Building equity through trust leadership
6059 students. Nine schools. One Multi Academy Trust. As a trust leader, how do you make sure that every child gets the best possible start in life, regardless of where each school has got to in its individual improvement journey?
For Tracey Greenough, Deputy Chief Executive for Consilium Academies, this challenge was an opportunity to build a network of contacts and draw on the latest educational research. As a participant in the Ambition Institute’s Trust Leaders development programme, she had all the tools she needed at her fingertips. “My role”, says Tracey, “was to devise a school improvement strategy that would ensure as a team we were more effectively deploying resources, more efficiently evaluating impact and developing further the sense of collective responsibility that is at the heart of the Consilium Academies’ Mission”.
Changing the structure
The path to improvement has been a gradual upward trajectory. By July 2019, three subject specialists were in place, tasked with working in specific departments. But their impact was limited, and at this point most of the schools were still in decline. Following a change in the leadership of the Trust, Tracey joined Consilium in September 2019 and, along with her team, inherited this model, and it was clear that further changes had to be made. In September 2019, Directors of Education and Education Advisors were added to the structure of the Trust. These expert colleagues were deployed equally, so that all schools had the same level of support. This strategy met with some success, and two of the schools were taken out of a category of concern.
By 2021, things were looking brighter. “It became abundantly clear that our schools were at different stages in the school improvement journey, and needed different levels of support at different times”, observes Tracey. She was inspired by Sir David Carter’s book Leading Academy Trusts – Why Some Fail But Most Don’t, in which he came up with a four-stage model of school improvement: stabilise, repair, improve and sustain. Through the Trust Leaders development programme, Tracey also got to work with Sir David directly. For Tracey, in the process of designing a school improvement strategy, this was the spark that she needed, inspiring the “initial thinking that would enable us to further embed our strong beliefs of equity, collective responsibility and integrity”.
Creating a network
At the same time, the Trust Leaders programme introduced Tracey to a network of educational experts, all bringing their own experiences, expertise and advice. Two individuals were particularly influential, Dave Baker, CEO of The Olympus Academy Trust, and Mark Duker, CEO of STEP Academy Trust. The timing of these introductions was perfect, says Tracey, coming just as her thinking was starting to evolve. As she puts it, “I developed a much deeper understanding of the importance of a clear, articulate and equitable School Improvement Strategy”.
Using research to coordinate resources
Once again, it was research that showed Tracey what she needed to do next. But what she discovered presented some initial challenges to her previous thinking. According to a report by Robert Hill and Peter Matthews (‘Schools Leading Schools II: The Growing Impact of National Leaders of Education’), the key is school-to-school collaboration and flexible deployment of expert staff across a Multi Academy Trust. As the authors noted, “the successful recruitment, deployment and expansion of a cadre of schools capable of sharing their excellence with other schools … introduces a powerful lever for change into the school system”. In short, they concluded, “tens of thousands of children and young people are getting a better deal as a result”.
Tracey was now armed with the research that highlighted the importance of co-ordination and the movement of resources across schools. Her next step was to look at how the schools in Consilium Academies were performing, and what impact they had on the life chances of their students. In collaboration with members of the School Improvement Team and Trustees, this enabled her to develop a school improvement strategy where resources were deployed across schools depending on where each school was on its own improvement journey. Looking back at the process, Tracey emphasises the importance of “open, honest and transparent communication with schools, and ongoing consultation with our staff about the values of equity and collective responsibility”.
"They understand that they are part of a wider organisation and that every child in every one of our schools deserves the very best education"
Equity of opportunity
Since these changes, the culture across the Trust has changed significantly. Its mission is clear, says Tracey, focussed on “improving the life chances of all children, with an emphasis on securing equity, ensuring all students benefit from the same opportunities to succeed”. For the Trust’s team of headteachers, sharing limited resources might present challenges, but decisions are easier with an effective school improvement strategy that everyone can believe in. As Tracey explains, “ensuring that the culture across the Trust is one of excellence and integrity has enabled our team of headteachers to understand that resources may need to be deployed elsewhere depending upon where there is the greatest need”. With a clear school improvement strategy for the Trust as a whole, and focussed Project Plans in place for each school, everyone is committed to a shared vision of fairness and collective responsibility. For instance, Tracey remembers how one of the schools had no music teacher, which everyone felt was unfair. The schools pooled their resources so that a music teacher could be brought in, meaning that all 6059 students now have equal access to music education. As Tracey says of the teachers working across the nine schools: "They understand that they are part of a wider organisation and that every child in every one of our schools deserves the very best education and therefore the very best chance in life”.
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