“What can we offer as we grow?” How one trust put people at the heart of its culture

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Date published 11 April 2023

How can schools and trusts attract, nurture, and retain great teachers? Trust leader Lisa Bradshaw discusses how adopting a more flexible approach has led to greater opportunities across her trust.

Lisa has no shortage of experience with professional development (PD). As director of Three Saints Academy Trust, director of the North West Learning Partnership, and senior lead of the North West 3 maths hub, plenty of development opportunities have come her way. “I've been offered so much PD, but I've never really been on any unless I felt it would add value to not only me personally, but the roles that I do,” she says.

So, when it came to enrolling on an Ambition Institute programme, Lisa was looking at how the programme could benefit her and her setting. She recounts how she threw herself into the course content. “I shocked myself. I bored my husband at night, I took a notepad to bed with me.” she confesses. “I bought every book under the sun. Every time anybody gave me a book, I’d read and highlighted it before the next session.”

One session was a particularly powerful inspiration for Lisa: a talk by Mandy Coalter, former Director of People at United Learning. The session covered the importance of putting a trust’s best assets, its people, at the heart of its culture. “I had the confidence to come away from that session and absolutely change what I'd intended to do.” And her ‘People’s Plan’ was born.

Randal Cremer_two teachers with whiteboard2

The People's Plan

“I think teaching in general has had a quite traditional model and ways of working,” Lisa says. “Yes, in teaching, we have to follow certain rules, but there are things that we can offer, that we can tailor to make it exciting, so why would they want to leave? It’s in our hands.”

The People’s Plan involved strengthening the structures and systems the trust used to identify opportunities to nurture talent across the trust. Lisa worked with colleagues across the trust, creating opportunities on a one-to-one basis and in group discussions to answer the question ‘What can we offer as we grow?’ As well as working with all staff across the trust on inset days to identify opportunities for growth, Lisa developed policies around flexible working, remote working, staff wellbeing and work-life balance, and even introduced a menopause friendly policy.

Lisa created a ‘talent pipeline’ that covered staff in all roles and all levels across the trust. “I speak to all the staff. Teaching assistants to apprentices, I speak to all the business managers, site managers, cooks, cleaners, everybody.” On a one-to-one basis, she discusses each staff member’s needs for training, and their aspirations for the future. Everyone, not just teachers, is encouraged to work with her on an individual progress plan. For teachers, this takes them from their initial teacher training, through the early career framework and looks forward to ways they could develop their skills and passions.

“We're investing in people rather than just going the traditional route,” Lisa says, describing how career progression in schools can sometimes follow a rigid structure or seem like jumping through hoops. “We don't work in that way anymore because, if we carry on, we are not going to be able to recruit teachers. It's not exciting. It's not challenging. They can go and do other things.”

System Leadership Opportunity

Lisa has plenty of examples of how her people’s plan has made a difference to her trust. She mentions a teacher who had come to one of the trust’s schools through their school direct programme. “In a one-to-one interview she said, ‘I don’t think I can keep up with the pace of teaching and I've got a young family, so my plan would be possibly next year or the year after either go part time or on supply.’”

“And again, this is thinking outside the traditional box - that wider system leadership opportunity that we're creating in our trust through what we did as part of this programme.” Lisa mentions that, as part of that conversation, the teacher also told her that they would be interested in working on their school direct programme.

By coincidence, Lisa recounts: “A week later, my school direct lead told me they had to retire two years earlier than we’d thought.” She remembers her colleague being worried about what the school would do in their absence. I rang the head teacher of the school, and spoke to Katie that afternoon.” After applying for the role, that teacher is now the school direct strategic lead for the North West Learning Partnership.

Because of its approach to career progression, Lisa’s trust has been able to retain and redeploy talented staff who otherwise might have left the profession. She says, “this is the point of growing your people.”


Trust-wide impact

When asked about the effects of these changes in her setting, Lisa happily reports that “Nobody wants to leave” and that “they tell us that it's exciting to be part of the trust, that there are loads of opportunities.”

She credits this to her development on Ambition’s Trust Leaders programme. “This is what I was taking from Mandy’s session. Why are we having to work in this traditional model anymore? I think what we've started to build now, we're more focused on the wider system leadership opportunity within the trust.”

Those opportunities even go beyond Lisa’s trust. “With their permission, we move staff to give them opportunities in other settings, so they don’t get bored and move on,” she says, “we even offer advocacy programmes where they can support other schools, if they want to do that.” More specifically, these teachers support educators beyond their own schools by sharing, modelling and transferring best. This engages teachers who love teaching, supports their development, and helps to retain great quality teachers.

“It's things like that, that we can offer different routes and be flexible in those different routes, that I don’t think we would have an issue with recruitment. We don't have an issue with retention in our trust, and we don't have an issue getting people to want to apply.”

“The programme really gave me confidence. Going back to working alongside my CEO, now, we have a very different relationship. Now I’m leading far more than I've ever led.” Her enthusiasm for the programme is palpable. “I have never, ever been on anything quite like it” she says, “every single session equally surprised and challenged me.”

Our Trust Leaders programme is currently under review. We’re consulting with experts and leaders across the sector to reimagine it for the current context, addressing the most challenging problems faced by trust leaders across England.

Find out more about our NPQ for Executive Leaders (NPQEL) programme.

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