December 2021 edition: Introduction

Introduction

Welcome to this latest edition of Trust. It is the final edition of 2021 and provides a useful opportunity for us to take stock.

This year has, of course, been heavily shaped by the immediacy of the Covid-19 pandemic but it has also seen some important threads for longer term thinking emerge too. For example, Gavin Williamson’s speech at CST’s annual conference back in April was an important moment because it reaffirmed the government’s commitment to a system in which all schools are part of a Trust. This thinking looks set to carry on under a new ministerial team and CST looks forward to playing its role in this work. Tiffany Beck, Head of Education at PLMR's article, 'The School Trust System: where are we at, and what can Trusts do next?', is a fantastic framing and overview of the current and future shape of the sector.

Importantly, the sector is leading the way every bit as much as government. Some of this is captured in CST’s ‘Bridge to the Future’ series of papers – we published eight of these in 2021. But it is also evident in the work going on in Trusts across the country as well as in the partner organisations that support the sector. We are all working through the concerns of now, but we are also looking to the horizon. This edition of Trust showcases exactly this.

Malcolm Trobe, CST Consultant, walks us through the significant piece of work he led shaping the Core Responsibilities for School Trust CEOs. This was done following extensive research and a public consultation. It is exactly the sort of work that should be undertaken by the sector body. We are grateful to Malcolm and proud to have worked with and on behalf of the sector.

At the heart of this work was the recognition that it was the right time to try to codify the best we know about the roles and responsibilities of CEOs. Such codification is important because it helps to build shared language and understanding and provides a framework which over time will lead to even better practice. Making the implicit become explicit can often be powerful when building culture and expertise. This thread also runs through Tomas Thurogood-Hyde, Assistant CEO and Company Secretary at Astrea Academy Trust’s insightful piece on the benefits of a Nominations Committee.

You’ll know that CST has been making the case that professional knowledge is a vitally important ingredient of educational efficacy and that Trusts are essentially knowledge building structures. This is explored with perceptiveness and sophistication by John Camp, CEO of The Compass Partnership of Schools, in his article, 'Trusts: Networks of knowledge exchange and intellectual challenge'. John argues convincingly that "effective Trusts curate great ideas by connecting professionals in networks of exchange that build consensus around what constitutes the best practice.”

John’s article, and its focus on staff development, is complemented well by Denise Inwood, Founder and CEO of BlueSky’s framing of the changing face of performance management. Denise makes the case for performance management to be seen through a developmental lens that is geared towards improving teacher effectiveness: "We are not suggesting the removal of an appraisal or performance management process that holds staff to account, but we are advocating a process that focuses on improving the practices teachers can control – which directly impact on young people - aligned closely to the improvement needs of the organisation.”

Pupil wellbeing is a concern that speaks both to the current context but also to the longer term. Iona Jackson, Head of Research at Edurio’s piece, 'Findings from the Edurio Pupil Learning Experience and Wellbeing Survey' gives a useful, if at times sobering, analysis of the feedback from young people. For example, a quarter of young people reported feeling lonely lately. It also suggests that a feeling of worsening wellbeing is associated with children getting older. Clearly, great care needs to be taken in how we interpret and explain such findings but there is food for thought here.

Polly O’Malley, Partner at Stone King, looks at a specific wellbeing risk in her article 'Teaching and Tech: How can schools manage the use and misuse of social media'. As Polly explains, the world of social media presents risks to staff as well as pupils, and she outlines some practical steps Trusts can take to mitigate these risks.

Also looking at the role of technology, Emma Slater, Head of Education at GCSEPod, looks at the accessibility implications of teaching more of the curriculum through a screen in her piece 'Making Education Accessible for all – Learners and Teachers'. Emma argues that technology has been helpful in supporting young people with visual impairments to access the curriculum, but she also argues that more needs to be done.

Finally, Leora Cruddas, CEO of CST’s lead article beautifully weaves together the immediate and the longer-term. Leora highlights the long-term psychological stress that leaders have faced at the hands of Covid-19 and offers some practical suggestions employers might consider to support them. But as she also notes, "not all of this is down to leaders or their boards”: there is an urgent need for policy makers to plan for a longer horizon. "It is now essential,” Leora argues, "that we relieve pressure on the system, its leaders and staff by medium-term policy planning.”

This has undoubtedly been a challenging year for our sector. However, it has also been remarkable how well the sector has pulled together. We have all been buffeted by 2021 at times but we have got through it together.