March 2022 edition: Introduction

Introduction

We publish this latest edition of Trust ahead of the imminent arrival of a Schools White Paper. Many of the headlines have already emerged, with the government making clear over the past year or more that it wants to see all schools join a school trust. We expect this to be a strong focus within the White Paper.

As we think about the future it is only natural that we think about organisational development, which for many will mean plans for growth. You’ll see this thread touched on both implicitly and explicitly in this edition of Trust.

The lead article on ‘Preparing for Change’, by Leora Cruddas, Chief Executive of CST, walks us through the vista of reform likely to be ushered in by the Schools White Paper and the SEND Green Paper. As ever, this is a policy tour-de-force underpinned by a sensitive exploration of the implications for the people involved: "We must be clear about the imperative of bringing quality and strength first - growth is not a numbers game. We should grow in a way that builds capacity in a locality – not in a way that detracts or harms…We must grow in a way that holds trust with children, parents, and communities.”

CST’s belief is that by bringing schools into groups we unlock greater capacity for the professional learning and knowledge building that leads to better quality of education for children. Accordingly, Charis Evans, Director of CST Professional Development, reflects on the work CST has been doing with its Directors of Improvement Network, including its recent inaugural conference. At the heart of this work is the notion of school Trusts as communities of practice, and from this is derived some of their authority as school improvers. Charis encapsulates this beautifully in her argument that "The authority to improve Trust schools is given, taken, and earned. Given, through appointment to leadership roles. Taken, by people in Trust school leadership to create equity of opportunity for all children to enable human flourishing and well-being. And earned, through the development of specialist knowledge that is tested, refined, and shared with colleagues across the sector.”

Alongside our consideration of the potential power of the group we must of course think strategically about how we grow our Trusts if we are to leverage that power effectively and sustainably. This will be particularly important in a ‘post-White Paper’ world. Nicola West Jones, Head of Market Research at The Key, provides a fascinating insight into the barriers and opportunities of Trust growth in 2022, sharing findings from a recent sector survey.

The art of growing a Trust is deeply strategic, and our best laid plans can be affected by factors beyond our control, an example of which is the current rising cost of energy. Robert Gould, Partner at Barker Associates, offers some practical advice for Trusts about what steps they can make, linking the here-and-now with the longer horizon and the work Trusts are already doing towards being Net Zero.

As well as considering the implications of the White Paper though, there are perennial issues that Trusts must stay on top of, including managing effective procurement. In his article, Graham Burns, Partner at Stone King, provides an overview of recent changes to the procurement thresholds and the implications for Trusts. This is an incredibly practical article, jam-packed with helpful advice.

And there are other priorities too that we must not allow ourselves to be distracted from during the hubbub of system reform. In her article, Rosemary Baylis-West, Partner at Perrett Laver, reminds us of the importance of growing strong, sustainable and diverse leadership teams, drawing on experiences of the pandemic to illustrate her argument. "While there was the strong sense that existing School and Trust leadership teams rose to the challenges of the pandemic and many Trusts have been rightly thrilled at the organic growth of internal leadership capacity, these successes should not stop Trust leaders from continuing to seek opportunities to diversify not just the personnel at the top tiers of organisations, but also the types of roles that make up leadership teams.” This is an important lens for us as we consider Trust growth in the coming months and years.

This links beautifully to an article by Derek Lefley, Teaching Personnel, on Growing Your Own Talent. "Many Trust leaders," he argues, "recognise the benefits of public-private collaboration and partnership. It is a model that supports the aims of Trusts as civic structures,” and he argues that ‘curious consultants’ can help Trusts by working with them to achieve their talent management aims.

The final article is another exploration of growth; an interview with Luke Sparkes, Deputy Chief Executive at Dixons Academies Trust, on the Trust’s approach to professional growth. Luke gives a fascinating insight into the innovative and robust thinking that is informing the Trust’s decision to move beyond the longstanding approaches to appraisal that have dominated the system. At the heart of this is, as Luke says, a belief that "our staff are our greatest resource – they deserve practice grounded in pathfinding research.”

As you’ll see, this edition of Trust is timely in that it offers a range of perspectives pertinent to the Schools White Paper, but the significance of the articles goes far beyond government agenda – this is the authentic voice of the sector and its partners talking authoritatively about the power and challenge that resides in being part of a growing group. It shows the purpose, power and principle that underpins the work of school Trusts. I hope you enjoy reading it.