the key structural solutions for leadership, improvement, financial management and governance.

I wanted to join Ambition School Leadership and the Institute for Teaching for the opportunity to work alongside people I trust and respect. Also because the organisation is a highly effective charity that places improving the life chances of disadvantaged young people at its core.

Ambition and the IfT have a compelling vision for the future and we share the belief that successful and sustained improvement is about teaching and leadership.

Working for an organisation that influences strategic thinking across most of our system was an important consideration for me when I was planning the next stage of my career. Making a difference where it matters the most was why I became the NSC and I am thrilled that I now have the chance to continue with this work in a new way. 

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The four pillars of my new role

My first pillar is focused explicitly on what it is that we expect to see from a Multi Academy Trust.

The expectation has to be that standards rise more quickly for children as a result of them being educated in a great MAT.

Therefore, the question that all of the leaders in a MAT have to be able to answer is this: are the children that you educate getting a better education now than they would have done had the previous structural arrangement remained in place?

This is the question that then drives the standards agenda. The work I am about to embark on must get closer to sharing the successful strategies that are operating across the system while challenging more critically the less convincing ones.

The second pillar concerns the sustainability of the MAT model. The training and development of current and future CEOs of trusts is going to be increasingly important.

Many of the original founding CEOs of MATs are moving into new roles and in some cases retirement, and we need to ensure that the second generation of CEOs are well prepared to take on one of the most brilliant roles in the system.

The best CEOs that I have worked with understand organisational change; they seamlessly move from vision to strategy, and from strategy to execution. They inspire their workforce even though they are faced with the challenge of scale, scope and geography and they lead a school improvement model that everyone in the trust understands and buys in to.

The third pillar I want to explore will see me work closely with trust boards and chairs. Almost without exception, the most challenging trust collapses that I worked on in my time as NSC featured weak governance as a common denominator. 

"Ambition and the IfT have a compelling vision for the future and we share the belief that successful and sustained improvement is about teaching and leadership."

We need to help trusts understand more about the best practice in corporate governance and we should be prepared to look beyond education to source this. The strategic alliance with CST and our Governance Leadership Programme offers us a huge opportunity to drive deeper impact in this area.

One of the gaps I observed from my NSC role was the degree to which the system has access to the most effective strategies that are making a difference for children, and this will be the fourth pillar of my work.  

Last week, the Secretary of State announced that DfE would be consulting on ways to assess MATs, which builds on the work that I started as NSC. In this new role, I want to provide an opportunity for MATs to review their performance but for the purpose of formative feedback and improvement.

I want us to develop a review model for MATs, that would include a diagnostic analysis of the performance of a trust that would be followed by time spent in the MAT meeting leaders, teachers, governors, parents and children to identify the three or four key strategic priorities for improvement.

A written review would be supported by an on-going mentoring relationship for the CEO for 12 months to support and challenge the delivery of these priorities.

The development of teachers is not simply the responsibility of those charged with leading them. If we are to raise standards even more rapidly then we must take national pride and responsibility for making this a collective endeavour.

MAT CEOs, school leaders, school improvers, universities, local authorities and of course the DfE must all place teacher development at the core of their educational strategy. Ambition School Leadership and the Institute for Teaching already do this which is one of the main reasons why I have chosen to join them. 


Sir David Carter is the Executive Director of System Leadership at Ambition School Leadership and the Institute for Teaching. He is the programme lead of our Executive Educators: building and leading a sustainable MAT.  Applications are now open for this programme. 

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