October 2020 edition: Introduction

Introduction

In the introduction to this edition of Trust, I want to make the case for ‘robust’ policy. Robustness can be defined as "a system’s ability to maintain its functions or characteristics in a relatively controlled and reliable manner in the face of external shocks or perturbations” (Campano and Woo, 2018).

School trusts – an example of robust policymaking

As Dominic Herrington, National Schools Commissioner, points out in his article, "When the history of this period of education is written, one of the things that will certainly stand out is the response of our school system to an unparalleled and incredibly variable seismic set of events.”

The global pandemic has provided a shock of seismic capacity to countries and education systems around the world. And we have learned a lot about which policies have enabled schools to absorb the shock. Paramount among robust policies have been the policy on schools in strong and sustainable groups.

I’d like to welcome Steve Rollett as CST’s Deputy Chief Executive. We’ve invited Steve to write the lead article in Trust for this edition. He argues powerfully that if Covid-19 is to leave a positive legacy in the education system, it must surely be to accelerate the reform journey so that all schools, and all children, can benefit from being part of a strong and sustainable group. And Dominic Herrington observes that those schools in trust partnerships have obviously benefitted from being able to share practice and develop solutions to operational issues quickly.

Supporting this position is Rowena Hackwood’s warm-hearted, honest, down to earth and authentic reflections on taking on the leadership of a trust during COVID-19, and the strong sense of mission in Ed Vainker’s article.

As I argued in a recent speech to the Birmingham Diocesan Education Service, trusts have at their core an insurgent mission. They have waged war on endemic failure in certain schools and areas of the country – and they have done this with a relentless focus on putting children first.

If Covid-19 reveals anything about our education system, it may be that the development of effective school trusts was the single most important policy that has helped schools to cope with the challenge they now face – and this was a policy made long before Covid-19 came along.

New policies must also be robust

It is likely that the effects of Covid-19 will be felt for a long while yet. Beyond the educational impacts, there are also social and economic impacts which will affect the children and young people in our schools. While the latter two – the social and economic impacts - may be beyond the control of schools, the educational impacts are not.

This is why Robbie Coleman’s article on the creation of robust, evidence-informed policy in the National Tutoring Programme is so important. We know that the impact of lockdown on children has been substantial and that, on average, the most disadvantaged children will have lost most. The National Tutoring Programme has been created to address this need.

Building the resilience and robustness of our people and processes

One of the reasons that trusts have shown themselves to be resilient during Covid-19 is the robustness of trust governance. Browne Jacobson make an important contribution in their article on the role of members as part of the human capital of school trusts.

Roger Inman, in his capacity as Trustee of Suffolk Academies Trust, argues for "assured governance” by which he means ensuring that the management and mitigation of risk is robust in all trusts.

It should be noted however, that robustness in the policy sense does not necessarily mean institutional or procedural rigidity. So, Passageway’s contribution shows that the agility of trusts – the ability to move quickly to remote meetings - is an important feature of institutional strength.

Mandy Coalter makes an important contribution in her piece on human resources about the management of human capital. As she says in her article, the pandemic has been a global ‘people' crisis. She makes the case that institutional rigidity is actually a threat to building robust and strong organisations. The pandemic has taught us something about flexible working – and it is our ability to ‘bend’ to new ways of working that contributes to organisational strength.

So we need to ensure that our policies and our organisations are both robust and resilient - with robustness emphasising that we can continue to deliver core functions amidst the shock of Covid-19 and resilience focusing on how we build back.

Never was there a stronger case to build a robust and resilient education system where all schools are part of a strong and sustainable group. This is our task now.

References

Giliberto Capano & Jun Jie Woo (2018) Designing policy robustness: outputs and processes, Policy and Society, 37:4, 422-440, DOI: 10.1080/14494035.2018.1504494.