March 2022 edition: Preparing for Change

Preparing for Change

The last ten years has seen massive reform. We now educate more than half of children and young people in the Trust sector. In 2010, there were just 203 academy schools – there are now nearly ten thousand academy schools in over 2,500 Trusts. As we anticipate the Schools White Paper and SEND Green Paper, it is worth thinking how we might prepare for the changes to come.

Our story

When we founded CST three and half years ago, part of our rationale was to create a new narrative for the brilliant work that is being done up and down the country in School Trusts. It is fair to say that the narrative has been dominated by those who believe that Trusts are the privatisation of education. This is simply not true. Trusts are first and foremost charitable organisation with a single purpose – to advance education for public benefit.

But I think there is still work for us to do. Therefore, it is essential that we are clear about:

  • What we believe

  • What we stand for

  • What promises we are making to our pupils, parents, staff and communities.

Our children

As we prepare for the next stage of reform, we must (and do!) put children at the centre of all that we do. We ask ourselves how to best create school environments where human flourishing is both the optimal continuing development of children's potential (the substance of education) and living well as a human being.

But equally if not more important, we must create environments where inclusion, equity and social justice are prime motivators.

  • How do we address the multiple negative impacts of the pandemic?

  • How do we create school environments that are built on affirmative models of disability for children with SEND?

  • How do mobilise education as a force for social justice?

Our people

People matter. Our schools and trusts are the beautiful sum of our children and our staff. So how do we understand and execute our responsibilities and duties as a good employer to build the resilience of our workforce?

The pandemic has taught us many lessons – prime among these is the importance of wellbeing. Therefore, we need we recruit, develop, deploy and retain great teachers and staff. We must ensure staff and leaders are supported throughout their careers, through evidence-informed professional development whilst ensuring a manageable work-life balance, paying close attention to wellbeing.

Importantly, Trusts have both the capacity and can create the conditions and culture to implement evidence-informed professional development across a group of schools. Jen Barker and Katy Patten have written about this in their brilliant Bridge to the Future Paper, Professional Development in School Trusts – capacity, conditions and culture.

Our governance

As we prepare for the next phase of reform, we must ensure our governance is strong and resilient. Governing our Trusts must be based on a strong model of governance that embraces the full responsibilities of the board. We must stop conflating the proposition of maintained school governance with Trust governance. CST has begun this work in our guidance on Governing a School Trust which is on our guidance hub.

There is perhaps more for us to do in relation to our processes for engagement. We might ask ourselves:

  • Does the board have a strong process for community and stakeholder involvement?

  • Has the board sought input from stakeholders to be comfortable that it has a rounded view on decisions?

  • How does the board understand its wider civic responsibilities and work in partnership to build relations across the local education community?

And then there is the important matter of local governance which can be such a powerhouse as part of our governance community. I have written previously that Trusts are anchor institutions. An ‘anchor institution’ is an organisation with an important presence in a place. We believe Trusts should be "anchor institutions” - anchored in their communities. So we might ask ourselves as we prepare for reform, how does our local tier of governance anchor our Trust in its communities? And how does our local tier of governance build meaningful accountability to the communities our schools serve?

Our schools and trusts are the beautiful sum of our children and our staff. So how do we understand and execute our responsibilities and duties as a good employer to build the resilience of our workforce?

Leora Cruddas

Our growth

Finally, we need to consider how we approach growth in the next phase of reform. This needs to be both ethical and strategic.

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. And we must beware of creating monopolies.

Our growth should be strategic – we need to grow by design in this final stage of reform. We know from the last ten years that rapid growth can be risky. But carefully planned growth that allows for consolidation so that we are sure we have the capacity to continue to improve our schools and deliver great education, is very important.

We must grow in a way that holds trust with children, parents, and communities.

All of this involves a mindset shift. In the next ten years we must demonstrate that the group of schools working together in deep and purposeful collaboration in a single governance structure is the way that our education system will become the best system at getting better.

And CST as your sector body will be here to walk alongside you on this journey, to advocate for you, connect you to each other and support you.