March 2021 edition: Introduction

Introduction

It’s a privilege to welcome you to this latest version of Trust Journal. As you will see, once again we have another edition packed full of thoughtful reflections, practical advice and professional insight – all of which will help your organisation to reach the outcomes it strives for on behalf of young people. Now, as ever, these outcomes are likely to encapsulate a whole range of areas from academic achievement, to wellbeing and much more.

Whenever I talk or write about outcomes, I’m reminded by what I think is now a fairly well-established principle in elite sport: that outcomes are the result of a commitment to a process, not only by a commitment to the outcome. That is not to say that outcomes don’t matter; rather, that if we get the processes right then results are likely to follow. I’m often suspicious of such generic analogies but I think this largely holds true for education as well. I think you can see the importance of establishing the right processes is a theme running through this edition of Trust.

For example, Leora Cruddas explicates the emerging reforms that will impact on how the quality of education is improved at system level. She brings together the Early Career Framework, new NPQs, Teaching School Hubs and more to explain how, together, these reforms will help the system to improve teaching. Importantly, she argues that collaboration between Trusts is necessary in order to impact positively on all children.

Collaboration as a fundamental process of Trusts is also something that John Camp, CEO of The Compass Partnership of Schools, writes about in his piece, ‘Together we’re Stronger’, in which he illustrates how this is supported in his Trust by the establishment of shared values and a common language of pedagogy and curriculum. This, he argues, allows schools to respond to local needs while also supporting ongoing coherent collaboration across the Trust.

This sense of shared understanding is also reflected by Edurio’s CEO, Ernest Jenavs, who illustrates how surveying staff perceptions contributes to this picture: "gathering regular feedback and ensuring that support reaches beyond the senior leadership will help the sector move even further in building a sense of shared values, goals and support.” Ernest presents a fascinating summary of an exciting new report into staff perceptions of Trusts.

In his piece on ‘Catch-up’, Ian Bauckham, CEO of Tenax Schools Trust, helps to unpick what the process of addressing COVID-19 learning loss might look like. Ian deploys evidence from the EEF and elsewhere to argue that the challenge of ‘catch-up’ is similar to the long-established challenge of ‘closing the gap’. Ian argues, therefore, that the solution is not about throwing ill-thought through initiatives at the problem, it is primarily about bringing to bear what we already know about effective teaching, curriculum design and so on.

There is little doubt that another area of school process that has seen some change is assessment. Of course, we know there are significant changes to awarding grades again this year, but what of assessment more widely too? Peter Collison, Head of Formative Assessment at RM, outlines the potential benefits for Trusts of using more digital assessment, including in relation to workload. This requires strategic thought, not a mad dash, he argues: "Despite the undeniable benefits of digital assessment, for many Trusts and schools the pace and scale of transition needs to fit with the needs of their pupils and the wider environmental context.”

It’s also important to think about the processes that underpin effective governance. This is encapsulated in the argument made by Louise Thompson, Head of Policy at ICSA: The Chartered Governance Institute. Louise makes the case for a governance code for Trusts, signposting exciting future work with CST. Similarly, the importance of codifying standards is picked up also by Malcolm Trobe, who explores the new headteacher standards. Importantly, he notes that more work needs to be done in codifying the work of effective executive leaders.

As I set out above, how we define ‘outcomes’ is important. We must reject the tendency towards false dichotomies which present academic achievement as being at odds with, for example, pupil wellbeing. We know that Trusts up and down the country are, quite rightly, looking at both and exploring how they can be mutually supportive. Cait Cooper, Deputy Director for Mental Health and Wellbeing in Schools at the Anna Freud Centre, sets out compelling research into the impact of COVID-19 on pupils’ mental health and provides helpful advice for leaders.

This is nicely complemented by the argument set out by Sara Collins and Richard Dunne for the creation of a ‘Nature Premium’ in order to help children to rediscover the "power of being outside in nature.” Coming at the issue of mental health from a legal perspective, Elizabeth Fortin, solicitor at Stone King, gives an overview of legal considerations for Trusts and offers helpful advice.

To finish, I’d like to draw your attention to an incredibly beautiful article by Steve Taylor, CEO of Cabot Learning Federation. Drawing on C.S. Lewis, Steve shares a wonderfully human insight into the importance of building relationships and the significance of including and developing others. Indeed, I chose to end with Steve’s piece because it reminds us that when we talk about professional processes this does not have to imply something cold or inhumane. Reflecting on policy influencing and professional networks, Steve reminds us to make sure we have "left the door open and the ladder out for others to join.”

I hope you enjoy this edition of Trust.