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Last reviewed on 9 November 2021
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Your operating model is vital to understanding what your trust does and how it's doing it. Use our downloadable tools to kick-start your review, and follow our step-by-step guide to ensure you have the right model to deliver your educational support and administrative functions sustainably.

What's an operating model?

An operating model is a way of setting out all the functions of your trust. Think of each of these functions as a ‘capability’. For example:

  • Managing finances
  • Supporting your workforce
  • Managing your estates
  • Driving school improvement

Within each capability sits a range of processes. So, if the capability is managing finances, this will include processes such as budget planning, reporting and cash and asset management.

Your operating model will help you to evaluate these capabilities and consider:

  • What is it aiming to achieve?
  • Does it sit at school level or trust level?
  • What people, systems and processes do we need in order to deliver it?
  • How is it managed and governed?
  • How do we know if it’s working well?

In short, an operating model lets you see the sum of the parts of your trust and see how they're connected.

Why should you review it?

To understand how well you're currently delivering your capabilities and make changes to your model.

Use our step-by-step guide to assess your operating model so that you:

  • Identify weaknesses in your current delivery of capabilities (step 1)
  • Create design principles for changing how you deliver your capabilities (step 2)
  • Review your staffing structure (step 3)
  • Implement the changes you've identified (step 4)

Our guide provides tools to help you at each stage. However, you're unlikely to be able to do everything yourself. Reviewing, and particularly making changes to, your operating model usually requires consultancy support. 

But taking these steps will help you to focus on what you need to do, identify what you can do on your own, and save the amount of time and money you need to spend on consultants.

Step 1: use our tools to review your capabilities

There are 2 tools you can use:

  • High level review - is appropriate for smaller trusts, or to help you get an initial idea of where to focus your attention
  • Detailed review - is suitable for larger trusts, those that want to carry out a more thorough assessment or if you're considering growing your trust

Each download includes instructions.


You'll also need to consider how well you're delivering each of your processes. Use this questionnaire to help you identify strengths and weaknesses based on how well these functions are seen to be performing.

For both the review and the questionnaire, it's important to remember that these are just tools to prompt you to reflect on how your trust's organisation helps you to perform. They're designed to encourage you to self-evaluate.

See this article for more information on how to plan effective self-evaluation across your trust.

Who to involve

Whatever the level of detail of your review, you should gather views and information from:

  • Central team - at head office level and, if applicable, at regional or cluster level
  • Board of trustees
  • Principals/headteachers and executive principals
  • Chairs of local governing bodies
  • People involved in delivering these capabilities, and those receiving them

You should also take account of information from pupils and parents about how well things are working now, and what you can improve. They won’t have the level of insight to fill in the questionnaire, but you can consider their feedback from other sources you use to gather their views - for example pupil or parent councils and surveys.

Click here to go on to step 2 of reviewing your operating model


Chris Kirk is a Director of CJK Associates Ltd, a boutique education consultancy which supports national, regional and local education organisations, including multi academy trusts. Chris specialises in facilitation, strategy and business planning. He has held leadership roles with PwC Consulting, GEMS Education (the world’s largest private school group), the Department for Education and the National College for School Leadership. Chris is currently part of the faculty for Ambition School Leadership’s programme for MAT CEOs. He is a Member of his local MAT, the Weydon Academy Trust.

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