July 2021 edition: Preparing to Meet the Post-pandemic Challenges Head-on

Preparing to Meet the Post-pandemic Challenges Head-on

Orchard Hill College and Academy Trust (OHC&AT) exists to support, enable and champion the talents, skills and rights of the most complex and vulnerable people in our society in order that we can release their potential, promote their wellbeing and transform their lives. When our Covid-distorted landscape begins to return to normality we need to be ready to meet it head on. We need to deliver an offer that is not only as effective as it was before March 2020, but one that has grown in experience, knowledge and stature and is even more responsive. Our headline objectives of growing the specialism, nurturing talent, attending to quality and standards, building capacity and being system leaders as a result of our broader advocacy are both precisely relevant and clear signposts to our priorities as we move forward.

It can be easy at times like this to become perpetually stuck in the moment. Now we are into the language of ‘roadmaps’, ‘Covid recovery’ and ‘building back better’. However, much of what made OHC&AT – and indeed the sector as a whole - successful pre-Covid will be what continues to make a positive impact post-pandemic. There has been significant learning and we are humble enough to absorb it, whether that is embedding innovative approaches to online curriculum and therapeutic delivery, maximising staff wellbeing and productivity through adjustments to working patterns or reaffirming our enhanced role in wider system leadership and advocacy, not just for the SEND sector but for the Multi-academy Trust model more widely. These considerations are best served when supported by a deep understanding of our headline mission, vision, ethos and values, set alongside our key strategic aims for the Trust as a whole. By ‘understanding’, we refer to a mind-set that intuitively speaks the language of the Trust, hears and sees it in all of our interactions and is able to both identify and articulate the impact we have on the lives of the young people we are so privileged to work for.

Collectively, we share best practice, support, challenge and encourage each other, pool resources, make expertise readily available, learn together from mistakes and share collaboratively in our successes.

John Prior

Similarly, we ought not to adopt the position that all practice now has to be radically different. Virtual platforms have been an integral underpinning of business continuity during the pandemic but we remain a person-centred organisation, one that is at its most dynamic and transformative when we are able to physically and emotionally engage, not just with our learners but with each other as teams of colleagues. Whilst the role for, and benefit of, well-planned and accessible remote learning is now absolutely clear, delivery and therefore impact can be sub-optimal if it becomes the default. Equally, it is important that we look beyond the notion of mere recovery with respect to the curriculum, whilst acknowledging and taking positive steps to redress lost learning and detriments to our children and young people’s mental health and wellbeing. Our pupils and students are reliant on us now to accelerate a delivery model that places emphasis on achievement, strong personal development and meaningful outcomes.

The Secretary of State’s recent re-emphasis on the positive benefits of a strong Multi-academy Trust is welcome. Collectively, we share best practice, support, challenge and encourage each other, pool resources, make expertise readily available, learn together from mistakes and share collaboratively in our successes. However, the model is about so much more than a coordination of central services and economies of scale. Everyone’s voice – staff and governors/trustees, pupils, students and families – is bigger inside OHC&AT. Accordingly, it is critical that we understand that to refine the system we have to act on the system because this is where real, transformative and sustainable change occurs.

OHC&AT works with mainstream providers across London and the South East, typically in an outreach and professional development capacity, albeit all of our fifteen academies, and our sponsor Orchard Hill College, are SEND specialist provisions. A cross-sector approach, particularly via a well-developed Multi-academy Trust, presents real opportunities for all stakeholders. Such opportunities can be as far ranging as enabling some pupils to retain their place in mainstream provision where bespoke approaches make it appropriate for them to do so; increasing and broadening opportunities for learners with SEND and smoothing transitions; promoting disability awareness, inclusivity, equality and diversity; improving the scandalously low employment rates for adults with learning disabilities; or even helping to reduce pressure on High Needs funding by assisting commissioners to meet very complex needs in high-quality local provision as the first option.

In summary, our collective and civic responsibility to act, collaborate and advocate can rarely have been more fundamental. In such scenarios, one is drawn less to ideology and more to pragmatism. It is evident that a well-established, confident and coherent Trust can be, and indeed invariably is, a great driver for positive change. In other words, an appropriate vehicle for our times to enable us to work together to transform lives.