July 2021 edition: The Way Forward - Building Trust Culture Together

The Way Forward - Building Trust Culture Together

There is no escaping the fact that the pandemic has caused significant disruption to the education of all of our pupils but particularly to the most vulnerable and disadvantaged. The latest findings from NFER and the EEF indicate that school closures are likely to have reversed the progress made to close the gap in the last decade. The DfE in May 2020 warned that the attainment gap between disadvantaged pupils and their better off peers could be as high as 75% because of the pandemic. Without a marked improvement in the rate at which the gap is closed, it would take us until 2070 before disadvantaged pupils did not fall further behind other students during their time in education. At Nova, our definitions of these groups of students have expanded as the COVID-context has necessitated a revision of what might constitute ‘disadvantage’ and how we might identify ‘vulnerable’ children. Our strategic planning must see all of these potential facets – we need to truly consider the needs of all of the children that we serve.

Our values have never been more palpable than in this time of burgeoning renewal and the context that has given rise to this. Trust, honesty, collaboration, learner-centredness, delighting in challenge, integrity, commitment: these typify what Nova is growing to be as we commit to doing more than ‘catching up’ and, instead, strive to ‘leap forward’.

The COVID-19 pandemic has served to further sharpen the focus on our priorities for the Trust’s impact on education:

  • Wellbeing

  • School Improvement Strategy, underpinned by research and expertise, including leadership at all levels

  • Central Services model development through ‘coaching for improvement’

  • Re-defining our Mission, Vision and Values

    Our strategy is not about ‘catch up’, it’s a wholesale commitment to and focus on excellence at all levels for all in our Trust family but, primarily, ensuring our children have opportunities to achieve their best.

    Ash Rahman

  • External perspective on our policies and guidance

  • Financial controls and monitoring

  • Equality, Diversity and Inclusion

  • Stakeholder voice, engagement and influence

  • Risk management

  • Digital strategy

Wellbeing at our core

In the immediate term, a more acute focus on wellbeing is re-establishing our schools and workplaces as places where everyone in our community is seen, heard and valued whilst being supported and challenged. This is closely linked with a focus on key aspects of education to accelerate closing the attainment gap and re-securing positive in-school learning environments for all. We were ambitious in our canvassing of stakeholders’ views: pupils, parents and staff have responded fulsomely to this with over 8,000 responses across our Trust. We’ve listened: wellbeing is planned as a core strand in every aspect of what we do next year, from the Personal Development Curriculum, to CPD offers for all staff and governors, to an approach to QA that is culture-driven and impact focused.

Synergising this strand with its bedfellow, EDI, will be fundamental to closing the gap and ensuring that our communities’ voices aren’t just heard, they are our core influence. We have a moral imperative to provide the highest possible quality of education, with equity of opportunity and ambition as the standard, and no voice is louder than that of the children in our communities.

Everyone is a learner

In Nova schools we will continue to work together. We will learn from and with each other and will also learn from others beyond the Trust, both in this country and internationally. All of this is to ensure we deliver the world class standards we aspire to for our young people. We can expect that the gap will have widened when pupils return to school, even if the strongest mitigating steps have had an impact. Our strategy is not about ‘catch up’, it’s a wholesale commitment to and focus on excellence at all levels for all in our Trust family but, primarily, ensuring our children have opportunities to achieve their best.

Creating a common language for and understanding of high-impact, sustainable and critically-engaged education, sits alongside a focus on developing the capacity of all in our schools to be autonomous in their realisation of our Trust values. At its core, the intention of this approach is ensuring excellent outcomes (in the broadest sense) for all children, staff and the wider development of our Trust. This is the lynchpin holding all of our strategies together: through this synergy will come impact, sustainable self-improvement and a realisation of the ambitions that our culture demands for all in our Trust.

Practising what we preach

Whilst wellbeing and learning are the frames for everything that we’ve prioritised, the bedrock for our success has to be a realisation of the culture we’re striving for. We’ve been honest and humble in our revision of how we work: we are leaving no stone unturned in order to be radical in our action. As a start, we’ve taken a more ‘flat’ approach to leadership, with Lencioni’s notions of team steering our development and placing ‘trust’ as our core business for improvement.

This is most keenly seen in our commitment to building our coaching culture as the vehicle for all other aspects of improvement. Within the next 15 months, at least 100 of our staff will be trained to an advanced level of coaching, with at least 50 of these holding a professional coaching qualification. This is the tip of the iceberg, a palpable demonstration of the ambition we have for all of our learners – children and staff – to be the architects of their own success.

Our stakeholders’ voices are ringing in my ears as I type: their call for us to be driven by wellbeing, to invest in our communities and to provide the highest quality of education for all. It has never been clearer that our schools belong to our children and our communities. We need to hear, really hear these voices and particularly the most important and influential voice in all that we do – that of the children in our schools. We are custodians of our children’s futures: we must rise to the challenge of this promise that we have a duty – and a privilege - to keep.