How REAch2 use touchstones to unite their organisation

blank Sue Northend - 3 June, 2019

Category : Blog

How REAch2 use touchstones to unite their organisation

Today I will share with you the principles that keep REAch2 together. We call them our touchstones. These are the things that are common and that are important for us as an organisation. We call them touchstones because a touchstone 500 years ago was a measure of quality. It’s a standard by which we are judged.

Today I will share with you the principles that keep REAch2 together. We call them our touchstones. These are the things that are common and that are important for us as an organisation. We call them touchstones because a touchstone 500 years ago was a measure of quality. It’s a standard by which we are judged. Hence, their importance can be felt across our organisation.

They’re also a barometer of how we’re doing. As a director of HR, I can assure you: when we have challenging conversations, this is what we come back to. As I’ve said before, REAch2 isn’t a Starbucks where every coffee shop is the same. We’re the equivalent of a bespoke coffee shop, where quality is absolutely paramount. No teacher is the same; no two schools are the same, but we share these guiding principles.

So what does this mean in practice?

Let me give you some good examples:

  • The head teacher of one demanding school with some serious challenges decided, rather than excluding pupils, to convert the old caretaker’s house into a centre with specialised provision for children who needed it. Pupils don’t leave school; they stay in the grounds and they’re still part of the community.
  • In an East Anglia school, our staff came in during the summer holidays to provide lunch to children who probably wouldn’t get 3 meals a day otherwise.

We make time to meet. If you take everything else away, apart from aligning with your culture and your purpose, this is paramount. It’s the easiest thing to disappear out of your calendars. We enjoy working together. We are vibrant when we work together.

We don’t have head office, so we’re all in lots of different locations. We’ve gotten really good at Zoom or Skype calls and work hard at making it feel like we’re all in one room. Making time together is really important. That’s the senior leadership team, head teachers and teachers.

You’ll see on the website that we talk about the REAch2 family. That may sound corny to some, but we mean it. Being a family means that we actually hold each other to account. We have a chart that reminds us of who’s responsible for what: how central team is going to work with schools, what support they’re going to get. We challenge each other when things aren’t going so well.

One of the things we remind our headteachers and SLT about is “raise extra purpose”. We have to ensure that everyone understands why we do what we do. If you go onto our website, then you’ll see our 5 year strategy document, which outlines that REAch2 stands for ‘reaching educational attainment’. Under that, we’ve got 3 headings:

  • Truly exceptional performance: this isn’t just about Ofsted, but other things that our schools achieve.
  • Distinctive contribution: what makes our education different and purposeful for every pupil?
  • Enjoying impact: this includes pupils, parents, and governors alike.  

Image 1: REAch2 uses touchstones to stay focused on their guiding principles when on-boarding new schools to the MAT

Another key element: people. When I first joined REAch 2, I was clearly the executive. My focus would be leadership, leadership, leadership coupled with location, location, location. You can imagine that, having 60 schools, we’re not looking for the same head teacher for every single one. Our smallest school in East Anglia has 75 pupils, while our largest in London has over 1000. We’ve appointed every single one of our head teachers apart from 3. It’s not a ruthless statistic: it’s the results of painstaking clarity in what we’re about and what works.

When you think about it, it’s not difficult. Know what you’re looking for when you interview. Our first questions are about the ‘REAch2 fit’, not about experience. Our on-boarding plan for every single person on the central team is 6 months. It’s very specific, it’s very clear and the line manager takes ownership of it. We have an induction event, which is not just for head teachers, but for any of their SLT whom they wish to bring along. We have 3 regional teaching conferences a year, and we have one larger headteacher conference where everybody comes together.

It’s important to get people together to reinforce messages. When it comes to leadership and culture:

  • You are strategic, not operational. Doing what we’ve always done will get us nowhere apart from where we are today. Take time to think. Have clarity of vision – at trust level and at school level. Communicate the route for others.
  • Leadership is a moral activity. You do the right thing because you know that it’s the right thing to do, regardless of whether anyone’s looking or not.
  • REAch2 is about transformational improvement. We’re not scared of doing things differently. We all make mistakes, but fundamental change doesn’t happen overnight. We’ve just embarked on a structural reshuffle of our whole organisation. 
  • Personal learning is very important. Be a role model to others. Learn from your network. Don’t stand still.
  • It’s not all about you. A leader in REAch2 seeks to develop the collective capacity of their team.
  • Relationships. They require investment both in and out of the organisation.
  • The touchstones. Live them so you can believe them. Set standards and welcome the bar being raised. Seek to work with others and be prepared to have challenging conversations.

Practice is important. If our touchstones are non-negotiable and we’re clear about our mission, then actually it takes practice. Communicating something via a poster or on a website and doing it once won’t accomplish anything. It’s about reinforcing it on a daily basis. Over the last 6 months we’ve been looking at our own growth to make sure we maintain our purpose and principles when we add more schools. We’re not standing still.

One of the reasons why REAch2 is really keen to be at Arbor’s conference today is because our sector is still relatively new. This is a good reason to support each other. Don’t forget that whilst we’re all working on our own individual culture, people outside our sector will be looking at us. They will say: ‘what’s it like working there?’ So, your culture (our culture) is important. It will define us as a good place to work: a sector for a career and a sector which means business.