What can modern MATs learn from industry and Lean philosophy?

In the 1990s, commercial manufacturing turned to a principle called ‘Lean’. This self-enforced set of work practices focuses on making the most of resource and allowed for future progression. Ever since, this philosophy has spread from the factory floor to a range of businesses and institutions worldwide.

Martin Holyoak

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Despite its manufacturing origins, the business principles of Lean also have application to the day-to-day operation of any organisation. As a sector under considerable financial strain, multi-academy trusts could be a modern-day beneficiary.

These principles can help you get the most of your trust’s resources and cut operational costs – without the need to treat staff and pupils like they’re being wrung through a sausage factory.

What is Lean?

Lean philosophy has been accepted worldwide by some of the most successful businesses. It’s a way of looking at business operations (and in this case, academy trust operations) with an aim to reduce waste and inefficient processes. The effort and resources expended on these can then be repurposed elsewhere in the trust, adding value for the end customer.

If you adopt the same approach in a school, replacing the customer with pupils and the added value with education, this philosophy can be a useful way to see where you can cut costs without sacrificing educational outcomes.

In fact, by eliminating wasteful processes and academy asset siloing, MATs can even improve the overall quality of their education provision – which, at the end of the day, is the overall purpose of large-scale academisation.

Gemba Kaizen

Central to Lean is a principle known as Gemba Kaizen, which roughly translates to ‘process of continual improvement’. This focuses on three core principles you can start applying now if you want to implement Lean thinking in a trust.


Discover the cause of the waste. For many trusts, this will be the duplication of processes and assets between academies, as their individual academies still purchase and maintain their own assets in isolation from the rest of the group. For instance, each academy may have its own financial processes, or big-ticket assets such as kilns or even swimming pools might not be shared with nearby academies. These wastes will be unique to your trust.

If you don’t have the right asset documentation procedures in place, or if you haven’t yet centralised your trust’s procurement, this can be a difficult step to take, as you won’t have a full catalogue of assets at all your academy locations. Asset management software such as IRIS Assets can simplify the process and help you to spot physical assets and even documentation you may otherwise miss; in the long run, this will save you money.


Once you’ve identified the cause of waste, you should take steps to ensure that more waste isn’t caused in the future. For instance, if two of your schools are local to each other and both are due to have their heating systems maintained, it will cost much more to hire two individual contractors than it would to hire a single company for both locations.

IRIS Assets can keep track of maintenance and compliance needs for each academy in your trust, making it easy to coordinate and reduce waste between locations.


Replace your previous procedures so your new lean way of thinking becomes routine. If you don’t standardise the Lean way of thinking, these inefficiencies will creep back into day-to-day processes.

In our heating example, it would become standard procedure to book a single contractor for all adjacent academies whenever it comes time to maintain your boilers.

Gemba Kaizen never stops

Gemba Kaizen doesn’t end here. If you want to tackle the root causes of waste, you should look to invest in tech solutions that can automatically identify waste for you, so you can replace old inefficient processes with standardised ones and reinvest that wasted effort into your pupils’ education.

You need your software to be forever looking for efficiencies. IRIS Assets is an essential tool for trusts looking to adopt Lean philosophy, as it provides a complete overview of assets both across the trust and at an academy-by-academy level. To find out how IRIS Assets can help your trust think Lean, visit our website.

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