July 2022 edition: Introduction

Introduction

I wish you a warm welcome to this special 2022 conference edition of Trust, which is drawn from CST’s Annual Conference and its theme of ‘Truly Civic’. Within this edition you’ll find a range of content inspired by, building on, and summarizing some of the rich keynotes and workshops delegates enjoyed over the two days.

We were very proud to host what felt like a landmark conference for the sector, both in terms of its scale and also the collaborative buzz that many attendees remarked on. While these articles can’t fully convey the collegiate atmosphere that permeated the conference, I hope they give you a good sense of the discussion points and illustrate the sense of connection we felt.

The lead article is written by CST’s CEO Leora Cruddas CBE, who gave the opening keynote at conference. Leora draws on Professor Peter Hennessey’s book, ‘A Duty of Care’, arguing that we must build a new social contract with government and our wider parliamentary democracy: "it will require us to invest in the hard work of consensus building, focusing less on what it is that makes us different and on issues that can divide us. "We must”, Leora says, "exercise our sovereignty as institutions but bind together in a common purpose.”

The themes of connection and common purpose were surfaced time and again throughout the conference. Warren Carratt, CEO of Nexus Multi Academy Trust, offers his reflections and concludes similarly: "what is probably most powerful coming out of the event is that there is, in fact, a sense of there being a community of Academy Trusts, layered across our families of schools. Given we have a sector that, by its very nature, can often be characterised as - indeed, at times engineered to be - competitive and wracked with suspicion, it was beautiful to see decent, hardworking public servants, who just happen to work in Academy Trusts, coming together to throw down those false walls of Jericho and collaborate.”

Dame Rachel De Souza, Children's Commissioner, offers a reminder of the key themes in her conference keynote, sketching out the seven pillars of her work as Children’s Commissioner and drawing on the results of the Big Ask survey her office conducted. She also reiterates her latest ask on behalf of children: that we work together to achieve 100% attendance on the first day of September. Attendance is also an issue tackled by FFT’s Dave Thomson and Katie Benyon in their interesting analysis of pupil absence since the start of the pandemic, presented and discussed in their conference workshop session. In line with other research into the effects of the pandemic, they note that vulnerable pupils have seen their attendance most impacted by the pandemic.

In her article on strategic communications, based on another of the workshop sessions on offer, Tiffany Beck, Head of Education at PLMR, looks at the relationship between communications and civic leadership. This is a fantastic piece that skillfully weaves together key concepts and definitions pertaining to communications and situates these within the practical context of Trusts’ civic work. Similarly, Surinder Kaur Dhillon, of Stone King, provides a very practical guide for Trusts on managing low-level concerns, based on a well-attended session Stone King hosted at the conference.

And from managing low-level concerns we move to something larger: the important issue of sustainability. This is something that many Trusts have been thinking deeply about in recent months and the article from Tom Deacon, Partner at Barker Associates is, therefore, very timely. As with our other partner articles, there are practical take aways you’ll want to read up on, and these are set against the backdrop of what is a key concern for many of you – rising energy costs.

As you read this edition of Trust, you’ll likely note another thread underpinning the ‘Truly Civic’ conference theme: the importance of belonging. This is illustrated powerfully by Funmilola Stewart (Head of History and anti-racism lead at Dixons Trinity Academy) in her reflections on the keynote delivered by the renowned historian David Olusoga OBE  and the subsequent discussion that took place on stage between her and David. This article is a hard-hitting insight into Funmi’s personal experiences of racism and her thoughts on history education. She reiterates David’s call for us to avoid positioning history as a ‘soft play area’: "history should not be a place to go for comfort, but to be challenged, and to confront difficult things.”

However, it is important we don’t fall into the trap of thinking history education is the only arena in which issues of diversity and belonging need consideration. Indeed, in her article on ‘Rethinking Science: Creating an Inclusive Science Curriculum’, Pearson’s Head of Science (Qualifications and Curriculum) Hannah Cheek argues "Science requires diverse and critical thinking. The broader the life experience of those working in the science community the more robust the theories that emerge.”

Performance Coach Owen Eastwood’s beautiful presentation on Building a Culture of Belonging seemed to resonate deeply with the audience. In my article I provide a summary of Owen’s inspirational work and some of the concepts and cultural traditions he introduced to us – ways of thinking and connecting that have created a powerful culture of belonging in the impressive range of sports teams and organisations he has worked with. This was a truly remarkable presentation, and it is a privilege to be able to write about it for Trust.

I hope that you find this special conference edition of Trust a stimulating read. I also hope it illustrates the power we can tap into when we connect with one another, when we find common purpose, and when we belong. This goes to the heart of what it means to be in a group; what it means to be ‘Truly Civic’.

We will be seeking to build on the success of this conference as we plan for the next one, drawing on the excellent feedback we received as well as using your insights to make the next programme even richer, speaking to what we anticipate will be an even larger audience.

For now though, I hope you enjoy this 2022 conference edition and that it offers you an uplifting end to 2021/22. With that in mind, I’ll close this with the inspiring words of the brilliant poet Harry Baker, who performed for us on stage:

We are impossible

to everyone who’s ever gone before,

and everyone who’s yet to come

will push impossible some more.

Just as indeed the dos we did

outdo the don’ts we didn’t,

so everything’s impossible

until it isn’t.