How to digitally transform your trust – the LEO Academy Trust story

LEO Academy Trust - 15 June, 2020

Category : Blog

How to digitally transform your trust – the LEO Academy Trust story

During our webinar series “Adapting to Change”, we’ve been hearing from lots of Multi-Academy Trust leaders about how they’ve shifted their strategy to deal with the Covid-19 crisis. Dan Morrow, CEO of Woodland Academy Trust, shared how he’s looking out for staff wellbeing, whilst Mark Greatrex, CEO of Bellevue Place Education Trust, spoke about the

During our webinar series “Adapting to Change”, we’ve been hearing from lots of Multi-Academy Trust leaders about how they’ve shifted their strategy to deal with the Covid-19 crisis. Dan Morrow, CEO of Woodland Academy Trust, shared how he’s looking out for staff wellbeing, whilst Mark Greatrex, CEO of Bellevue Place Education Trust, spoke about the balance between school autonomy and trust centralisation, and Mark Lacey, CEO of Diocese of Salisbury Academy Trust shared some lessons for leaders in a global crisis

Our latest speaker in our Adapting to Change series, LEO Academy Trust gave a brilliant talk about how they’ve rolled out cloud-based technology and consolidated their systems across their trust. They shared how they had to rapidly step up their rollout as the Covid-19 crisis began to kick in. They also explained some of the ways Arbor’s cloud-based MIS has helped them work flexibly during lockdown since they moved in March.

LEO’s Director of Technology (Learning) Graham Macaulay and Chief Operations Officer Nicky Gillhespy shared some great advice for fellow MAT leaders, particularly if you’re planning on updating your trust’s digital strategy in light of the demands of Covid-19. 

We’ve summarised their talk below – we hope it gives you some useful tips to take back to your trust when thinking about how to manage the coming weeks and months.

The journey towards digital transformation 

Our Trust is built up of six academies, 3550 students, 415 members of staff across seven sites, but we wanted to bring in one digital strategy which drives our use of technology across the board. It was really important to us that we aligned all our key stakeholders in a clear direction before thinking about how we would actually roll out new systems.

When we began planning our new digital strategy in September 2017, we had five challenges we needed to overcome before moving forward:

  • Financial constraints
    We started from quite a bleak financial position so where we wanted to use technology to improve outcomes and opportunities for our pupils, we had to be mindful of the finances that would be needed to make it happen
  • GDPR
    When we started the project, GDPR was on the horizon, and there was quite a lot of scaremongering and uncertainty about what it might involve. We had to make sure that anything we introduced would be bullet-proof when the legislation changed
  • Loss of LA support
    A big impetus to our digital shift was our Local Authority central admin server being decommissioned. The cost of replacing the physical servers across our seven sites was estimated at £60,000. So this prompted us to make a new plan
  • We needed a way to collaborate
    Our staff across the seven sites wanted to work together and help each other, but unfortunately, our IT systems actually prevented that. We wanted to make sure that the systems we moved to enabled the whole trust to come together
  • We had no technology vision
    When we started, there was no joined up direction or strategy. Our approach to technology was basically if it’s there, it’s great. And if something breaks and we’ll just replace it

To solve these problems, we had two options. The first was to carry on doing what we’d always done and “fill the holes and paint over” so that on the surface everything looked like it was working. This would have been the easy option, as it would involve no new staff training, no new risks, costs or demands on staff time.

Option two was to innovate and think differently. We had to realise that the world was massively changing and that we as an organisation needed to embrace that change. Sometimes the quick wins don’t always produce the best outcomes in the long term. 

Defining what we wanted to achieve

The digital vision has to come from the top and you have to have the support of the Trust Board. You also have to have input from various different groups. The key to our success was setting up Digital Working Parties with key stakeholders from across the trust, including Trustees, the CEO, the CFO, COO and Director of Technology. We asked key questions such as “What do we want out of the system?”, “What do we need?” and “What are we doing now that we could do better?” Then we tasked the IT and Technology departments to devise new solutions. Having input from every single area within our trust helped to manage knock-on effects of initiatives and make sure they worked for everyone. 

Planning is essential

During the journey, there have been highs where we’ve made progress and delivered change, but of course, there have also been challenges along the way. We learned quickly that the key to success, as with any change management project, was setting essential milestones along the way. Then as the plan began to change, we could default back to our core objectives in order to manage expectations.

We spent a lot of time thinking about long-term development, for example the sort of organisation we wanted to be and the opportunities we wanted to provide to our staff and pupils. But we also needed to deliver short-term projects where staff could see the benefits immediately. What was important was to position these “quick wins” within the longer term direction.

Communicating the strategy

We initially took a “dissemination approach” to communicating the changes to staff. Centrally, we communicated in the Digital Working Party, then Headteachers and Principals passed on the message to their teams. We reflect now that this process could have been improved because it meant those messages weren’t always delivered on time or accurately, and this generated a feeling of hearsay between schools. It would have been better if we’d have taken on some of that responsibility centrally. 

Changing mindsets and empowering staff

We wanted to ensure that every staff member had the core skill set they needed to make the changes we were putting in place. We therefore spent almost a whole academic year preparing support materials for staff and delivering CPD on everything from beginner’s Google, to creating forms, to managing files. 

Running a staff development programme was essential to making the digital project a success. And this work is ongoing – as we evolve our digital strategy, we will regularly review our provision for our staff and their capabilities, and change the way we deliver our CPD accordingly.

Although most staff have adapted to the new technology we’ve introduced, there was some reluctance and fear of change. We found the most important thing was to build their confidence. Our Office Staff have enormous skill and so we asked them why they liked working in certain ways so we could make sure our new ideas suited them and made their workload easier. By encouraging them to take part in our Digital Working Parties, and demonstrating their particular skills, they started to flourish. 

Our biggest wins of moving to the cloud

  • Online forms
    At the same time as introducing a central finance team, we created online Google order forms which are automatically sent to the right person to approve, then back to the School Office to process. This was important for auditory purposes but also allowed us to make sure budget holders didn’t feel they were losing control of their own budgets. We also find Google forms useful for staff to book their annual leave and to send surveys to parents
  • Joint calendars
    Having live calendars that all staff can feed into and look at has saved us lots of time and money. For every event this saves at least one email with people asking for details
  • Shared docs
    Using Google Docs allows all our staff, regardless of what site they work out or the device they’re using, to work on the same document at the same time. This really boosts collaboration and saves time

The impact of technology on teaching and learning

Since we moved to the cloud, we’ve been able to change our pedagogy and the way we deliver teaching and learning. We’re running a programme to provide all KS2 children with a Chromebook to use in school and to take home. This has enabled us to move from a passive approach where teachers talk and children do an activity, to having a lot more strategies that enhance the teaching and learning. Pupil engagement has rocketed as a result. 

We’re also really proud that one of our schools has become a Google for Education Reference School which means they regularly host visitors from around the world to look at the impact that technology is having on pupil experiences and outcomes.  


Supporting remote learning

During these unusual times, we’ve used technology to maintain a sense of normality as much as possible. One of the ways we’ve supported teaching and learning has been through setting up a simple Google website for schools to upload activities. The vision was to provide fun opportunities for children and help families support their children with their education from home. The site is massively helping not just our children, but children across the world, with around 15,000 visitors every day! 

We’ve also set up Google Hangouts for our classes, as well as sessions for our “Digital Leader” pupils with speakers from Google and Adobe sharing words of wisdom and ideas for how they can develop their computing knowledge. We’re also holding virtual discos with staff acting as DJs which we’re streaming live.  

Moving to Arbor during Covid-19

We moved to Arbor on 16th March – midway through the start of the Covid-19 crisis – but the timing worked out perfectly. Moving to a cloud-based MIS meant that our Office Staff could do all of their admin work at home. From the operations side we have been able to continue business as usual since the crisis hit, since all of our payments and orders could continue, and we could set up staff to work from home easily.

Moving to the cloud has changed how we work for the better and put us in a really strong position, especially for the demands of distance learning. From one computer we can access all areas across the trust, such as the MIS, our data stores and our finance systems. As soon as we decided to close our schools, we created a form to find out from pupils and staff whether they had access to a device or the Internet at home. We then made sure that every pupil and member of staff went home with a web-based device. 

Look out for more webinars with MAT leaders in our series “Adapting to Change”.  You can also check out our Summer schedule of webinars all about how to manage your school or MAT flexibly with a cloud-based MIS. With sessions specific to primaries, secondaries and MATs, and managing assessments, meals and payments, and more, find the session that’s right for you and book here. See you online soon!