May 2021 edition: Shifting the Narrative Around School Trusts

Shifting the Narrative Around School Trusts

At CST’s recent Annual Conference, Education Secretary Gavin Williamson promoted Trust Partnerships, an opportunity for schools to have an informal relationship with a Trust before officially joining.

These partnerships, already used by many trusts around the country, were perhaps rather unhelpfully described by Williamson as a ‘try before they buy’ option. Such terminology can perpetuate the narrative that Trusts are basically charlatans out to make a profit, detracting from what trusts actually are – powerful vehicles for school improvement.

There are tremendous benefits to growing a strong Trust. Certainly, a Trust communicating its value well helps to demonstrate why and how it would make an excellent fit for any schools looking to be part of a strong trust. There are also many barriers to growth – capacity or funding, for example. Unfortunately, at one stage or another, many Trusts, in trying to grow and build capacity so they can continually develop what they are able to offer to more pupils, find themselves against a common challenge – the false narratives about Trusts.

This is why positive PR and really strategic, proactive and thoughtful communications are so important. They will ultimately make our lives and our roles easier, build advocates where we need them for when we need them and have a positive impact on our schools’ children, staff and communities.

Tiffany Beck

If we are to continue the shift away from negative perceptions and myths about Trusts, we need to collectively propagate a true narrative, one that reflects both the reality of what Trusts are and what we envision them to be - what we are working so hard for. We can collectively shape the sector by sharing our stories.

The more we make our voice heard as individual Trusts, the more we make the collective voice of Trusts heard and understood locally, regionally and nationally. This then makes things easier for ourselves because by sharing our stories, we are reaching key stakeholders such as current and prospective parents, current and prospective staff, politicians and decision makers, other schools and Trusts and more. That helps us build trust in both our own Trust and the wider Trust system.

This is why positive PR and really strategic, proactive and thoughtful communications are so important. They will ultimately make our lives and our roles easier, build advocates where we need them for when we need them and have a positive impact on our schools’ children, staff and communities.

A good place to start is by thinking about how you want to talk about your trust through the lens of CST’s narrative, promoting School Trusts as education charities with a single legal and moral purpose to advance education for public benefit.

Part of this is encompassed in CST’s Three Nested Leadership Narratives for School Trusts, which PLMR supported CST to launch in January 2020:

  • Trust leadership: which is how we talk about ourselves, what we do and why we do it. School Trusts create the conditions for deep collaboration among teachers and leaders to improve the quality of education.

  • Civic leadership: How we work with others to advance education as a wider common good. Civic Trusts create the conditions for purposeful collaboration between and among Trusts and other civic organisations.

  • System leadership: not in the old definition of ‘working beyond the school gates’ but rather how we need to act on, rather than just acting in the system. System-building goes beyond collaboration and engages deliberate system design and system building.

How does your Trust lead in these three realms? Tell your story.

As CST says, School Trusts should work not just in but on the system. Shifting the narrative is essential, and as Trusts, we are the best-placed to do it. This is about engaging in deliberate system design and taking back the narrative about School Trusts. This is about saying proudly, collectively, that School Trusts are education charities developing schools to give children a better future.

It is also about creating opportunities to build our civic leadership: helping communities develop a better understanding of education and its role in regeneration, engaging in a collaboration of partners to deliver change and transformation in a locality or region. Part of this is demonstrating our reach as anchor institutions grounded in our communities – geographically, as large employers with significant purchasing power, and as charitable organisations. We provide wider social value.

As strong School Trusts, we can contribute to system leadership and design, sharing what works and what doesn’t, increasing our influence, and acting on, not just in the system.

As Leora Cruddas, CST’s chief executive, so eloquently stated to Trust leaders in her opening address to the recent annual conference: "You are not complacent – you are restless in your desire to improve the quality of education. You are driven. You have limitless horizons about what can be achieved by all children – but particularly the most disadvantaged.”

By collectively shifting the narrative, we can demonstrate together exactly how visionary, how meaningful and how transformational our School Trusts are, and the difference that makes for the children and young people we serve.

 

PLMR is a CST Platinum Partner.