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Daniel Giardiello - 9 September, 2020

Category : Blog

How to assess the impact of Covid-19 on your vulnerable students – An interview with Mark Oldman, Director of Inclusion and SEND at The Mead Educational Trust 

The Mead Educational Trust (TMET) is made up of ten primary and secondary academies in Leicestershire. In the first week of Autumn Term, Arbor’s Senior Partnership Manager Daniel Giardiello spoke to Mark Oldman, Director of Inclusion and SEND at TMET, to find out how they’re addressing the post-lockdown learning gap, particularly for their most vulnerable

The Mead Educational Trust (TMET) is made up of ten primary and secondary academies in Leicestershire. In the first week of Autumn Term, Arbor’s Senior Partnership Manager Daniel Giardiello spoke to Mark Oldman, Director of Inclusion and SEND at TMET, to find out how they’re addressing the post-lockdown learning gap, particularly for their most vulnerable students.

How are you going to assess the impact of Covid-19 on your students’ progress this term?

In the first few weeks of term, we’re going to re-baseline students using assessments that are very similar to what they took last February. From this, we’ll be able to assess if there has been lost learning, and if so, we’ll restart the curriculum from the point that they need us to, and ensure that deep learning is still able to take place. This is going to be particularly important in the formative primary years.

In order to chart the impact of Covid-19, we’re going to use a “vulnerability index” which, rather than assessing age-appropriate attainment, looks at where each student is compared to where we expected them to be, so we can plan best how to get them back on track. This term we’re applying it to all students so we can gather more information about the situation for each individual. Once each student catches up to where we expect them to be, we’ll move them back onto the usual way of reporting. 

We’re also going to use the Covid-19 Wellbeing Questionnaire from ImpactEd to ask KS2+ students across trust what their experiences were during lockdown, with a focus on wellbeing. Using this structured, universal method will allow us to test the temperature of the whole trust, and gather more reliable data than what Teachers could observe in the classroom. The first questionnaire will happen in the first few weeks back, followed by a second in early October. The second point of assessment will give us our first real data drop of academic attainment, which we’ll be able to compare with the wellbeing assessment at the beginning of term. 

This combination should begin to show us the impact of Covid-19 because it could reveal sets of students who have become vulnerable whom we might not have known about. 

interventions-assessment

Interventions Assessment: Assessing students’ circumstances

Could Covid-19 have caused more students to fall under the “vulnerable/disadvantaged” categories?

Yes, we’re predicting that Covid-19 will have created a new set of vulnerable students who, under normal circumstances, wouldn’t have been considered vulnerable. Due to having lost six months without the rigour and routine of regular schooling and socialisation with peers, gaps will appear across the board. 

It’s important that we don’t start term with assumptions of who our “disadvantaged” and “vulnerable” students are, but we work out who is vulnerable now. Those who are already acknowledged as vulnerable are at an advantage in some ways because we already know about them and they’ve had tailored support throughout lockdown.

What is likely to be the effect of Covid-19 on your most vulnerable students?

During school closures, the vast majority of our SEND children were coming in – for our schools in very disadvantaged areas, this was a large number of pupils who needed wrap-around family support. In many ways our relationships with these pupils has strengthened as a result, and we hope to use this to our advantage when closing the attainment gap.

First and foremost, we need to assess the wellbeing of our SEND cohorts –  particularly how they’re feeling being part of their class. Although they might not feel vulnerable in the first few weeks, if their classmates are able to catch up faster than them, they may begin to struggle. To combat this, we’ve employed an educational psychologist to come in two days a week to help properly diagnose what our students are going through, such as digging into difficulties at home. We’re also putting our most vulnerable students into smaller “mini” bubbles to make sure they don’t get excluded or marginalised from their wider classes if they present new challenging behaviour. 

How are you adjusting the curriculum to get students back on track?

In KS1, we’re planning an in-depth focus on the formative skills such as literacy and maths in order to make sure they have strong foundations to progress through the rest of school. We’ve also hired an SEMH Primary Intervention Teacher to work with rolling carousels of children on social and communication skills, so as to quickly fill the gaps that could have developed.

What role did technology play at your trust during lockdown, and what role will it play going forwards? 

Going into lockdown, we have a well-developed blended learning policy but what we realised was that not all children’s homes were equipped. We first sent a questionnaire home to assess the access to devices, making sure that we were clear of what we expected, for example “has access to a laptop for at least two hours each day” rather than simply “has access to a device” which could have meant borrowing a parent’s smartphone.

We bought 1,200 Chromebooks and distributed them across the trust. We also invested in a Microsoft learning platform and appointed digital champions to help roll it out. We plan to keep our online learning programme going post-Covid-19 as a means of aiding progress. It will allow students to do extra learning remotely outside of school. Our wide-ranging intervention strategies and expert teaching has been further invested in, and will be the key to ensuring a secure and successful start in our primary schools, and to helping Year 6s transition to Year 7. 

What lessons have you learned from Covid-19 as a trust?

Covid-19 has forced us to collaborate and think more as a trust. For example, it’s given us the opportunity to improve how we transition students between year groups and between schools, particularly from Year 6 to 7. Our Primary and Secondary Leads have been working effectively together and by recognising the strength in each other’s practice, have been able to influence trust improvement plans even further. 

For our most vulnerable students, we’ve learned that this transition needs to be even more personalised, recognising that the effects of lockdown could be far reaching and impact their wellbeing for a sustained period of time. We know that happy schools with meaningful relationships will underpin our approach to intervention in ensuring successful pupil returns. 

We’re going to be catching up again with Mark Oldman in October to see how his recovery and catch-up strategies are working out. Watch this space!

Interested in finding out how Arbor’s cloud-based MIS can help you work more easily and collaboratively this term? Book a demo today, or join one of our webinars

tellmemore@arbor-education.com | 0208 050 1028

Maddie Kilminster - 16 July, 2020

Category : Blog

How to collaborate and communicate across schools at scale during Covid-19 and beyond with Dave Noble, Director of Operations at Red Kite Learning Trust

As part of our “Adapting to Change” webinar series for MAT leaders, Dave Noble, Director of Operations at Red Kite Learning Trust, shared with us how the trust have been dealing with the Covid-19 crisis. Dave explained the vision he’s building for a centralised and collaborative IT infrastructure across the trust. Embracing new technology has been

As part of our “Adapting to Change” webinar series for MAT leaders, Dave Noble, Director of Operations at Red Kite Learning Trust, shared with us how the trust have been dealing with the Covid-19 crisis.

Dave explained the vision he’s building for a centralised and collaborative IT infrastructure across the trust. Embracing new technology has been vital in responding to the challenges of the pandemic, from maintaining business critical operations like payroll, to reaching out to vulnerable students, to managing the quality of remote teaching and learning.

Check out Dave’s webinar and presentation below.

 

To find out more about how Arbor MIS could transform how you work at your school or MAT, we’d be happy to give you an online demo. Get in touch or email tellmemore@arbor-education.com. Alternatively, you can call 0208 050 1028.

JanHetherington - 13 July, 2020

Category : Blog

Structuring your school timetable for Autumn Term: Tips from Jan Hetherington, Vice-Principal at Wykham Park Academy

With planning arrangements and timetabling at the top of school leaders’ minds right now, we invited expert timetabler and curriculum planner Jan Hetherington to join our webinar series “Adapting to Change” to share her solutions for September.  Jan is Vice Principal and Specialist Leader of Education for Curriculum Leadership at Wykham Park Academy, a secondary

With planning arrangements and timetabling at the top of school leaders’ minds right now, we invited expert timetabler and curriculum planner Jan Hetherington to join our webinar series “Adapting to Change” to share her solutions for September. 

Jan is Vice Principal and Specialist Leader of Education for Curriculum Leadership at Wykham Park Academy, a secondary school which is part of the 15-school Aspirations Academies Trust. As well as developing the timetable for her school, she also coaches senior leaders across other trusts on how to create more effective timetables.

Jan shared with us some of the plans Wykham Park Academy is putting in place to keep students socially-distanced and to help maintain teaching and learning standards in September. She explained that above all, she wants to ensure that the new arrangements don’t sacrifice students’ full learning experience.

You can read Jan’s conversation with Arbor’s CEO James Weatherill below.

 

You’ve said that “Timetabling is more than an annual exercise. It defines the experience students get.” Could you explain that?

What I mean by that is students need a variety of rhythms across the school day and week to get the highest quality experience. The right timetable should put together the right groups of students with the right teachers. Every lesson slot has a currency; some are lower value than others, for example nobody wants Friday Period 5, or Monday Period 1. Staff need to appreciate that if they get any of those lower value slots, they’re going to have different pedagogical challenges. The timetable should also be suited to the age of the students. I worked once with a MAT which completely restructured their day based on teenage sleep patterns with a staggered day. 

 

How did you adjust your timetable and learning provision during Covid-19?

As we went into lockdown, we decided that KS3 would have four lessons a day – English, Maths, Science and Humanities – and Year 10&11’s would have five lessons a day. We didn’t synchronise these in the school timetable, we simply uploaded them onto Google Classroom. Our staff skill set has grown exponentially in terms of using online platforms. We had been using Google Classroom already for about a year for setting homework, but we’ve had to learn rapidly over the last few months how to use it for much more. 

At first, when we didn’t know how long school closures would last, we wanted to keep a normal lesson format as far as possible. But after Half-Term, we shifted to project-based work for KS3. Year 10 moved away from new learning into consolidatary learning, and for Year 11 we put on four lessons a day only to support those students who were at risk of achieving a 4 or above. 

The quality of pre-recorded teaching and learning was mixed at first, so we started to give live lessons to KS5. We chose not to do this for the rest of the school due in part to union advice, plus we wanted to protect staff given potential safeguarding issues and uncertainty around best practice. Instead teachers uploaded pre-recorded lessons – some with audio, some with video. 

 

What are the key lessons you learned about how to engage students with online learning?

A key lesson was wrongly assuming that simply uploading a Powerpoint will do. We quickly realised that students need more support; they need a full learning experience with learning modelled by the teacher. For example, we started to use videos showing the teacher writing or demonstrating. It’s also important in pre-recorded lessons that the teacher still engages with the students personally, for instance calling out student names as though they were live in the classroom. 

 

What are your timetabling plans for September? 

We’re going to use the same lesson timetable we would have used in the normal course of events. The location of lessons might change but the timings won’t. We’re also going to offer a full curriculum. This is because we want to keep things as normal as possible in terms of what is being taught in order to give students’ the richest experience possible. We worry that if they had only a “partial diet” they might easily disengage. We also don’t want to stagger lesson start and end times too much because this would lead to unsupervised time. 

 

How will you keep students apart? 

We’re going to split the student body into different physical zones, with their own entrance exit and toilets. On the Banbury Aspirations Campus (which contains an Academy, a Studio School and a Sixth Form), we have the unique advantage of a massive site with lots of different buildings housing lots of different specialist areas,  so this makes it easier for us to keep students apart. 

We’ve got the potential for three different entrances into the school site. Students will have their own route to their zone, and within the zones, they’ll be able to move around into new spaces in order to maintain a rich and varied school day. KS3 will be kept in a “bubble within a bubble”, having all their lessons in one classroom. They’ll only leave their zone as a class to do specialised activities like Drama. KS4 will be zoned as a Year Group “bubble” so all their lessons will be in that zone unless they move for specialist activities. 

 

How will dining work?

We’re going to have a reduced menu and students will place an order, then pick it up and go. We’ve got two dining room spaces and we’ll have staggered slots so two “bubbles” can use the room but be separated by time slots. We’re going to continue the breakfast clubs we run for disadvantaged students by keeping them in a “bubble” with each other.

 

What about cleaning?

We’re still waiting for advice from the Government on what “enhanced cleaning” means. In the meantime, Headteachers are looking at what pubs and restaurants are doing right now to inform our plans. IT and Food Tech rooms are tricky because they’re used by every Year group and they’re available to book. The plan is to timetable them so there’s at least one lesson period in-between usage so we can clean down surfaces before the next group of students. We’re also going to limit use of those rooms to practical lessons, keeping theory based lessons elsewhere. Cleaning is of course going to be a big expense. We’re looking to the trust to support with that.

 

What about breaks?

Breaks are easier because students will use the outdoor spaces within their zones. We won’t be serving food at break, but students are welcome to bring their own break time food. We will be offering snacks and keeping an eye on known vulnerable students to make sure they are fed.

 

What is your advice to schools that don’t have the capacity or space you do?

I’d recommend staggering lesson times and movement times. Also assess what size of “bubble” you’re comfortable with. Some schools I’ve heard of are doing Key Stage “bubbles” which can include 600 students! Some are using online platforms to teach different lessons to classes that stay in one room. 

 

What’s your attitude to a “catch-up” curriculum?

On his blog recently, James Duran gives a range of options for Teachers to consider to balance “catch-up” content and new material. We’re planning a parallel approach of new learning with some revision along the way. We’ll review the content and progress regularly, and define “threshold” concepts within the curriculum students need to understand to move forward.

 

What are your fallbacks and contingency plans?

We plan to make all lessons digitally accessible if needed, making use of the online platform skills staff have learned. We’ve found pre-recorded videos are not just convenient but have the additional benefit that students can pause and rewind which can actually help to reinforce learning. If there’s another lockdown, we’re going to commit to doing live digital lessons because we don’t want to sacrifice the face-to-face element again going forward. 

 

What does quality online learning look like and how will you guarantee it going forward?

We’re still working out our quality assurance processes. Some schools have been doing live lesson evaluations but we don’t want to do that. In September, we’ll first of all carry out an audit of the technology students have at home to avoid the situation we’ve had where 600 students had to have paper lesson packs because they couldn’t get online. We’ll also do a RAG rating so we’re taking into consideration student preference and learning style. 

We’re going to put a digital learning policy in place so students know what we expect of them. In terms of teaching, we expect the same high quality as in the classroom. We want to maintain the learning structure we use normally, with a balance between guided practice and independent practice. 

The structure will look like this:

1. Live guided practice: 15 mins or more (live or recorded) where teachers model what they want from students. We’ll encourage the use of audio for this, rather than video, because we know that audio doesn’t split students’ attention in the same way video can

2. Live Q&A and dialogue, encouraging peer interactivity,

3. Independent offline practice, then students upload the work they’ve achieved

 

We also want to encourage a variety of different learning experiences (e.g. app-based and flip learning). In terms of assessment, we’re still working this out and looking into a system that allows live online assessment. We’ll definitely be including low stakes testing (e.g. using Kahoot). We’re also looking into functionality which allows students to put their work up on the screen rather than asking the teacher to come over and have a look. 

 

To what extent do you think changes next Term will affect students’ experience? 

If you look at the research after the 2011 earthquake and lockdown in New Zealand, it showed that students did better than expected when they returned. John Hattie (2020) says rather than focusing on “gaps” and content students have “missed”, you should focus rather on what students actually need. 

In this vein, we’re not expecting the new arrangements to have a huge effect on students because they’re going to be in a group that’s good for their learning and they’ll be with the right teacher. The sequence of learning may change over the year but they’ll achieve it all by the end of the year. 

 

If you’re new to Arbor, we’d be happy to give you an online demo. Get in touch or email tellmemore@arbor-education.com. Alternatively, you can call 0208 050 1028.

The Harris Federation - 18 June, 2020

Category : Blog

How Harris Federation implemented a failsafe online learning strategy – Part 2: What they learned from their data 

In our latest webinar for MAT leaders, we were joined by Derek Hills, Head of Data and Andy Meighen, IT Director from The Harris Federation. In our previous blog, we explained Harris’s unique approach to IT and how they were able to enable remote learning for their 36,000+ students when the Covid-19 crisis hit. In

In our latest webinar for MAT leaders, we were joined by Derek Hills, Head of Data and Andy Meighen, IT Director from The Harris Federation. In our previous blog, we explained Harris’s unique approach to IT and how they were able to enable remote learning for their 36,000+ students when the Covid-19 crisis hit.

In this blog, Derek and Andy share how they analysed their data across the trust using Microsoft Power BI, so they could measure how well students and staff were engaging with the online learning tools they’d put in place. 

 

How do you measure the success of remote learning? 

Once remote lessons got underway at The Harris Federation, questions soon arose around how it was all going; how many Teachers and students were engaging and what the quality of the interactions were. It was easy for Teachers to get insights about their classes from Microsoft Teams, but it was difficult to get useful information at a departmental, academy or trust level. To combat this, the IT team developed reports using Power BI to analyse usage data across the trust. 

Report 1

Below is a standard Power BI template they used to see all trust digital activity over a period of time, such as where users were logging in from and which files they were accessing. This was useful as it meant they could look at huge quantities of log data (10 million rows a day) during lockdown. 

Harris log data

Report 2

This image shows a different report they used to look at log information showing all online student activity. This allowed them to easily see the peaks and troughs over time, which helped them identify anyone they should follow up with.

usage data 2

Report 3

The below report showed them usage of systems during the Covid-19 period. Office 365 is orange, SharePoint is pink, OneDrive is grey, purple is Teams and yellow is Exchange (email) (not many students). 

They could see that in March, there was a big increase in email use as students and staff needed to communicate more than ever before, but Teams soon overtook email as remote lessons became regular. Use of Onedrive dropped, potentially because students and Teachers were storing and accessing assignment files within Teams instead. 

systems usage

Report 4

They also used Power BI to get important demographic information for safeguarding purposes. They also had to keep Governors and the Board of Trustees up-to-date with stats such as attendance. 

contextual analysis

Covid-19 has drawn attention to just how important having a strong IT infrastructure has been for teams across Harris. It has allowed the IT team to continue business as usual for the large part, and respond to the huge number of data requests they’ve received during lockdown. 

Though they’ve been able to learn a lot about the quantity of their online learning data, e.g. the peaks and troughs of usage, which parts of the system were being used and by whom, but what they haven’t been able to analyse is the quality of what was actually going on in the classroom. 

We’d be interested to know how and what you’ve learned from your online learning data at your school or trust, and the lessons you’ll take forward as you continue with a blended learning approach. Post a comment here or on the Arbor Community forum.

 

You’re invited to join us for the next webinar in our “Adapting to Change” series tomorrow (Friday 19th) where we’ll be demonstrating how to use benchmarking and performance analysis to drive smart strategy at your trust. Sign up for free with the link below.

Friday June 19th 2020, 11:00am

Using Arbor’s benchmarking and performance analysis to inform data-driven decisions for your trust

 

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

The Harris Federation - 18 June, 2020

Category : Blog

How The Harris Federation implemented a failsafe online learning strategy – Part 1

Over the past few months, in our webinar series “Adapting to Change”, we’ve been speaking to leaders of Multi-Academy Trusts about how they’ve been adapting to lockdown.  Recently we invited Derek Hills, Head of Data and Andy Meighen, IT Director from The Harris Federation – a trust of 48 academies in London and Essex –

Over the past few months, in our webinar series “Adapting to Change”, we’ve been speaking to leaders of Multi-Academy Trusts about how they’ve been adapting to lockdown. 

Recently we invited Derek Hills, Head of Data and Andy Meighen, IT Director from The Harris Federation – a trust of 48 academies in London and Essex – to talk about how they rolled out an online learning programme for their 36,000+ students. 

They explained how when Covid-19 hit, their flexible, cloud-based setup allowed them to quickly and easily give all students access to online education, which would not have been possible using a legacy, server based system. You can read more below about Harris’s unique IT approach and how they responded to Covid-19.

Check out our next blog to find out how they analysed their online learning data!

 

Harris’s technical approach

With 4,500 staff and 36,000 students across primary and secondary, Harris uses a centralised and standardised IT set-up designed to give everyone the same experience across the trust. 

The focus of Derek and Andy’s roles is making IT work for everyone across the trust with systems that are as efficient and cost effective as possible. 

The key principles of their IT approach are:

  • Centralise: Keep central control of system setup to reduce the amount of IT support needed at each school site
  • Integrate: Make sure data flows between systems so you don’t have to access everything separately
  • Consolidate: Make sure there is no duplication or errors in the data when it is brought in from different systems 
  • Automate: Make sure workflows and processes are automatic to save staff time and cut down on the number of people needed. This is particularly important when dealing with a large amount of staff and student data 

 

Using a data warehouse

The IT team at Harris manages data centrally through a combination of their own data warehouse and cloud-based systems. They created a data warehouse so that they could hold all their MIS (Management Information System) data on premises and develop systems on top of it. 

Using a data warehouse also means that when they bring in a new system, for example Microsoft Teams, it can set up user accounts for all students and staff automatically. Admin Staff simply add the student names, then the data warehouse puts them into the right groups, saving the central IT team time. 

Whenever they design new systems or processes, Derek and Andy ensure they can be used across all academies. They want to make sure all staff and students have the same technology options at their fingertips. At the same time, it’s also important to give Teachers the freedom to use digital tools in a way that suits the particular lesson they’re giving. For this reason, the IT team doesn’t advise that staff teach in a certain way, or use a certain VLE (Virtual Learning Environment) such as Google Classroom. From experience, without top-level buy in from trust leadership, initiatives like these are rarely successful.

Harris uses Microsoft systems across the trust which are set up to communicate with their data warehouse. These are some of the key parts of the puzzle that help the systems interact:

  • API: Harris makes sure that systems they integrate with (like their MIS) have a “read” and “write” API which means they can interact with their data warehouse
  • SSIS (SQL Server Integration Services): They use middleware that sits in between systems to connect them and allows IT to tweak the data as it moves between systems
  • MIM (Microsoft Identity Manager): This is a type of middleware they use for integrating with Microsoft Active Directory
  • SDS (School Data Sync) and Microsoft Flow: Allows them to push data up to Office 365 from their data warehouse and create Microsoft Team accounts
  • Microsoft PowerBI: A reporting tool which gives them insights into the information in their data warehouse 

 

How Harris responded to Covid-19

As schools began to close and remote working became necessary, Harris was able to respond quickly, using lessons they’d learned from a recent snow day. On that day, phone lines couldn’t cope, staff ran out of SMS credits and the web connection crashed. They therefore had already solved these issues, and increased their supply of laptops for students and staff to take home when Covid-19 hit. 

Setting up remote teaching and learning was also a smooth transition because staff were already using Microsoft Teams and Show My Homework to record lessons and set assignments. The only difference was that staff had to adjust to doing much more on Teams such as leading live lessons. The IT team also needed to set up lots more users on Teams – in March alone they set up 20, 000 accounts which took two weeks as Microsoft struggled to cope!

Click here to see the four steps the IT team took to set up users on Microsoft Teams using their data warehouse

Although they were smooth to set up, remote lessons brought some challenges. IT worked quickly with Teachers to adapt the ways students interacted with Microsoft Teams. For example:

  • Behaviour policy: Due to behaviour issues, they had to draw up a new Behaviour Policy and turn off certain capabilities for students, like switching off their cameras or not allowing them to create meetings themselves
  • Meeting formats: They looked at lots of different formats for remote lessons that Teachers could alternate between for best effect, for example a live “webinar” or “meeting”
  • GDPR: They had to navigate GDPR concerns for the recording of lessons, i.e. how long to keep the recordings before deleting
  • Remote support: Microsoft Teams was useful for IT teams to communicate easily with staff and give them support with systems, especially by being able to share their screen

Check out our next blog to find out what Harris has learned about their online learning programme from analysing their data in Microsoft Power BI.

 

You’re invited to join us for the next webinar in our “Adapting to Change” series tomorrow (Friday 19th) where we’ll be demonstrating how to use benchmarking and performance analysis to drive smart strategy at your trust. Sign up for free with the link below.

Friday June 19th 2020, 11:00am

Using Arbor’s benchmarking and performance analysis to inform data-driven decisions for your trust

 

 

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

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!

Mark Lacey - 3 June, 2020

Category : Blog

When the Strategic Plan just doesn’t cut it! Lessons for leaders in a global crisis from Mark Lacey, CEO of Diocese of Salisbury Academy Trust

In our webinar series for MAT leaders “Adapting to Change”, we recently heard from Mark Lacey, CEO of Diocese of Salisbury Academy Trust, who shared his strategies for leading his trust through the challenges of Covid-19.  Mark had some really useful advice for fellow MAT leaders around how having strong foundations through your strategic plan,

In our webinar series for MAT leaders “Adapting to Change”, we recently heard from Mark Lacey, CEO of Diocese of Salisbury Academy Trust, who shared his strategies for leading his trust through the challenges of Covid-19. 

Mark had some really useful advice for fellow MAT leaders around how having strong foundations through your strategic plan, business continuity plan and risk registers, as well as a strong set of digital tools, can help you pivot flexibly in a crisis. Most importantly, Mark highlighted the need for realism and compassion for staff.

As you’re planning your exit strategy from the current Covid-19 crisis, you might find it helpful to take a look at Mark’s planning document which he kindly shared with us. As you’ll see, the document addresses key risk scenarios and outlines the trust’s response, with space for the individual schools to complete their responses. Click here to download the PDF.

We’ve summarised Mark’s conversation with Arbor’s CEO James Weatherill below.

How well prepared were you for the Covid-19 crisis? 

I don’t think anyone was prepared for what has happened, but what we benefited from is we have a clear strategic plan, business continuity plan and risk register which gives us a strong backbone and allows us to adapt and flex when external events occur. 

We also pride ourselves on having an adaptive culture at the trust. We recognise that we don’t always have all the answers, but that it’s more important to share best practice, collaborate, and be open to admitting when we’re doing something wrong. This allows us to change direction fast.

How did you adapt to the crisis?

Earlier in the year, we had already experienced a large challenge – we went through 7 Ofsted inspections over a period of 10 weeks – which forced us to adapt quickly. This served as a test in some ways for what was to come with Covid-19 and we were able to learn important lessons so we could easily switch to a new rhythm of working. 

Given our schools are spread over quite a wide geographical area, we made sure above all that we worked tightly as a Central Team and that we set a clear direction. It was important that we were responsive in relaying information as soon and as clearly as possible to schools, and that we were accessible for whatever schools needed.

What have you learned about being responsive in a crisis?

The speed at which we’ve adapted to ensure emergency provision has shown us just how much potential we have for change. It’s also proven to us the importance of building into our strategic planning a focus on people more than process. We know staff will continue to feel vulnerable sometimes going forward and we believe taking a compassionate approach and prioritising wellbeing is really important.

When you return to more normal operations, how will your “people over process” approach change the way you work?

Putting people first is a difficult thing to measure and be certain about, but there are some concrete measures we can put in place. For example, we’ve seen that easy-to-use shared IT systems like Office 365 take a lot of burden away from staff and can help them feel connected. We also try to gauge how staff are doing through sending out digital forms and bringing representative groups of staff together to discuss certain issues. We aim to use the feedback we get from staff to build into our policy making going forward. A big emphasis across the trust is also social and personal development. 

How do you monitor wellbeing when working remotely?

A big focus of ours as a Central Team is looking after our Headteachers. Our Academy Improvement Team members have each taken responsibility for a group of Heads who they meet with every week using Microsoft Teams (video chat). Every meeting starts with questions about their wellbeing – it’s been important for us to understand all the different struggles Heads are dealing with at the moment, such as spouses who are key workers or having children at home. We’re learning a lot, and fast, about how to sense how staff are doing from their body language and tone over video. Many of the tensions Heateachers found with staff at the beginning involved miscommunications over email, so we’ve actively encouraged video chat to bring a personal approach.

Keeping regular lines of communication has also been really important. We’ve converted our monthly bulletins to weekly bulletins focused on wellbeing, in order to make sure everyone has access to helpful resources. 

How has your leadership style changed during Covid-19?

The most challenging thing we’ve faced as a Central Team has been working remotely and not being physically in each school. Whilst my natural leadership style is collaborative and approachable, this has been essential to emphasise even more, making Headteachers aware I’m here if they need.

Of course, we’ve been direct and interventionist where it was necessary. For example, we felt it was important to bring some schools together into hubs so that we had greater control of emergency provision and more staff could shield, despite some resistance from Headteachers.

How have you been using tech to adapt?

Because we’ve invested quite considerably in digital tools over the last two years, we didn’t have to suddenly bring on lots of new systems to cope with remote working. This crisis has shown us the real value of having systems like Arbor’s cloud-based MIS and Office 365 in place to rely on. It’s meant we can share data within and between schools easily, and communicate with parents using tools staff are comfortable using already. Some of our schools weren’t using some of the communications features before the crisis, but Arbor switched these on swiftly for us.

We’ve also seen the benefit of Arbor in our financial management during the crisis. We were able to set up our own Free School Meal voucher scheme and get all the data we needed from Arbor. 

Setting up students on Microsoft Teams has also made a lot of impact. Going forward, we’re going to ensure everyone has access to a remote learning platform. 

Has this crisis challenged your expectations on how quickly you can implement change?

It’s shown us the importance of being clear about what we all need to do together and what will have the most impact. It’s given us conviction and belief to step into changes more boldly in future. 

What are your future plans?

Having learned from this current situation, we’re going to be cautious about making too many plans going forward. Being able to adapt is much more important. We’ve got to be realistic about what can be achieved over the next year, given schools will need time to recover. 

In terms of planning towards wider school opening, we’re trying to make neutral decisions by weighing up the polarised spread of views out there. We’ve put together a risk assessment and planning document for our exit from the Covid-19 situation* which outlines key questions and issues, and the trust responses to each of them. It also provides space for schools to add their responses. 

* You can download Mark’s “Risk Assessment: Planning for Exit from COVID-19 Emergency Period” document here

What are your key takeaways from the Covid-19 crisis? 

I hope we will all go forward with a greater appreciation for what we have and more compassion for each other. I have been incredibly impressed with everything our staff have achieved and will not forget it. 

As a Central Team, we will aim to take collective responsibility for who we are as a trust and move forward with a strong moral compass.

Mark Greatrex - 27 May, 2020

Category : Blog

Managing a trust that is geographically dispersed – Mark Greatrex, CEO of Bellevue Place Education Trust (BPET) shares his strategy

Mark Greatrex has had a rich history in education; having held senior positions in three academy trusts and serving ten years at the DfE, his current position is CEO at Bellevue Place Education Trust (BPET), where he’s been for five years. BPET is geographically spread out, made up of eight primary schools in eight different

Mark Greatrex has had a rich history in education; having held senior positions in three academy trusts and serving ten years at the DfE, his current position is CEO at Bellevue Place Education Trust (BPET), where he’s been for five years. BPET is geographically spread out, made up of eight primary schools in eight different Local Authority regions across London and Berkshire.

Mark joined us for a brilliant webinar in our series “Adapting to change”, where he shared with fellow MAT leaders his strategies for leading a geographically dispersed trust, and how these strategies play out during the challenges of Covid-19. 

You can read Mark’s conversation with Arbor’s CEO, James Weatherill, below. Here’s a quick summary of the three main strategic areas Mark talked about:

  • Education autonomy – the importance of developing Headteachers to take ownership of their organisation, and how to monitor this autonomy through a strong performance management programme and school improvement strategy
  • Financial alignment – the power of having central oversight of the trust’s finances and top tips for efficient financial management
  • Plans to expand – the “10, 40, 100” model that Mark uses to plan how the trust would need be run as it grows, and the strategies to ensure geographical distance does not become a barrier to success


Why is educational autonomy important for your trust?

We’re very passionate about the breadth of provision we offer. We want the children to leave having real independence and confidence. Not only is the curriculum broad, but it’s delivered in an exciting, engaging and purposeful way. 

The most important thing for us is educational autonomy. We create the culture of the organisation centrally, and do have some policies that are approved centrally, such as safeguarding, first aid, health & safety and HR. But all our educational policies are approved at a local level. 

In the autonomy model, the role of the Headteacher is key. I’ve wanted to make sure that they have full ownership of everything that goes on in the institution they lead. It’s the middle leaders and the Teachers too, who are the engine room of the school. They own the curriculum content and the delivery of it. Because we serve schools across a diverse group of affluent and not so affluent areas, the curriculum needs to meet the needs of the local community that we serve. 


How do you build successful Headteachers?

The first thing I did as the CEO was put a very strong Headteacher performance management policy in place so that I can properly hold them to account, and that the metrics are shared and understood across the organisation. If we are pushing accountability, we need to reward so our Headteachers are eligible for discretionary bonuses every year of 2-8%. 

Headteacher objectives and targets are linked to our trust goals: Learn, enjoy, succeed

  • Learn: This curriculum objective is judged by the breadth of the curriculum and the richness of after-school provision. An example of a target within that is 60% of children attending an after-school club once a week 
  • Enjoy: This measures the effectiveness of the school and is judged by pupil numbers and attendance 
  • Succeed: This measures the quality of teaching and learning. Teachers are graded by “Outstanding”, “Good”, “Requires Improvement” and “Inadequate” (all of our Teachers are “Good”, and about 40% are “Outstanding”). We also look at pupil achievement here
  • Corporate target: This looks at what the Headteacher is doing across the organisation. Do they lead initiatives like learning reviews, collaboration groups, art projects or sports initiatives? 


How do you monitor school autonomy?

We make five two-day visits a year to review each of our schools. In the visits, we look at the school development plan, the safeguarding audit. The essential element is the learning review where we look at a particular piece of teaching and learning. 

Our review cycle is modelled on “C.O.D.E.” (Challenge, Ownership, Dialogue and Engagement). Each school chooses one area to be reviewed on each year. For example, under “Ownership”, we review childrens’ engagement in their own learning. This drives a powerful teaching and learning conversation within our schools. I wouldn’t recommend doing the whole Ofsted review cycle, because if the Central Team has got leadership right, and we’ve got teaching and learning right in schools, everything else will fall into place

Systems like Arbor MIS and Civica (our finance system) are invaluable to us as a Multi-Academy Trust, as they make those conversations a lot more focused. Five years ago, when I was going into schools with school improvement advisors, we’d spend a whole hour just trying to agree on a figure. Now we can immediately identify where the challenges are, for example persistent absences or behavioural issues. Arbor and Civia take us to the right places to focus our discussions and move the schools forward at pace.


How do you roll out your school improvement strategy?

As part of our school improvement strategy, we produce performance reports every term that are similar to the “school on a page” reports that some trusts use. These are two-page reports with RAG ratings covering attainment, quality of teaching and learning, leadership, attendance, safeguarding, behaviour, resources, staffing and engagement with the community. These consistent documents share the dialogue and increase visibility and accountability, bringing everyone into the conversation of improvement.

As a Central Team, we then plan strategic improvement interventions. As David Blunkett said “Intervention should be in inverse proportion to success.” We believe the system is improved by working on our worst performing schools

Depending on internal capacity, we sometimes commission organisations such as Local Authorities or expert private providers to do a piece of work with a clear scope e.g. improve attendance in one of our schools. 


How do you develop your staff?

We’re lucky to have an “Enrichment fund” which we use for certain passion projects across our schools, such as “Philosophy for Children” staff training, or hiring a Maths advisor five days a year for each school. 

Our CPD offer is critical. We’ve developed new Headship, Senior and Emerging Leaders programmes. We run one trust-wide INSET day a year in one of our schools, with about fifty one-hour taster sessions in different areas e.g. having courageous conversations with parents. These really drive enthusiasm and give staff tools and techniques they can take back to their schools. They’re also aimed to continue to fire their enthusiasm for teaching and learning.

We also make sure we do safeguarding every year for new staff or those who need a refresher. It’s possible to do things centrally but you can’t do it as often and you need to use remote formats. Going forward, we plan to do 4 out of 5 of our collaboration sessions per year virtually. 


Why is financial alignment important to your trust?

Where we give our schools educational autonomy, the opposite is true in terms of how we’re structured financially. By managing finances centrally, I want to invest funds in the schools that need it the most. That’s not to say we pool school funding. Each school retains their budgets based on the school funding letter. 

We’ve set three key financial performance indicators:

1) No school will go into deficit. Those who are in deficit have a goal to be out by the end of the year 

2) Staffing should be no greater than 75% of each school’s budget. This has allowed us to prioritise our numbers of staff 

3) 95% of invoices should have a purchase order. We want to ensure a formalised process where all committed spend at school level is raised in our finance system (Civica) as a purchase order. We then process all invoices centrally in weekly payment run across all schools. This ensures all our suppliers are paid against their payment terms 

What are your top tips for managing finances across your schools?

  • Give Headteachers access to cash. Our Heads have a procurement card with a monthly limit of £3000. This means they can buy supplies for breakfast clubs, make small purchases from Amazon etc. However, they don’t have bank accounts
  • Only have one bank account. If you have more than one account, ask yourself why? Why move money? It’s too much of a risk
  • Have one role instead of multiple. We have one payroll provider so everything is in one place when we need to do things like gender pay gap reporting. We also have only one catering provider and one ICT provider, and we’re moving towards having one facilities management provider
  • Go cashless. We use Arbor for meals and trips. We also use SchoolsBuddy for our schools who run lots of clubs, because it can rank clubs 
  • Think about your pension options. Because we’re based in London and our Teachers have large student loans, we offer a third pension option alongside LGPS and TPS, which has a 0% employee contribution for Teachers and 2% for Support Staff, and we pay an 8% employer contribution
  • Have a separate internal auditor so you know what you need to know and the external audit isn’t a surprise
  • Hire more efficiently. Some MATs have a Business Manager per school being paid highly for a mostly administrational role which only requires a small amount of financial expertise. At BPET, we have one central Finance Director who has complete control of the finances, and school Office Managers to do the admin work. This saves us around £5-10,000 per school which goes towards supporting the schools. It also gives me visibility of finances across our organisation, and means we can react very quickly to the needs of schools 
  • Procure large spend centrally. We procure any expenditure over £20,000 centrally, such as staff appointments. This means we can look at our spend across the whole trust. We work with Schools Buying Club who tender our contracts for us and hold them to account, which helps make sure we get real value for money across our contracts 

Is distance between schools in a trust a barrier?

Since 2011, the MAT market has been growing and evolving exponentially. The question of proximity was only really brought up by Lord Nash when he recommended an hour’s journey time between schools. Hopefully the way we support our schools will give confidence that distance doesn’t have to be a barrier, but we take responsibility for our growth, not only in numbers, but in geography, and work hard to make sure we don’t have any true outliers.


Do you plan to grow? What is your expansion model?

A management consultant once introduced to me the rule of “10, 40 100”. If you think of these proportions applied to an organisation – it could be the number of employees, or the turnover – organisations with 10, 40 and 100 need to be run in very different ways and probably need very different CEOs. In our case, we think of this in terms of number of schools. Our aim is to grow to 15 schools, but if we’re successful at 15 and the trustees want us to grow to 40, that will be a very different business model.

However, where operational alignment works well for 15 schools, the question is, is it scalable within the 10, 40, 100 rule? I don’t know. If we grow, Regional Directors and hubs might be an option. We could also split the Finance Director role into four hubs. What we’d have to think about, however, is how we’d bring those hubs together to maintain consistency. 


How have you adapted to managing your schools remotely?

Over the past few weeks we’ve been thrown into web calls; we use Zoom for all of our conversations with Headteachers. Normally, having a meeting with a school can take two hours out of everyone’s time, so doing them virtually is really powerful. I think having a blend of the Internet and meeting in person is important – Zoom is something the finance and operations teams use quite a lot anyway, and have been for a few years now. But you can’t deny the power of personal contact. I think we’ll always continue our physical meetings with Headteachers four times a year.

Look out for more webinars in our series “Adapting to Change”, where we’re interviewing MAT leaders about how they’re adapting to partial school closures and all the changes that are happening at the moment. You can catch up on one of our recent webinars with Dan Morrow, CEO of Woodland Academy Trust all about “Nurturing Staff Mental Health and Wellbeing” here

If you want to find out more about how Arbor MIS could help your trust work flexibly and remotely, get in touch at hello@arbor-education.com or 0208 050 1028. Or alternatively you can book a web demo here

 

Vicky Harrison - 12 May, 2020

Category : Blog

How we’ve used a cloud-based MIS to manage our schools during Covid-19 – Vicky Harrison, COO at HCAT

Arbor’s CEO James Weatherill caught up with Vicky Harrison, COO at Hoyland Common Academy Trust (HCAT), about how she’s adapted to change over the last few weeks  Why did you decide to move to Arbor? Last year we had significant growth, acquiring a large secondary school with over 2000 pupils and two more large primary

Arbor’s CEO James Weatherill caught up with Vicky Harrison, COO at Hoyland Common Academy Trust (HCAT), about how she’s adapted to change over the last few weeks 

Why did you decide to move to Arbor?

Last year we had significant growth, acquiring a large secondary school with over 2000 pupils and two more large primary schools, as well as working with a school in Barnsley as an associate MAT member. We were previously using Capita SIMS but it wasn’t working for us as an expanding trust, so that was the main reason we decided to move to Arbor in February.

What have the biggest challenges been during Covid-19? How has Arbor helped? 

In general, it’s not been about challenges, it’s been about successes. There were a lot of unknowns, so we had to react to the daily information from the Government. We’ve used the central team really well, which has freed up our schools to concentrate on the key worker kids, student wellbeing and chasing up vulnerable children.

Arbor helped us alleviate some of the burden on teachers and admin staff having to create staff rotas and track free school meal pupils, because we could access all the free school meal data via the MIS from our central office, and upload it to the Edenred site. To get the FSM data, I could easily log into everybody’s Arbor and create a simple report with the names of pupils, their contact numbers, addresses and email addresses, then send out a blanket message to them asking them for the supermarket of their choice. We’ve also created a whole raft of letters and emails centrally that we’ve rolled out across the trust. That just wouldn’t have been possible before. 

One of the things we’ve found useful is that Arbor has been very reactive to the situation. You react as soon as something happens, and being a cloud-based system, updates are instantaneous. Like with the free school meals report, for example, it was there ready to go within a day. Also, initially we were doing the registers at a trust level – logging on every day and putting the hashtag code in but Arbor soon created a fix in the system that automatically put in the hashtags, which saved us another thing to think about. 

The ability to use Arbor at home has been especially helpful to our teachers and headteachers. On Capital SIMS, we had to rely on something called Forticlient which teachers had to have installed on their laptops and didn’t always work. With Arbor, teachers have been able to log on at home to contact their class through a safe portal. It’s also been really easy to use for any staff who are “anti-ICT”. 

You moved in February of this year, which was a busy time and overlapped with the start of Covid-19. How did you find juggling a lot of change at the same time? 

It was really seamless. We made the decision to move to Arbor in February because we still had until the end of March with Capita SIMS. This was so if anything had gone wrong, we could still use Capita. Initially I was kind of dreading it. I was thinking all our data was going to be lost, and that we wouldn’t be able to find anything but it’s been really straightforward and simple and really supportive from the Arbor team as well. We were using SchoolComms and Parent Pay and initially planned to roll Arbor out in phases, but because staff found it so easy to use at a school level, we decided to roll with it from day one. Even if you’re not particularly ICT-savvy, it’s so straightforward and you can see where you’ve got to go to get the information you need. If you don’t, Arbor’s live chat and the Arbor Community forum have been really useful. 

How has Arbor changed how you communicate with parents?

When we were using Capita SIMS, we relied on our local authority to write reports because it was so difficult to work out where you needed to go to get the information. Then when we wanted to send a communication to a parent, we had to log into a separate text messaging service and there was no log of communications. With Arbor, staff are able to readily access children’s contacts without having to rely on somebody back at the office. You can track what you’ve sent out (for example the messages to FSM families I’ve sent during Covid-19) and see if they get back to see you – and parents can see too. Then if you do need to chase it up, you can send a text out again.

Part of the reason we designed Arbor was to give school staff more agency so they can get the information they need, communicate and take action. How have you found training your staff on how to use Arbor, since you haven’t been able to see them?

Because the system is so easy to use, they’ve not needed much training. When we first rolled it out, we did initial training on core things like how to take the register, how to manage dinners etc. And they all picked it up. Then we just sent an easy, simple crib sheet to staff with how to contact Arbor if they needed. Prior to school closures, we did a staff briefing on how to contact parents and how to get the information they needed.  

Our associate school is local authority maintained and still on Capita SIMS at the moment but because we’re having to keep contacting them to get all the information we need, we’ve decided to roll out Arbor for them while Covid-19 is going on. So it won’t really be a barrier to rolling out Arbor any further. 

Is there anything over the last couple of months that you’d have done differently?

I don’t think so. If we’d have known about Arbor sooner, we’d have moved sooner! 

Beyond this term, how do you think Arbor is going to change how you work?

At the moment everything is unknown. We don’t know what Boris is going to announce when he does. If he decides, for example, to send back families, Arbor will give us that ability to quickly find out what families we’ve got in school and what year groups they’re in, so we can concentrate on the timetabling. It’ll also mean we can do rotas flexibly, for example if staff are in on odd days. 

If you’d like to hear from more MAT leaders about how they’re managing their schools remotely, we’ve got lots more free webinars coming up. Check out our schedule of remote working webinars here. We’ve got a special webinar this Friday with Jonathan Bishop, CEO at Cornerstone Academy Trust. Jonathan will be discussing how to make online education a success at scale. You can sign up here for Friday. 

 For all the guidance on how to use Arbor during Covid-19, it’s all here.

Dan Morrow - 17 April, 2020

Category : Blog

Dan Morrow, CEO of Woodland Academy Trust shares tips for nurturing staff wellbeing and mental health

As part of our programme of webinars – “Adapting to Change: Managing your Schools and Staff Remotely” – we invited Dan Morrow, CEO of Woodland Academy Trust, to share his strategies for staff mental health and wellbeing across his trust  Dan discussed the responsibility of trust leaders to their staff, particularly during the Coronavirus crisis,

As part of our programme of webinars – “Adapting to Change: Managing your Schools and Staff Remotely” – we invited Dan Morrow, CEO of Woodland Academy Trust, to share his strategies for staff mental health and wellbeing across his trust 

Dan discussed the responsibility of trust leaders to their staff, particularly during the Coronavirus crisis, and how he’s shaped policies around what makes a real difference to staff. We’ve put together the key takeaways from Dan’s fantastic talk and also included his slides below.

His main tips were:

  • Treat your staff as people – build policies around their reality
  • Listen to staff – send out surveys to find out where they need support
  • Invest in mental health and wellbeing and reap rewards in the long term
  • Check in with staff during this difficult time – have good communication in place

A human approach to leadership

The philosophy that guides Dan’s strategy is that “wellbeing isn’t something you can just tack on – it needs to be based in culture and action”. Since arriving at Woodland Academy Trust, a trust of four Primary schools in North Kent, Dan has brought wellbeing and mental health onto the agenda, replacing the previous “compliance mindset” which he says did not treat staff “as people first”. 

He’s introduced initiatives such as wellbeing dogs, paid wellbeing days and CPD pathways staff can shape themselves, which have  turned around the trust’s previously high level of staff absence, sickness and turnover rate. They’ve achieved this, Dan explains, by shaping wellbeing policies around their staff – which makes them feel heard and creates a reciprocal culture where “people want to get out of bed and come to work every day.” 

“A contract is very important but as you see at the moment, it isn’t a contract that’s driving behaviour – it’s relationship, it’s duty, and it’s need” 

In times of crisis, recognise your staff’s realities

The last few weeks have proven to Dan that the most important thing for his employees is their families and home life. As a leader, he believes you have to work your decisions around the reality of peoples’ lives. “It’s important we understand that sometimes life happens”, Dan says. With this in mind, the trust has re-examined their bank of policies to make them family-friendly and focused on workload. Making these adjustments has cut down on the number of staff calling in sick because of dependency issues or an issue that would have previously forced them to take unpaid leave.

In shaping wellbeing policies across the whole trust, Dan sent out surveys to his staff to make sure they were on board with everything he was proposing. “The worst thing you can do in wellbeing” according to Dan, “is to announce a strategy which you’re effectively doing to your staff and they may not actually want”. The surveys helped Dan’s team understand what would really make a difference to staff. For example, they had proposed wellbeing workshops but staff said the most valuable thing for them was more time. Dan’s team took this and introduced the idea of paid wellbeing days which staff can use for something that’s important to them, whether that’s to “attend weddings, the first day of their children’s school or a spa day with a friend they hadn’t seen for 30 years. Why not?” 

Give staff a voice

An essential part of Dan’s leadership strategy is listening to his staff. When he started as CEO, he met with every member of staff to get to know them as individuals, ask them how they are and what they need. The aim of these conversations was to build the relationship on “a shared sense of culture and vision”. In a trust the size of Woodland, it was possible (and important to Dan) for the Executive Team to hold these conversations, but for larger trusts Dan suggests this may be done on a Division or Director basis. Dan plans to check in with staff in this way again when schools return after the Coronavirus crisis. 

Woodland’s people-first approach extends to staff development, where Dan ensures that initiatives are geared towards what staff actually need and want to work on. Staff can now create their own CPD pathways and take secondments or work experience opportunities, which gives them “a voice in where their development is going”. Staff are also encouraged to take part in networking and to be active in discussions within the education sector on social media. 3 out of 4 of Woodland staff are now involved in Twitter or LinkedIn which, Dan says, demonstrates how staff feel more ownership over their career.

“Being part of a broader narrative of education has been really important for colleagues to find their place within our sector”

Prioritise mental health

As part of the overall strategy at Woodland “WAT CAIRS” (Woodland Academy Trust Care, Aspiration, Inspiration, Respect and Stewardship), they believe that leadership should be “part of the solution to problems” that staff face in their lives. For this reason, a free employee counselling service is available for staff, which has been particularly useful during the difficult few weeks since the Coronavirus outbreak. They also run a wellbeing dogs scheme, which has been incredibly popular, both with children and staff. Initiatives like these are relatively cheap and help to “lift the spirits and make it feel like work has an aspect of care to it.” 

And those costs have paid off. Staff retention has risen to over 95%, saving over £ 300, 000 in recruitment costs over three years. Days lost to sickness has reduced significantly, too, falling from 11% in 2015-16 to 3.1% last year, which has cut the need for external cover. 

Check in with staff during Coronavirus

As a result of the Coronavirus crisis, Woodland Academy Trust has taken many lessons which will inform their wellbeing policy going forward. In this challenging time full of anxiety, Dan’s attitude is “it’s incumbent on us leaders now to ensure that staff understand that their wellbeing is being prioritised.” One of the immediate practical measures he took to put anxiety to rest was to reassure his staff around pay. Communication was also key – teams are encouraged to check in with each other regularly and new protocols and practices have been produced so everyone is comfortable working remotely. They’ve also provided close support for the more vulnerable members of staff.

Dan predicts that following this crisis, wellbeing and mental health are going to be higher on the agenda so leaders should “ensure staff have the professional capabilities, the personal resilience and the team around them to be successful”.

You can look through Dan’s presentation below which includes useful links for teachers to resources, podcasts and blogs to access during lockdown.  

We have lots more webinars coming up in our programme Adapting to Change. The next few will be conversations between MAT Leaders and Arbor’s CEO, James Weatherill. For more details on what’s coming up, check out our blog.

If you have any questions about the webinars, or about how Arbor MIS could help your trust, you can get in touch at tellmemore@arbor-education.com, or give us a call on 0208 050 1028. 

To find out how to manage and report on the Coronavirus situation in Arbor, you can read our latest blog, or find practical advice on our Help Centre

Maddie Kilminster - 11 March, 2020

Category : Blog

Life at Pool Academy: An Interview with Phil Jones

Pool Academy is a secondary school in Cornwall with 650+ students. We caught up with Phil Jones, Head of Academy Services, who told us about some of the ways life at school has changed for the better since they moved to Arbor back in 2018 Can you tell us why you decided to switch to

Pool Academy is a secondary school in Cornwall with 650+ students. We caught up with Phil Jones, Head of Academy Services, who told us about some of the ways life at school has changed for the better since they moved to Arbor back in 2018

Can you tell us why you decided to switch to Arbor? 

  • We were looking to review our MIS system as we weren’t happy with the one we had in place. We’d been using our previous system for years, but no one had ever really questioned it or thought to change it.
  • If it had been any other piece of software or system, we’d have been doing tenders every two or three years to make sure we were getting the best option for our money, but that just wasn’t the culture we were operating in. I felt that needed to change!
  • One of the first things I did when I stepped up to my new role as Head of Academy Services, was to look for a better MIS system. We looked at a few others but Arbor jumped out because it felt a lot more modern; the look and feel was much more up to date, which gave us the confidence that lots was being done in the background. The systems we had grown used to working with looked very dated, so it was great to see something that felt a bit more fresh.

Was having a cloud-based system important for you?

  • The fact that Arbor is web-based was a big pull for us. Now that everything else is moving into the cloud, we wanted that for our MIS too – at Pool, we’re quite IT literate, and staff and students all use iPads and laptops, so we needed accessibility from lots of different devices.
  • I remember once when we were using our previous system there was a sudden blizzard (we don’t get snow often in Cornwall!) and we needed to access parents’ phone numbers at a moment’s notice to let them know. It was a mess because we all had these iPads but only certain people had access to student information, and lots of that information wasn’t up to date. This is when we realised something wasn’t quite right. We also realised that we wanted access to our data in the way that we wanted it, not in the way that someone else had decided to format it, and that we then needed to work around.  

Which area of the system in Arbor has saved you the most time? 

  • We save a lot of time with our day-to-day tasks. Most importantly, it’s the reporting side of things that has really improved. The world is changing all the time and the Ofsted goalposts are always moving around, so we need to be able keep up with the different things we’re required to track, and Arbor has really helped us do this.
  • We were spending a lot of time extracting information out of our old system, just to put into other systems, and then putting that into Excel and running reports. Getting the data out that we needed was really difficult.
  • For example, I used to have to manually run a report for the Vice Principal every Friday, which she then had to manipulate further herself, and it was just a waste of everyone’s time. Now, Pastoral Leads and Heads of Year all receive an automatic report on Friday afternoon, which shows them who performed the best in their year that week, who performed the worst, who had the worst attendance, and here’s who you need to keep an eye on. They then know where they need to focus for the coming week, which is really valuable.
  • Plus, with tools like Live Feeds, the information is always there when we need it. We use a lot of Google apps at Pool – Docs, Sheets etc. – and to be able to feed key information straight into a secure Google Sheet saves us loads of time.
  • We’ve also started to use Arbor to help us engage with parents. The principal has a custom report that feeds into a weekly email for parents, which allows us to send out updates each week with a quick rundown of what’s happened in school for their child. This is really powerful (and helpful for parents whose child might not have mentioned that they’d had a detention that week!). 
  • Lastly, on a slightly more serious level, when you’re looking at attendance and we need to take something to the next level e.g. when we get to the stage where we need to prosecute  – to have that communications log in Arbor is invaluable. We now have an instantly accessible paper trail to show parents that, for example, we’ve been in touch with them every week about their child’s attendance, so it puts us in a stronger position.

How did you find the migration and implementation process?

  • When you undertake a big change, there’s alway resistance from some people! That said it was really crucial that teachers were happy, and that’s taken some time, but it’s people our Data Manager, Exams Manager and our HR Manager who use Arbor all day, every day who really like it and get on very well with it.
  • Before we moved to Arbor it wasn’t in our culture to question the way we were operating – it was more “We do this, we don’t do that”. Arbor has been a really great exercise in stepping back and questioning the ways we were doing things, and asking ourselves: “Why do we do that?” and “Can we do things a different way?”
  • For example, Arbor gave us an opportunity to question how we were running exams at Pool, and if there was a better way we could be doing things. Parents Evenings also used to be this massive deal, but with Arbor it’s now a breeze.
  • At the end of the day, there are people who’ve used SIMS for 15 years at Pool, but they’re slowing being won over! What’s more, things are continually improving with the Arbor product, and things keep changing, which is really exciting. I know my Exams Officer made a couple of suggestions that she’s seen implemented, which has been great. You never feel like you’re shouting into the dark!
  • Having access to the Arbor roadmap is really really helpful – we know where you guys are going, and being able to vote on things makes us feel involved in the conversation and the direction the product is going in. I’m now on the online Arbor community too – and I think as that grows it will be fantastic.

Are there any other aspects of Arbor that you have found particularly useful?

  • Like I said, we love the fact that Arbor is web-based. It’s also invaluable to have so much functionality built into one system.We used to pay for lots of other apps that we needed to sync with our old MIS, but now, having everything in one place makes so much more sense.
  • With our previous system, we spent a lot of time taking information out of it to put into other systems because there were so many things that it wasn’t capable of doing (like parents’ evenings for example) and we needed to buy an add-on. We then had another system to sync, and another system to keep up-to-date, and another system that could go wrong.
  • We were able to drop at least 3, maybe 4 third-party systems when we moved to Arbor – we kept things like SISRA for heavy data (which Arbor integrates with), but lots of the others we were paying for became obsolete.

Do you feel you get the support you need from the Arbor team?

  • Yes – I really like the online help chat tool. Obviously it’s great to be able to call, and every time I’ve called I’ve had my question answered, but there are times when I’m juggling 3 or 4 different things and need a quick answer then and there.
  • What’s great about the online help chat is that I can share the page I’m having a problem with directly with you. Nine times out of ten I get the answer straight away, and then if there’s anything that needs looking into further I get a call back pretty soon after.
  • It’s great to know that the Arbor team can help with even silly little things – and I don’t feel like an idiot!

Would you recommend Arbor?

  • I absolutely would! 
Maddie Kilminster - 12 February, 2020

Category : Blog

A culture shift at Baxter College with Arbor 

Kate Ferris, Data Systems Analyst at Baxter College, a Secondary Academy of 865 students in Kidderminster, talked to us about how Arbor’s Management Information System (MIS) has not only made admin at her school simpler and easier – it’s transformed the way they work.  Since moving to Arbor MIS almost two years ago, there have

arboreverything

Kate Ferris, Data Systems Analyst at Baxter College, a Secondary Academy of 865 students in Kidderminster, talked to us about how Arbor’s Management Information System (MIS) has not only made admin at her school simpler and easier – it’s transformed the way they work. 

Since moving to Arbor MIS almost two years ago, there have been a lot of changes at Baxter College; but the biggest shift has been much more focus on data. Kate’s role – Data Systems Analyst – has also changed in two years, now being much more focused on the MIS. The school has expanded their IT team in order to work smarter across the trust (Severn Academies Educational Trust) by upgrading systems and creating efficiencies. To support this, Baxter College needed a smarter MIS that gave them access to live, detailed data that could be pulled easily into clear reports. 

Kate shared with us the top four reasons she loves using Arbor MIS at her school:

1. Everyone at Baxter College is now engaging with data

cultureshift

Arbor MIS allows Baxter College to dig into their data and do more with it. Easy-to-use, visual dashboards present relevant data to everyone who needs it across the school. As Data Systems Analyst, Kate has an overview of what’s going on across different classes, pastoral groups and staff teams, which means she has all the information she needs to jump in if necessary. Kate says she’s seen a culture shift at her school – now that the data is easy to understand, teachers are much more enthusiastic about engaging with Arbor MIS than the previous, clunky system.

2. A fresh perspective helps staff spot patterns

thoughtweknew

Seeing their data in new ways has led to new discoveries. According to Kate, Arbor MIS unlocked their behaviour data and helped them to understand trends and patterns for the first time. Arbor has given them a “360 degree view” of behaviour across the school so they can intervene where they need to and never miss anything. The flexibility to tailor interventions is essential for Kate; she can define metrics that are important to her – for example, if a student is late three times, Arbor automatically alerts the right pastoral leads. 

3. Telling the full story of every student

morethangrade

Having attendance, behaviour and progress data all in one place has made a powerful difference to Baxter College. Providing outstanding, all-round care to students is a core part of the school’s mission and having data at their fingertips in Arbor helps them see exactly where extra attention is needed. Staff can now drill down into all the important areas of a student’s school life and take everything into consideration to see how they’re doing. 

4. Bringing parents into the school community

breakdown2

Thanks to communication through the Arbor App, Kate has seen teachers and parents/guardians come closer together. As a large secondary school, Baxter College is keen to keep regular touchpoints with parents (2-3 emails and SMS messages per week) and the Arbor App makes this easy. Setting up automated communications, such as weekly attendance reports, is a great way for staff to let multiple parents know what’s going on with their child without the hassle of sending individual reports to each parent. 

Reaching out like this wasn’t possible before the Arbor App. Getting up-to-date, personalised information to parents was only really possible at parents’ evenings. Parents now have a personal connection to the school and a sense of belonging to the school community. The gap is narrowing – currently 53% of parents at Baxter College have the Arbor App – so Kate’s goal is to encourage more and more parents to engage and feel comfortable contacting the school.

everythingarbororange

As Baxter College has changed, Arbor has adapted to their needs. With the flexibility to add and customise features, they have shaped the MIS into a system that works best for their school. Kate and her fellow staff members have integrated Arbor MIS across their day-to-day life at school and it is now at the heart of what they do. 

To find out why Arbor MIS is perfect for secondary schools like yours, click here to arrange a free demo or call us on 0208 050 1028.

 

 

 

 

 

Jem Jones - 18 December, 2019

Category : Blog

Leading a secondary school with Arbor: An interview with Suzanne Pike

Ever wondered what secondary schools like about Arbor? We interviewed Suzanne Pike, Vice Principal of Sir Robert Woodard Academy, to find out why her school chose to switch MIS, and how Arbor helps with the day-to-day running of the school.    What made you choose Arbor? We were previously a SIMS school and it wasn’t

Ever wondered what secondary schools like about Arbor? We interviewed Suzanne Pike, Vice Principal of Sir Robert Woodard Academy, to find out why her school chose to switch MIS, and how Arbor helps with the day-to-day running of the school. 

 

What made you choose Arbor?

We were previously a SIMS school and it wasn’t online; we were constantly running updates, and it was quite clunky – we needed to streamline. It’s fair to say we were a fairly new leadership team, with a big job to do in terms of school improvement. We recognised that although we had a large amount of data, we weren’t using it as smartly, flexibly and efficiently as we could be. It was hard to interrogate. We were trying to set up the processes that really run a school, and those have to be based on data and reliable workflows. We recognised that Arbor could help us achieve that. The big benefit has been being able to hold much more information – around communication, assessments, everything – all in one place, and then being able to cut that data in different ways.

Could you give us a bit of your Trust’s background moving to Arbor?

We’re a part of Woodard Academies Trust – “WAT”. At the moment, two schools are on Arbor. When we moved we had a need to do it and told the Trust we wanted to, and the other school, Polam Hall, also had a need as their contracts were coming to an end. The remaining schools were happier than we were with the legacy system at the time, so we moved first understanding they might move later.

Polam Hall migrated after us, so they were able to come down and do some training with us before they moved. We have contact with them, not on a day to day basis, but there can be similarities and things to compare notes on. Ultimately they’re very different though, as a brand new all-through, so they started a bit smaller in terms of functionality and have been able to set things up in different ways.

We staggered how we adopted our modules to make things easier for staff, and are both now at the point where we’re looking into how we do our assessments and will do some joint training with them around that soon.

What are some of the best features you’ve seen in your time with us?

The App has been very successful. We’re trying to get everyone on board with that as part of our new communications strategy. We love the idea of sending a push notification to a parent’s phone, and if they haven’t checked the App after an hour they automatically get an SMS instead – that’s going to be very useful.

We fully utilise the behaviour system in all its glory – we use all the behaviour workflows, it’s so customisable. We’ve unfortunately had to do a couple of exclusions recently, which is never easy, but is much easier when you have all the right information. It’s also useful having all the information in one place for looked after children, when you’re dealing with so many different authorities.

We have got quite clever with the reports, live-linking them to pivot tables in Google sheets. Certainly in attendance tracking and behaviour we’ve got some funky ways of breaking down the information that’s really pertinent to how we work in our school. We want to get those going with our assessments too – in fact we have a meeting about getting that started later today!

What saves you the most time in your role if you compare it to your previous system?

Communication. Having parents being able to see everything live – report cards, timetables, interventions – makes my job that much easier in terms of raising standards. Now they can be involved as stakeholders in getting their kids to work harder. 

We recently set up all of our extra-curricular clubs and trips on the MIS and that’s been great from the perspective of logistics, with registers and student lists all live on the site, and obviously the communication links as well so that parents can update permissions and know what’s happening. When Year 7 came in with 150 more students this year than last it was going to be a massive workload, but the Parent Portal made it a really smooth transition. No “oh when does sign-up for this open? How does this work?” – they can see everything they need. 

Now we’ve set up academic interventions for year 11s and year 13s, and we’re going to move all our interventions into the MIS, as again, the links with communication are really powerful.

Do you have any advice for similar schools (or MATs with similar schools) who are switching MIS?

I would say map out all your integrations beforehand, and be very mindful of what you spend time on. If the essential functionality you want can be achieved within Arbor, you’re better off moving it in. Arbor can do so much – you should be clear on what you want to achieve, what is essential, and what is desirable. Scaling the system up over time and having waves of project planning was really helpful for us. Over time you can make your system more sophisticated, and Arbor or other schools that use it can help you prioritise. You might say, “I want this third party system; it gives us what we need,” but does it really? 

 

If you’d like to find out more about how our hassle-free, cloud-based MIS could help you act on everything important fast, so you and your staff can focus on what matters most, contact us. You can also book a demo by calling 0207 043 0470 or email tellmemore@arbor-education.com.

Debbie Clinton - 9 December, 2019

Category : Blog

Turning around a failing MAT: Debbie Clinton & Vince Green share their journey with Academy Transformation Trust (part 2)

At Arbor’s MAT conference on 8th November in Manchester, Debbie Clinton, CEO, and Vince Green, Principal and Regional Director for Education, shared their experiences of turning around Academy Transformation Trust over the past year. To read part 1 of their presentation, click here.  It’s scary, isn’t it? How these edifices can collapse really, really quickly in

At Arbor’s MAT conference on 8th November in Manchester, Debbie Clinton, CEO, and Vince Green, Principal and Regional Director for Education, shared their experiences of turning around Academy Transformation Trust over the past year. To read part 1 of their presentation, click here

It’s scary, isn’t it? How these edifices can collapse really, really quickly in our sector.  So how have we fixed it? What have we actually done? I suppose we’ve done a lot of obvious stuff, really. First, I went on a grand tour – it had to be done. I don’t know how you can do it any other way as a new Chief Executive. You’ve got to get into these academies and get to know them, smell them, breathe them – just to feel what they feel like. 

So I said to the principals, “I’m going to carry out 22 section 8 inspections over a two term period.” That went down well. But it was actually really, really helpful. I did this because, with the absence of effective school improvement strategy and an effective MIS, I didn’t have intelligence I could trust. I didn’t feel that I could trust what I was being told across all 22 academies. On reflection it was useful because you see things that vary in quality from superb to rubbish.

It’s important to decide this: what are our priorities? A delivery plan was absolutely vital, because there was no culture to hold people to account whatsoever. While I am surrounded by lots of talent in the league of Vince, one of the problems that I had was that the absence of effective systems meant that quality assurance just wasn’t happening on a routine basis. 

So the executive leadership team complete an annual delivery plan and decide the following: here’s our strategic priority, here’s what I am going to do and here’s what that will be. Now, if  only getting the structure right led to rapid school improvement – wouldn’t we all be happy? 

I appreciate that I’m now in year two. Year one was spent doing that. And now in year 2, my trustees will say, “Okay then. Let’s see the impact of these significant changes.” It’s a fair enough question. But I hope what you see is a coherence; an approach to regionalisation; an approach to mirroring directorates that look like each other, which helps in terms of becoming one entity.

(Image 1: A slide taken from Debbie Clinton’s presentation showing how she will act on her three year strategy to improve Academy Transformation Trust)

People development is perhaps an obvious thing to bring up, as is the urgent need for the assessment of safeguarding and risk. We’ve appointed a Director of Safeguarding because we didn’t have one before. One of our schools went into category last academic year on the back of a very serious safeguarding criminal case. We’ve moved on quite a bit since then, but one of the reasons for it was that we just really weren’t understanding the complexity and the vagaries of safeguarding. I think Ofsted upped their safeguarding game remarkably in the past 12 months (about time, mind) and we don’t always agree with them, but actually, in light of that, it means that someone’s got to be driving safeguarding.

Governance is also really important. Our governance trust board had been radically reformed with the DFE’s involvement before I got there. They’re very impressive. Local academies were all over the place – outstanding through to absent, basically, because there’s no approach to governance. There’s no coherent approach to understanding what governance means in our trust.

We appointed a head of corporate affairs which was crucial. Neutrality is also really important. I know that Andy will happily whistleblow about me at anytime because he’s very clear that he is accountable to the chair of the trust. So, although he’s a salaried employee, he operates in a neutral way. 

We’ve taken a lot of time to think about the style with which we bring about the recovery. This is perhaps a bit blindingly obvious, but actually I’ve inspected too many MATS and schools to know it isn’t always: “What leadership technique and strategy will I use in this meeting, this workshop, this line management, this performance development compensation, etc.?”

(Image 2: A slide taken from Debbie Clinton’s presentation showing the style of her three year strategy to improve Academy Transformation Trust)

It’s also important to be humble. Humility: you can’t underestimate that. But you know that already. CEOs are famous for their egos aren’t they? I hope I park it as much as I can. There’s too much ego in our system already. We need to acknowledge that around us, we have so much talent. Tact: I’m mostly tactful, but I also don’t mess around. If someone’s not done a good job, they do know it.

I am patient mostly and ethical always. You can look at my expense plan. You can look at my salary. I’ve worked really hard and I spent a long time with my P.A. and one of our finance team talking about the management of my expenses accounts and how it was going to be; how it would be quality assured.

Then the other stuff is obvious. Communication practices: the most obvious thing. We haven’t got that right. In fact, we’re not very good at that yet. It’s getting better, but we need it. We do need an effective communication strategy. You can’t just by accident run a MAT of our size. You’ve got to be consciously thinking about how you get it all behaving as one entity. How will you constantly revisit what we are and what we say we are?

(Image 3: A slide taken from Debbie Clinton’s presentation showing how her strategy has started to improve outcomes for Academy Transformation Trust)

So as you would expect, there are some quantitative and qualitative examples of the impact of all of this activity so far. We ended last year with a £2.9 million deficit. We ended this year in surplus for £2 million. We still have a historic debt, which won’t be settled until summer of 2021. But in a year, we’re down to £2 million. So despite everything, despite ruthless financial leadership, we still did that because we were spending amounts like £200,000 on an army of goodness knows what. I’m out of time now, but I think that the rest speaks for itself.  

 

Debbie Clinton and Vince Green - 5 December, 2019

Category : Blog

Turning around a failing MAT: Debbie Clinton & Vince Green share their journey with Academy Transformation Trust (part 1)

At Arbor’s MAT conference on 8th November in Manchester, Debbie Clinton, CEO, and Vince Green, Principal and Regional Director for Education, shared their experiences of turning around Academy Transformation Trust over the past year. We’ve transcribed part 1 of their presentation below!  Debbie:  I’m Debbie Clinton, the Chief Executive Officer of Academies Transformation Trust and

At Arbor’s MAT conference on 8th November in Manchester, Debbie Clinton, CEO, and Vince Green, Principal and Regional Director for Education, shared their experiences of turning around Academy Transformation Trust over the past year. We’ve transcribed part 1 of their presentation below! 

Debbie: 

I’m Debbie Clinton, the Chief Executive Officer of Academies Transformation Trust and I have been in post since September of 2018. A bit about my background: Secondary headteacher (named in the House of Commons!) and all these accolades that actually were very precious to me at the time. And then I left all of that to join the dark side and become an HMI (forgive me!) but it was very useful. Then I went over to the Diverse Academy Learning Partnership in the East Midlands to be the deputy CEO and then acting CEO of a much smaller trust than the one I work with now. And then, obviously I mentioned that I started at ATT just over a year ago, and I’m loving it. But it’s also a bit loony, which we’ll come to.

Vince: 

I’m Vince Green and I’ve been a principal within the Academy Transformation Trust since 2014. It’s my 6th year with the trust and I’ve really experienced the interesting journey that our trust has been on during the last 5 years – very much ups and downs all along the way. I was principal for 5 years at Bristnall Hall Academy in Sandwell. But this year, I’m in a fortunate position. Having worked with Debbie for just over a year, I’m now Regional Education Director for Secondary West and also Executive Principal over Bristnall Hall and two other academies in the West Midlands. 

Debbie: 

First, we’ll do the boring bit. So this is us. We are big. We have 22 academies, 10 primaries and secondaries, 1 special school and 1 FE College. We operate across 2 regions, 10 local authority areas, 10 lots of schools forums, 10 lots of CED funding models, 10 high-needs funding models. It’s just great. We have a turnover of over 8 million – not enough, but obviously a significant budget to manage. We have 13,000 students and around 2000 colleagues. If I had had my old HMI hat on – and there’s at least one other former HMI in the room – I would have put our multi-academy trust straight into category for all sorts of reasons, and we’ll come to those now. 

(Image 1: A slide taken from Debbie Clinton’s presentation showing key stats from the Academy Transformation Trust)

The main reason is actually very simple: the multi-academy trust was not behaving as a multi-academy trust. It was behaving as a set of 22 individual entities, some of whom, like Vince’s old academy, were fairly high-performing and doing quite well. So, they kind of just got on with it and thought “the trust is just a pain so I’ll just park that to one side.” As a formerly strong Head, I would’ve done the same. But others, of course, were desperate for the structure and support and challenge that lies at the heart of an effective multi-academy trust – and they weren’t getting any of that. So, everybody lost.

There’s a theme we hope that you pick up running through our presentation: the need to behave as a trust, but then defining what that actually means. We had the following problems: significant debt, 4 CFOs in as many years, management that wasn’t fit for purpose (I’m not talking about the individuals, actually, because many of them are still with me – which is actually a great testament to how far we’ve come). But the structures were just all over the place. Very poor systems. We’re still unearthing things now that are news to some of my senior leaders. Very poor control. Almost absent control at all levels, actually.

Then there’s risk management. I can say this now, because we’ve got one. We didn’t have a risk register. Can you imagine my reaction when I arrived to that? And the trustees were being told that everything was actually tickety-boo when it certainly wasn’t. Some academies had a risk register, so they were compliant, and in some cases quite good registers. But there wasn’t one in the centre. This was a huge problem.

(Image 2: A slide taken from Debbie Clinton’s presentation showing key financial problems within the Academy Transformation Trust)

Vince: 

Can I just add from a principal’s point of view that within our trust during that time, it was quite a strange scenario. About a year in, lots of our academies with financial issues were in positions where there had to be restructures and redundancy processes. We very much did those off our own backs, because we had worked with principals or head teachers before who’d always done the right thing: cut their crop accordingly. If you haven’t got enough money moving forward, you have a redundancy process. But many didn’t, and it wasn’t imposed on them by the Trust at all. 

At times, it would appear to most of us principals that financial people didn’t really know when these problems were coming. So, the only academies that were addressing this were those that had good financial systems and managers within their academy already. We realised this during a major redundancy process at my own academy at the time and I remember turning around to my SLT at one time and saying, “You know what? I reckon today we could go out and spend £100,000 on stuff for this academy and I think we’d get away with it.” Unfortunately, it’s taxpayers’ money, because otherwise it would be great fun. That was the kind of world we lived in at the time. 

Debbie: 

Absolutely. It’s a picture that I recognised from my inspection life as well. With regard to operations, you’ve got to think about the context. 22 academies, 10 local authority areas across East and West regions, massive geographical challenges and a massive geographical understanding that needs to be grasped that wasn’t. So, we’ve done quite a lot with H.R., which is getting there and ICT, which wasn’t regionalised – I mean how do you not regionalise IT and MIS? How can you not actually make sure that the very architecture on which you build your MAT has been properly regionalised? 

We also had poor procurement leadership; there was a Procurement Director. I have no evidence of the impact of that job at all. We had poor MIS leadership – absent, in fact. When you’re looking at areas like risk management and control systems, you need to be really clear on performance with regard to finance, operations and education. We don’t just do education in MATS – of course we don’t. We’re a multi-million pound business! How did we actually know what was going on? Well, we didn’t. And that’s kind of the point. Classic left hand, right hand stuff: too many people. 

If you look at old versions of our website, you will see that there’s all these people employed at the centre doing goodness knows what. And morally, I have an issue with that. So one of the first things we’ve done is try to drive ethical leadership culturally through the organisation. We have to be absolutely clear. What is that job that isn’t either a teacher, head teacher or member of associated support staff? What do they do? What is the point of me? What is the point of a job like this? And how do we continue to evidence the impact of these fairly highly-paid people? 

“What do you do?” That was a question that couldn’t be answered effectively by quite a number of people in those roles. Then there was an equally large problem: no approach to people development. There was no strategic, deep understanding that the most important thing you ever do as a trust – as any large organisation – is look after your people. Develop them. Challenge them. Bring them on. Make them feel like they want to be part of the journey. 

(Image 3: A slide taken from Debbie Clinton’s presentation showing key operations problems within the Academy Transformation Trust)

Vince:

I agree. In terms of education, there were some pockets of great practice going on within many of the academies and actually within our central team. We’ve had a lot of different staff that have worked separately for our trust over the 5 years I’ve worked with ATT. We’ve had some great individuals within those groups, but it’s never been joined up. And what it has resulted in is these academies pretty much working in silos, occasionally collaborating with other academies because the principals have taken it upon themselves to do it. But it’s been very much them and us. 

So that brings me on to where we are now. We are one organisation. We are one trust. I think what attracted me initially to work for ATT – to take on my first headship with it – was the fact that I was clearly going to have huge amounts of autonomy, which was very attractive at the time. I could bring in the people I wanted, which was great fun, and so on. And that worked well, even in my environment. I’m not just saying that because it’s me necessarily, because I had a number of other great things in place, but this did not work well in other academies where that wasn’t the case.  

We had, as I’ve said, uncontrolled spending. We had crazy staffing structures in some places and things not driving on educationally as one would want. Another big issue was definitely our people development strategy. In terms of talent mapping, capacity mapping and skill mapping, it was only done well in some academies. In others, we’ve lost some fantastic people along the way and I see them doing great things now in other trusts and in other organisations. And really, you know, our kids are missing out on those people now because it wasn’t mapped out properly at the time. 

Debbie

You know, Sir David Carter, as he left his role as National Schools Commissioner, talked about the spectrum of autonomous alignment and standardisation. What do you tightly control? What do you not really care about and what do you need to make sure you align? We did a lot of work on that, which is nowhere near finished, but we have begun a very important piece of work in our Trust about that. 

One of the things that most fascinated me in my interview for ATT was the total absence of this.  There were about 8 trustees involved in my appointment. During the interview they asked, “Have you got any questions?” And I said, “Talk to me about your school improvement strategy,” and they couldn’t tell me anything. It was disgraceful. 

In fact, the trustees were quite clear that this was one of their main worries that they felt unable to articulate. That classic Ofsted question: “Talk to me about how you improve academies.” What do you do? What’s your model? How do you know it works? 

So defining that was was really, very important indeed. When I arrived, they were spending £185,000 on consultants. So I asked to see the 16 contracts for these 16 consultants. Not a single KPI on any contract. One of them is charging around £800 a day (to fund his villa in Spain, clearly). I could not see any KPIs in any of those contracts, so they’ve all gone. 

(Image 4: A slide taken from Debbie Clinton’s presentation showing key education problems within the Academy Transformation Trust)

Vince:

Just to conclude, I mean, we will all be very aware of what’s happened with certain other high-profile MATs that no longer exist. And I think the bottom line was that ATT was in a position which was seen externally as relatively healthy. It was a MAT that had been allowed to grow – in a crazy way, really. If you look at the geography of a lot of our academies, we had at the time very rapidly declined, in a way that could have basically forced us to cease to exist.

Click here to read the next instalment of Debbie and Vince’s presentation, in which they talk about exactly how they approached turning around Academy Transformation Trust. 

Will Smith - 19 June, 2019

Category : Blog

How Greenshaw Learning Trust uses the lighthouse model when working with schools

At our recent MAT conference in London, Will Smith, Chief Executive Officer at Greenshaw Learning Trust, spoke about the importance of defining your Trust and how building strong foundations and principals is key to running a successful organisation. We’ve transcribed the beginning of his presentation below. What do we mean by “Trust”? A couple of

At our recent MAT conference in London, Will Smith, Chief Executive Officer at Greenshaw Learning Trust, spoke about the importance of defining your Trust and how building strong foundations and principals is key to running a successful organisation. We’ve transcribed the beginning of his presentation below.

What do we mean by “Trust”? A couple of years ago, as I walked around schools and spoke to my relatively small central team, I would hear things like “the Trust are coming in; the Trust have asked for this information.” We seemed to exist in some ivory tower headed up by me in some sort of draconian dark suit wielding some sceptre of power that was “the Trust”. We needed to bust that myth.

We moved away from the notion of “the Trust is coming in”. I went round and made it our number 1 performance managing objective to get it clear to local governing bodies and head teachers that “The Trust” is everyone. We challenge people when they refer to the Trust central team as “The Trust”. They are included in that Trust. 

This has created an understanding of who we are as an organisation and has allowed me to develop true school-to-school collaboration, because we are all in one Trust and that’s been a massive thing for us. That’s why I focus very much on defining that Trust.

Click on the slides below to learn about Greenshaw Learning Trust’s strategy in more detail:

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.

Sue Northend - 28 May, 2019

Category : Blog

How REAch2 use the wisdom of Dr Seuss to introduce new schools to the trust

Today I’m going to talk about how to scale culture across your MAT whilst giving schools individual identity. I’m Sue Northend, Head of HR at REAch2, and I wanted to start by telling you a little bit about the trust and the journey we’ve been on so far. REAch2 is the largest primary academy trust

Today I’m going to talk about how to scale culture across your MAT whilst giving schools individual identity. I’m Sue Northend, Head of HR at REAch2, and I wanted to start by telling you a little bit about the trust and the journey we’ve been on so far.

REAch2 is the largest primary academy trust in England, and we have 60 schools scattered across 200 miles of geography. Our schools tend to fall into one of two specific categories; they’re either rural and coastal, which has its own set of challenges, or they’re in central towns and cities. Part of REAch2’s DNA is taking on schools that are in particular situations where there is a lot of social deprivation.

82% of our academies were sponsored when they came to us with severe issues of performance. We’ve got 20,000 children and 4,000 staff, and of the 60 schools we’ve got today, 17% of them were in special measures when they came to the trust. I’m really delighted to be able to say that 6 years later, 82% of our schools are now rated “Good” or above. There’s no doubt that it’s a journey, and part of the culture that we embed in our schools is to make sure that they know that we’re not looking for results over a 12-month period, because we want those results to be sustainable.

My background is in finance, so coming into education was a learning curve for me! Despite this, I think I bought some fresh thinking to REAch2 when I arrived. Really, any organization in the commercial sector that is growing in the way REAch2 has done (which is about 50% in three years!) would think it was utter madness. But what we’ve learnt along the way is that we don’t get it right all the time, and I think we as a central team have had to accept that it is a learning journey. What I want to share with you today is a bit about where we are, what our culture looks like, and how we reinforce it.

First of all, let’s take a look at what it takes to create and organise a culture.

One of our first steps when taking on a new school is to do what we call “facilitating a path”. When a MAT is small, alignment is easy – after a few conversations by the water cooler, a decision is made, steps are agreed, and we’re on the same page. As the MAT grows, that gets more difficult. It becomes all the more important to be clear and consistent, and to communicate what it is we do & what we’re about on a daily basis. So when a school joins the trust, we clear the path for the REAch2 culture, and some of this is really practical, as you might expect. We look at things like structure, accountability, and whether the school has the right talent (although we don’t sack the headteacher!). We have conversations with all the teachers about what REAch2 is about, and our CEO, Deputy CEO, COO & Leadership team make time to go out and spend time in the school so that the teachers can ask us questions and can see that we really care about the path that we’re clearing.

There are a lot of CEOs, COOs and CFOs here today, and make no mistake – culture is your responsibility. It has to start at the top. When we clear the path, we focus on supporting the school leadership by balancing what’s core and consistent across all our schools, with what’s individual to that specific school. I think that’s one of the attractions of REAch2 to all the primary schools that join us – we don’t insist that all schools have the same vision. We don’t impose a curriculum or a uniform – headteachers are headteachers because they enjoy the leadership, the ownership and the success that they bring to their own schools. We understand that.

So we’re very careful about what is core and what’s not. We’re not the Starbucks of the education world, and not every latte, frappuccino or mocha is the same. We see the trust and central team as being the enabler and the empowerer, facilitating and supporting change or improvement.

In order that we can understand what needs to change, we hold inductions. And during that induction, we introduce our Headteachers to “Oh, the places you will go”, by Dr Seuss (one of my favourite philosophers!). It’s a simple book, but it’s got some fantastic philosophy in there. When you first join the trust, it feels like this line in the book:

“You’ll be on your way up. You’ll be seeing great sights. You’ll join the high flyers who soar at great heights.”

However, we’re really clear about this to the Headteachers in our senior leadership team – for all of us there will be times when, as Dr Seuss says:

When you’re alone, there’s a good chance you’ll meet some things that scare you right out of your pants. There are some down the road between hither and yon, that will scare you so much you won’t want to go on.

Image 1: REAch2 use The Places You’ll Go by Dr Seuss to onboard new schools joining the MAT

For me, part of the culture of REAch2 is making sure that all of our schools know that we are there when things are going well and when the chips are down. And, let’s be realistic – that can be a daily occurrence.

Before I talk more specifically about REAch2’s culture, I’m going to talk a little bit about what the word culture actually means. We tend to our schools in the same way that a farmer might tend to a field, or a parent might tend to a child. We’re there through the good weather and the bad weather, thick and thin, and no matter what the time is; I’ve been supporting teachers with cases over the weekend and during the evening. It’s important that they know we are there. Every school is individual – not only because of the location – but because no two pupils are the same. So why would our schools be the same? The DNA may be alike, but they’re more like siblings, not clones. Most importantly, the culture spans across all aspects of the organisation, from our trustees to our governors, our headteachers to our pupils, and we share our vision with parents. We tend to our staff through CPD, and coaching is available to all leaders, without restriction. For pupils, our Eleven Before Eleven programme means that children from disadvantaged backgrounds get to cook a meal together, sleep out under the stars, or travel on the train – things they’ve never had the chance to do before.

These are the kind of things that excite us. These are the kind of things that mean the curriculum is not core – it’s differentiated for school to school. So before I talk specifically about REAch2, I’m going to ask you a really easy question. Grab a pen and paper off the table, and I want you to score yourself in answer to these two questions (top marks is 10, and 1 is really low):

  • Could you personally describe the culture of your organisation?
  • Could you describe the purpose of your organisation?

You should have found those questions easy to answer. Now I’m going to move onto a harder question.

  • If you were sitting around a table today with your leadership team today, and you had to write down the purpose of the organisation, would you all write the same thing?

My guess is probably not (unless you’ve just done a session on this exact topic). But this is the work that you need to do, because those words will affect the way you’re behaving. No matter if your senior leadership team is 3 of you, 10 or 15 of you – if your behaviour is reinforcing different cultures, different words and a different purpose, you can imagine how your sphere of influence will dissipate as the organisation grows.

Stephen Higgins - 5 February, 2019

Category : Blog

3 stories about how Arbor transforms the way schools operate

At BETT this year, former school leaders Tim Ward & Stephen Higgins took to the stage at the Solutions Den to demonstrate how using Arbor’s simple, smart, cloud-base MIS could transform the way your school operates by putting essential data at the fingertips of your senior leaders, teachers & office staff, and by automating and

At BETT this year, former school leaders Tim Ward & Stephen Higgins took to the stage at the Solutions Den to demonstrate how using Arbor’s simple, smart, cloud-base MIS could transform the way your school operates by putting essential data at the fingertips of your senior leaders, teachers & office staff, and by automating and simplifying administrative tasks to reduce staff workload. For those of you who missed it, we’ve posted the presentation that they gave below!

A little bit about Arbor

We help schools transform the way they work to save teachers time and improve student outcomes

We’re an education company whose core aim is to improve student outcomes – I imagine that’s the same as your aim! At Arbor, we help you learn from your data, turning it into something that informs you and saving you and all the staff at your school hours of time per week. If we can help you do those two things, we’ll empower you to improve outcomes for your children.

We’re also funded by social investors, which allows us to act differently to other companies in several ways:

  • We limit the amount of profit we make and invest in developing our product instead
  • We offer all our products at an accessible price to save schools money
  • We offer some of our products and training for free – like today’s session!
  • We continually monitor our impact by asking our customers whether we’re saving them time and helping them learn from their data

To give you some context, we’re going to tell you a story of how Arbor’s MIS can transform the way that 3 people in a school work:

The date: January 2019

The location: Sunnyville Through School

The characters:

  • Miss Quill (Headteacher)
  • Mr Gray (Head of Maths and Year 11)
  • Anthony (Year 11 student)

Let’s start with Miss Quill. Miss Quill wants to find out what story the following data is telling her about her pupils at Sunnyville:

  • Attainment
  • Attendance
  • Behaviour

How can she do this? Using her Arbor dashboard, she can quickly review all of these areas in detail to uncover trends and take action (and she doesn’t need to ask anyone to create reports for her!). Watch the video below to see how:

Similarly, Mr Gray, who is Head of Maths, wants to know how can Arbor can help him to create a plan for his students. The questions he wants to answer are as follows:

  • Who are my borderline students?
  • How can I intervene with these students?
  • What was behaviour like in Maths this year?

In this video, watch how Mr Gray is able to quickly select underperforming students and add them to an intervention. He is then able to easily monitor the intervention in order to see which students have met the desired outcomes and which haven’t:

Finally, we have Anthony, who is a Year 11 student. Anthony’s parents have come into school, and want to speak to the pastoral lead about his progress so far this year. In order to have a meeting with Anthony’s parents, his teachers need to know the following:

  • How do we tell Anthony’s story?
  • How can having the “whole picture” of a student lead to a happy ending?

Watch the following video to see how Anthony’s teachers can access all the information they need about him from his student profile, including drilling down into his behaviour to spot trends & comparing his attendance to all students in the school, all students in Year 11 and all students in his form:

To conclude, how have we helped this school find a happy ending?

  • Miss Quill has all the information she needs at her fingertips, saving her and her staff time and reducing workload for all teachers
  • Mr Gray can use Arbor to understand his department and year as a whole and create effective strategies to improve student outcomes
  • With all of his information in one place, Anthony can now be effectively supported by his teachers and parents, who can communicate productively about his progress using the information logged in his student profile on Arbor

To find out more about how Arbor’s simple, smart, cloud-based MIS could reduce workload, save time and improve outcomes at your school, get in touch with us via the contact form of the website, or email tellmemore@arbor-education.com to book a free, personalised demo!

 

Cosima Baring - 15 January, 2019

Category : Blog

Life at Parkroyal since they switched to Arbor

With BETT just around the corner, we caught up with Julie Smith, PA to the Headteacher at Parkroyal Community School, who’ll be joining us at our School Leaders Lounge at Tapa Tapa restaurant at this year’s show. We asked her some questions about how life at Parkroyal has improved since they adopted Arbor in 2015.

With BETT just around the corner, we caught up with Julie Smith, PA to the Headteacher at Parkroyal Community School, who’ll be joining us at our School Leaders Lounge at Tapa Tapa restaurant at this year’s show. We asked her some questions about how life at Parkroyal has improved since they adopted Arbor in 2015.

What was your first impression of Arbor & what did you like the most about it when you switched?

The first word that comes to mind is ‘simplicity’. It’s easy to grasp, and new users can quickly work their way around the system’s functions – you don’t feel like you need hours of training, as you do with other systems.

Something I love about Arbor is the fact that it’s multi-functional across the school. By that I mean that most areas of the school use Arbor, whereas with our previous MIS provider, we found that it was only really the School Office staff that were using it – classroom teachers were using it to take the register in their classes, but that was about it! Now everyone in school knows how to use it. Arbor is a school-wide tool, not an office-based MIS system.  

Can you think of a particular part of Arbor that saves you time on a day to day basis?

Attendance, definitely! Being able to identify who’s absent and chasing them up in a few clicks saves us hours. Having spoken to other schools that don’t use Arbor, I know that it takes one lady nearly all morning to do attendance, whilst it takes our admin team about half an hour.

We also use Arbor for our First Aid. We log all incidents in Arbor which is a real timesaver because we don’t have so many paper copies of forms floating about that we have to then manually enter into the system. Our midday assistants know how to use Arbor and they’re able to log any incidents that happen at breaktime in Arbor independently, and we can then use this data to identify trends to see if the same pupils are involved in incidents at a particular time of day & then tackle the issue.

Our catering team also use Arbor. This is fantastic because we never need to tell them how many pupils are in that day as they can see it for themselves in the system. As a result, they know exactly how much to cook & this means that we almost never have any food wastage!

Can you think of an instance where Arbor has helped you spot a trend you would otherwise have missed?

On the attendance side of things, it’s really important for us to be able to spot trends in absences and we can do that really easily with tools like Arbor’s sibling correlation function. Being able to look back at past attendance and compare it against other pupils so that we can see if certain students have been absent at similar times is a real help. We can also use Arbor to spot if there’s a pattern of a child being absent on particular days of the week. It’s very easy to create detailed reports about this, and that makes my life a lot easier!

I’ve also set up custom reports for student attendance to be sent out to class teachers on a weekly basis. This is obviously automated, so I don’t have to prepare them or send them out myself – Arbor does it for me. As a result, our classroom teachers are more in the loop with what’s going on in their classes and don’t have to keep asking us for reports all the time.

How would you describe your favourite feature of Arbor to someone who’s never used it before?

I like the fact that it’s very visual. The colour coding side of things is brilliant – it helps you spot areas of concern instantly, especially with assessments & behaviour. I like the fact that you can dig deeper into analysing your data without too much effort – it’s there at your fingertips.

As a company, Arbor understands what data is the most important and you break it down into the right areas & present it well. You have an understanding of what actually happens in a school, partly because many of the people that work for Arbor have worked in schools in the past.

You understand the fact that teachers often need data quite quickly & don’t have the time to spend hours looking for it. I can find the majority of what I need just by clicking a few buttons i.e. breakdown of demographics, that sort of thing.

We’ve been using Arbor for 5 years but when we were with our previous MIS provider reporting was very time consuming. We had to make a report, create a report, run a report, and if you wanted to change something, you had to do it all over again! The fact that the teachers can now do their own reports has been brilliant – they used to come and ask us for all sorts of reports, but now they can do all of that themselves because they know exactly what to do.

Do your classroom teachers find Arbor easy to use?

They do, and they have a good grasp of the system. We had a couple of NQTs join us last year and one this year, so I sat down with them for 10 minutes and they knew what they were doing after that. You need a bit more training if you want to be able to have a deeper understanding, or set up something new, but for day to day stuff and getting information our classroom teachers generally find it very intuitive. The last NQT I sat down with said to me “I’ve played around on it, it’s just really easy to use”. She’d worked it out herself. I’m the Arbor champion at Parkroyal who’s responsible for training our staff on the system, so this is a great bonus for me!

Besides of course coming to see us at our School Leaders Lounge, do you have any tips for people visiting BETT this year?

There’s a load of people trying to sell lots of different products! I personally think it’s good to look round and see what there is, but before you launch into buying a particular product or a system that you think you might need for your school, I’d recommend talking to Arbor first because the system can probably do it. Or if it can’t do it, it probably integrates with a product that can.

If you’d like to speak to Julie in person or have any questions you’d like to ask her, you can meet her at our School Leaders Lounge at BETT this year. Why not come and join us for lunch and a glass of wine on us? Click here to see our full programme of events & book your free ticket: https://arbor-BETT-2019.eventbrite.com/

Arbor - 4 January, 2019

Category : Blog

How the Co-Op Academies Trust established its culture

At our Manchester MAT conference on 5th December 2018, Frank Norris, Director of the Trust at Co-Op Academies Trust, spoke about the highs and the lows of trust’s journey so far, focusing on how they’ve created a shared culture and endeavoured to make sure schools are fully onboard with that culture. He began by drawing

At our Manchester MAT conference on 5th December 2018, Frank Norris, Director of the Trust at Co-Op Academies Trust, spoke about the highs and the lows of trust’s journey so far, focusing on how they’ve created a shared culture and endeavoured to make sure schools are fully onboard with that culture. He began by drawing a series of thought-provoking comparisons between the structures of the big banks that went down in the 2008 financial crisis, and the structures of multi-academy trusts today. We’ve transcribed the first half of his presentation below.

Image 1: Frank Norris addresses the delegates at our 2018 Manchester MAT Conference

Introduction

The Co-Op Academies Trust have a row of desks on the eighth floor of this building. There are no private offices. The CEO of the company was here this morning at the coffee shop, queuing up with everyone else. We had a chat, and he wanted to know what I was doing this morning, so I told him I was going down to speak at Arbor’s MAT conference. It’s a very open environment.

As a trust, we have become immersed in the Co-Op, and what I want to do today is tell you a little bit about the journey that we’ve been on in order to get where we are now. I won’t pretend there haven’t been pitfalls – it’s not been easy, and there have been some really bad things that have happened within Co-Op that have had an impact on us – but there have been some great moments, too. This idea of a journey is something I want to focus on.

We are the largest business-sponsored academy trust in the country, and we have 18 schools at the moment. The Co-Op have invested £3.6 million into our trust at a time when they’ve taken £100 million pounds out of the business, so they’ve made a big commitment. The CEO of Co-Op, Steve Murrells, was on BBC Radio 5 yesterday morning, explaining why they made the decision to sponsor us (you can listen here). We’re hoping that this will be a model that other ethically-minded businesses (of which there are some!) may want to follow.

The Inside Job

James has invited me today to share a little bit about our culture here at the Co-Op, but I want to start by talking about the financial crisis of 2008. When the crisis came about, I was fascinated in finding out why banks like Northern Rock, Lehman Brothers, RBS, Britannia Building Society & the Co-Op bank all fell over during the financial crash, and the reasons why no-one’s been sent to jail for this.

And so I’d like us to watch the trailer for the film “The Inside Job”. Now, none of you are going to be earning the sorts of salaries that you’re going to see in the clip below, and I’m not suggesting that any of you are, but there is a reason for watching it, which I’ll explain in a second:

I would urge you to watch this film in full, because it highlights the reasons why things went wrong. I came across a bit of research by someone called Marianne Jennings, who is professor at Arizona State University, who also looked at the reasons why those major companies went down (bear in mind the Co-Op Bank was one that nearly went down!). Her research showed that actually, you only needed a combination of the following factors for your business to go down, and I think we can relate this to the MAT world, too:

1. Pressure to maintain numbers:

There is always a pressure to maintain numbers. In MAT terms, that could be GCSE results, KS2 results, or how many schools you’re going to get to by the end of the year.

2. Fear & silence

Some boards are completely scared of the trust’s CEO. I can safely say that if this is the case, no effective decisions are ever going to be made.

3. Young ‘uns, and a bigger-than-life CEO

Young people in the business world often think they have the silver bullet. I’ve seen young CEOs with a larger-than-life character that could railroad the entire business forward, but this then sets up a problem for the board who are unable to confront that person. It’s dangerous territory.

4. A weak board

If your board isn’t pushing back on you as a CEO at least 3 times in a meeting, they’re not doing their job. So think about the last trust board meeting you had. How many times was your CEO challenged about an issue? We’ve got a trust board meeting tomorrow, and trust me, it’s a tough day!

5. Conflicts (of interest)

We don’t buy any products or services from the Co-Op, and there are no third-party transactions between us and the Co-Op. It would be easy and we’d probably be able to save quite a lot of money, but we don’t do that because we can see the difficulties that would emerge over time. It’s a cultural thing.

6. Innovation “like no other”

Lots of people think that they have the answer, because they’ve innovated somewhere else and it worked. 9 times out of 10, they’re wrong.

7. Goodness in some areas atoning for evil in others

People have been willing to overlook bad behaviour in lieu of other good qualities. This can’t be allowed to happen.

To sum up, you only need 2 or 3 of the issues above on your board, according to Jennings, and you are looking at a big problem. Those are the reasons why the banks went down. The chairman of the Co-Op Bank was a methodist minister, who knew nothing about finance, but nobody on the board said anything. They were scared, and they were under pressure to get the numbers.

The moral of the story here is that if you don’t get the culture of your board right, your trust won’t survive. In the Co-Op Trusts’ case, the strength of our Trust is down to the quality of the people that we have on our board.

For more tips on creating your experience and skills criteria for MAT board members, you can read Sarah Pittam’s speech from our last MAT conference. To find out more about the demographics and performance of your Trust, log into your free ASP Group Insight dashboard here

Arbor - 13 December, 2018

Category : Blog , Uncategorized

How Dixons Academies Trust took tips from Silicon Valley on structuring their MAT

At our MAT CEO conference on 5th December, Luke Sparkes, Executive Principal of Dixons Academies Trust, gave a thought-provoking presentation that challenged traditional thinking about the structure of MATs. He spoke about how DAT has looked to looked to entertainment giants Spotify and Netflix to develop a model that moves away from a “no-interference” approach to

At our MAT CEO conference on 5th December, Luke Sparkes, Executive Principal of Dixons Academies Trust, gave a thought-provoking presentation that challenged traditional thinking about the structure of MATs. He spoke about how DAT has looked to looked to entertainment giants Spotify and Netflix to develop a model that moves away from a “no-interference” approach to its high-performing schools. We’ve transcribed his presentation below!

 

Leading through aligned autonomy: Introduction

I’ve been asked to share our thinking on the concept of ‘aligned autonomy’ – the optimal balance between consistency and self-determination that can empower agility.

I must start by stressing that aligned autonomy is a process, not a destination, and, as a Trust, we are very much at the start of the process.  This is only the second time we have talked about our ideas externally; we aren’t sure how they will be received, but we hope to disrupt thinking.  

Core principles

At Dixons we have 6 core principles:

    • Values Driven
    • High Expectations
    • Choice and Commitment
    • Highly Professional Staff
    • Relentless Focus on Learning
    • Empowered to Lead

The most important is that we are values-driven.  Every decision we make, every conversation we have, every lesson we plan is absolutely rooted in our values.  

In the last 12 months, we have started to organise our Trust around the concept of aligned autonomy.

A different MAT model

As a growing Trust, we are constantly grappling with our organisational development. The received wisdom from other Trusts includes:

  • School improvement driven by central capacity
  • A model that is clearly defined
  • Around 80% Trust standardisation and 20% open to local innovation
  • Leadership focused on command and control
  • Deployment as directed

At Dixons, our model had developed differently. In particular, as Principals, we’d grown used to having a lot of autonomy.  As a Trust, we talked about the concept of earned autonomy – if a school is performing strongly it should have freedom and the Trust shouldn’t interfere.

However, we started to realise that we were storing up problems for the future, because the Trust had almost become a holding body for a series of largely autonomous units.  

Of course, the strengths and identity of academies should be respected, but the whole point of a Trust is to enable schools to ever more deeply engage with, learn from and support each other. We knew we’d reached a point in our growth that we had to think and act differently.  We needed to develop a different Trust model.

I think Dixons has always had a reputation for being fairly cutting-edge (in some circles) and has learnt quite a bit from industry over the years (not least from Dixons electricals in the early years). When shaping our new model, we looked at how leading organisations across the world (in a range of industries) are managing their growth.  A series of slides from a Netflix presentation – which has described as Silicon Valley’s most important document – really resonated with us:

According to Netflix:

  • Most companies curtail freedom as they get bigger
  • So, why do most companies curtail freedom and become bureaucratic as they grow?
  • The desire for bigger positive impact creates growth
  • But, growth increases complexity
  • And growth also often shrinks talent density
  • As a result, chaos emerges – the business has become too complex to run informally with this talent level
  • Then, process emerges to stop the chaos – no one loves process, but feels good compared to pain of chaos.  “Time to grow up” becomes the mantra
  • But, process-focus drives more talent out

Process brings seductively strong near-term outcomes – a highly successful company or Trust:

  • Leading share in its market
  • Minimal thinking; few mistakes; very efficient; few mavericks; optimised
  • Efficiency trumps flexibility

But then the market shifts, due to technology or competitors; or, in a MAT’s case, due to curriculum or accountability changes. The organisation is unable to adapt quickly and can grind into irrelevance.

And so it seems like there are 3 bad options:

  • Stay creative by staying small, but therefore have less impact
  • Avoid rules as you grow, and suffer chaos
  • Use process as you grow to drive efficient execution of current model, but cripple creativity, flexibility, and ability to thrive when things change

But, there is a fourth option.

We believe that the agile organisation is dawning as the new dominant organisation paradigm. Organisations will no longer be ‘machines’ with top-down hierarchy, but ‘organisms’ with agile leadership.

Dixons Structure

Freedom from hierarchy doesn’t exist anywhere in nature (not least in schools), but no one would argue that all hierarchies are good. With that in mind, we’re trying to design our flatter, less hierarchical organisation as a distributed, interdependent, continually evolving system.

Leadership shows direction and enables action, but “boxes and lines” are less important. An agile organisational culture puts people at the centre, which engages and empowers everyone in the organisation. They can then create value quickly, collaboratively and effectively. Leadership in agile organisations serves the people in the organisation, empowering and developing them. They create space for teams to discover new opportunities and effectively respond to change.

Agile way of working

Agile is not a methodology; it’s a way of behaving, it’s a culture, a mindset. Autonomy of agile teams is a must but it’s not sufficient, as teams also need alignment. This grid is a useful way to explain the relationship between autonomy and alignment:

At one end of the spectrum you have low autonomy and low alignment. This results in a micromanaging organisation and an indifferent culture – there is no higher level purpose, and schools are told to “shut up and follow orders”.

On the other hand, there’s low autonomy and high alignment. This creates an authoritative organisation and a conformist culture, where employees are told which problems need to be solved, but also how to solve them. Arguably, a number of Trusts are taking this approach, but, as those companies are finding, we believe this approach will stifle innovation and drive talent out.

High autonomy and low alignment can result in an entrepreneurial organisation, but leads to a chaotic culture.

The Dixons Story

As a Trust, we were heading towards chaos.  We were starting to see divisions – rather than working for Dixons, staff increasingly talked about working for City, Kings, Trinity or Marchbank. We were autonomous, but starting to sub-optimise, with each school only working for its own success and keeping things to themselves. As a relatively small Trust with some exceptional Principals (who were quick to respond to curriculum changes), we were securing great educational outcomes, but there was confusion, we had limited turnaround support and our central systems were inefficient (some still are).

We realised that to scale agile, we must continue to enable autonomy for our teams, but ensure alignment with the organisation.

Why Aligned (at Dixons)

  • We share the same mission
  • All staff should benefit from our best
  • We all benefit from the brand
  • Staff can be more easily deployed
  • Central services become simpler and more efficient
  • Growth can be better managed
  • No divisions; we don’t sub-optimise

Why Autonomy (at Dixons)

  • Personal accountability is founded on ownership and self-direction
  • If there is no variation, there will be no opportunity for us to learn from different practices
  • Conformity kills innovation
  • Standardisation fails to respond to changing needs
  • Micromanagement breeds indifference
  • Autonomy is the foundation of our success so far

Aligned autonomy will deliver a more agile and less hierarchical organisation:

  • Respect at every level
  • Rules focused on clarity rather than control
  • Needed roles that make sense
  • Pushing power down

Strong backbone vertebrae

A core element of an agile organisation is a fixed and stable backbone that evolves slowly. In order to minimise workload and maximise impact, elements of the backbone must be as efficient and spare as possible. This also allows room for further elaboration and development in response to a leader’s own drivers and context.

Again, I must stress that aligned autonomy is a process, not a destination. A component of the backbone one year may be dropped in another because it outlives its usefulness, or because it is a time for further innovation and testing.

For each element, we have started to create clarity by stating which aspects are aligned across the organisation and which aspects teams have autonomy over:

And so, this fourth option, this new MAT model, is focused on avoiding chaos as you grow with ever more high performaning people – not with rules.

The key to this is to increase talent density faster than complexity grows. And with the right people, instead of a culture of process adherence, you can cultivate a culture of creativity and self-discipline, freedom and responsibility. Leadership is about context, not control. Agility means building a structure that allows people to react in real time. In our current age of urgency, we have to take the principles behind agile and use them a little differently. Let’s call them the three “insteads”:

  • Instead of making a decision when you have 90% of the information, make it when you have 70%
  • Instead of imposing decisions from top down, encourage real-time decisions across the organisation decoupled from title or rank
  • Instead of relying on charismatic leaders who get results by force, recognise that leadership can come from anyone, and is earned not appointed

Scaling agile at Dixons

The following models help to show how we have started to scale agile at Dixons:

Each academy (or what agile organisations in industry would describe as a tribe) is made up of squads or departments that are built around end-to-end accountability and share the same long term mission. The Principal is the Academy Lead and is responsible for setting the context and providing the right environment.  The Principal is supported by an EP who acts as an Agile Coach. Together they provide leadership that shows direction and enables action. Senior and middle leadership groups (described as chapters in industry) promote collaboration and cross pollination of ideas across departments.  They are also responsible for developing people.

Finally, we have started to develop cross-cutting teams that act like guilds. These are groups of people from across the organisation who want to share knowledge and practices, innovate and develop new ideas (in all areas – curriculum, support, and operations). Each cross-cutting team has a coordinator and teams can form, dissolve and reform as resources shift and priorities change.  They can also be used to secure alignment. A people-first organisation relies on true work of small, cross cutting teams:

Scaling agile in this way through squads, chapters and guilds will help us to create a talent-driven organisation. At Dixons, we believe talent is king. Talent, even more than strategy, is what creates value. Hierarchy can isolate and bury talent. Flattening the organisation and pushing power down will stimulate personal growth and create speed. Leading a talent-first organisation requires agility. It requires enough ego to be comfortable with making the hardest decisions and enough humility to defer to the brilliance of other people.

It means living with the idea that the talent will determine the direction and strategy of the organisation.

These are the 3 critical moves to unleash talent:

1. Most vital people must be in roles where they can create significant value

2. They must be free from bureaucratic structure

3. They must be afforded the training and opportunities to expand their skills

Conclusion

We believe that the agile organisation is dawning as the new dominant organisational paradigm. Agile groups can thrive in an unpredictable, rapidly changing environment.  They are both stable and dynamic. They focus on customers (or in our case, students), fluidly adapt to environmental changes, and are open, inclusive, and less hierarchical; they evolve continually and embrace uncertainty. An agile organisational culture puts people at the centre. And all of this is only possible through high autonomy – that is a must – but also high alignment. We must continue to enable autonomy for our teams, but ensure alignment with the organisation.

 

Arbor - 4 November, 2018

Category : Blog

Hugh Greenway, The Elliot Foundation: My guide to running a successful MAT (part 2)

Hugh Greenway, CEO of the Elliot Foundation, recently spoke at our MAT conference Scaling Sustainably: Centralisation vs. School Autonomy. This blog is the second part of a two-part blog series on his presentation – in part 1, Hugh spoke about the challenge of scaling a MAT without adequate funding. Here, he goes on to say

Hugh Greenway, CEO of the Elliot Foundation, recently spoke at our MAT conference Scaling Sustainably: Centralisation vs. School Autonomy. This blog is the second part of a two-part blog series on his presentation – in part 1, Hugh spoke about the challenge of scaling a MAT without adequate funding. Here, he goes on to say that creating trust among the people in your MAT is crucial to running a successful operation. We’ve transcribed part two of his presentation below.

Creating something from nothing

In order to successfully create a school-led system, we must ask ourselves two questions:

Question 1: Am I doing everything I can to improve outcomes for as many children as possible with the resources available to me today?

Question 2: Are the outcomes good enough?

The difficulty with Q1 is that it can make it difficult to get out of bed some mornings. Therefore, you have to find different ways and different people to help you ask the question in different ways. This is my latest version:

The questions that need to be asked are as follows: Are all children safe? Where do they learn? What do they learn? How do they learn? Who do they learn from? Can we pay for it? Does it work? Is it compliant?

Each of these questions relates back to a relevant operational part of the MAT, about which we can ask various questions to see if we are creating the best learning environment for our children using what we have available to us.  

Think about your finances, for example. If you think that you’ve saved money on photocopiers and/or stationery, you probably haven’t. You just think you have. I can tell you that by implementing print management and switching off colour printing, you can save up to 50% on your print costs now. Schools don’t actually need to print in colour. But here’s the thing: your photocopy costs will be less than 1% of total costs, so even saving you 50% will only deliver a 0.33 of 1% point saving – which might not be worth the uproar you will face from teachers!

The benefits of good governance

The real savings come from building trust with your people. At the beginning of the previous blog, I said that there were no volume discounts on teachers. Well, you can save money on them by treating them better.

This in turn leads to systems which transcend individual schools. If you think about your trust as a tent that needs to be kept upright against any inclement weather, then you need guy ropes. Each guy rope represents a golden thread that runs through the organisation.

In order to be sure that things are as good as they can be you need to check the tension on the guy rope. The inputs and the outputs.

How do we know that all children are safe or that the provision of education is improving? What evidence do we have? And what do we then do with that evidence? Which employee is responsible? Which trustee and which committee has oversight and what does good look like?

For example:

  • The inputs to ‘educationally improving’ are simple: OFSTED reports, phonics, KS1 & KS2 results, RSC letters etc.
  • The outputs are academy improvement plans linked to budgets, TATA reports, and trust/school improvement priorities. The employee responsible for this is me. The Committee is “Standards” and the Trustee is the Chair of Standards. But stakeholders engaged with a sense of agency is more nuanced

Obviously there needs to be a limit to the number of guy ropes, because otherwise you’d spend all your time running round and never get to sleep in your tent.

For those who find that analogy a bit fluffy, here is a slightly harder nosed way of looking at the current way I look at our system:

In brief, the Trust board is accountable to the DfE, which in turn is accountable to the children and the community. Within the the MAT, the staff are accountable to the principal, who reports to regional directors, who report to the CEO. There is then a web of support and representation that links the finance committee, LGBs, the audit committee and the standards committee, as well as NUC unions, an ops group and the principals’ council. A feedback loop runs through the MAT, connecting children to staff, staff to principals and principals to the CEO & trust board.

No roadblocks or concentrations of power.

But, at the end of the day it comes down to trust, and that is where we turn our greatest weakness into our greatest strength. Because if we can deploy our values in such a way that they generate value, then we all have a chance.

Arbor - 4 November, 2018

Category : Blog

Hugh Greenway, The Elliot Foundation: My guide to running a successful MAT

At our MAT conference, Scaling Sustainably: Centralisation vs. School Autonomy, Hugh Greenway, CEO of the Elliot Foundation spoke about the challenge of keeping the “big picture” in view when managing operations across a trust, arguing that this is the biggest challenge to scaling a MAT. We’ve transcribed part 1 of his presentation below. Introduction: The

At our MAT conference, Scaling Sustainably: Centralisation vs. School Autonomy, Hugh Greenway, CEO of the Elliot Foundation spoke about the challenge of keeping the “big picture” in view when managing operations across a trust, arguing that this is the biggest challenge to scaling a MAT. We’ve transcribed part 1 of his presentation below.

Introduction: The job of a MAT CEO

I was at a DfE meeting recently where the job of being a MAT CEO was explained as being, “to find what works and make it scalable”.  But education has always been and always will be mostly unscalable. You don’t get volume discounts on teachers (which are between 65-85% of your costs). The 1,000th teacher costs the same as the first one. What economies of scale you can achieve on your other costs are generally lost to the costs of running the system.

I set up the Elliot Foundation with my friend Caroline Whalley. She was the visionary, I was builder. But what did we set out to do?

The idea behind the Elliot Foundation was to build a safe place for primary schools and to try to protect them from the unintended consequences of academy reforms. We could see that the fragmentation of the system was likely to lead to hundreds, if not thousands of orphaned primary schools, with no one able or prepared to help them.

We set out to build this with three core ideas:

  1. To bring an end to the deficit model
  2. To create a genuine school-to-school model where expertise, decision making and money was kept as close to children as possible
  3. To build a primary voice

So – how’s it going?

The Elliot Foundation currently has 27 schools – that’s around 10,000 children (growing to 30,000). Two thirds of these schools are sponsored and 4 out of 8 converters were RI jumpers.

We’ve had 19 inspections so far, with 7 schools being awarded Oustanding, 10 awarded Good, and 2 Requiring Improvement. Out of the 6 Outstanding sponsored primaries in the West Midlands, 3 of those belong to the Elliot Foundation. But Age Related Expectations are not good enough. They’re probably at about 55% (validated). There are Pupil Premium and EAL gaps in East Anglia.

You can see from the numbers below that our schools are in the most deprived quartile:

Whilst you were reading the statistics, did you notice anything odd about the diagram above? Anything… gorilla-shaped? This idea is based on a famous 1990s psychology experiment that you can find on YouTube (but I’m afraid I’m now about to ruin for you). The difficulty is that nearly all MAT CEOs are former Headteachers, and they view the world through the lens of their experience. They see children, teachers and schools.

But they don’t see the gorilla. Do you see it now?

Unlike the academics at the DfE, I believe that our job as MAT CEOs is to create and maintain systems that keep schools, safe, solvent, structurally sound, legally compliant and educationally improving.

How do you scale without the money to scale?

Back in 2001 our system costs were handsomely funded – LAs used to retain around 16%. When the academy project was expanded by the coalition government in 2010, this had fallen to 12%, and academies had to make do with 8%. When the LACSEG was replaced by the ESG, it had fallen to £160 per pupil (around 3.5%). Today, each of us is personally accountable and potentially criminally liable for maintaining these systems. Yet we are given…nothing. Not even the most frugal of SME would run its head office on less than 5% of total. And in the UK, charities average closer to around 10%.

And yet, we have accepted this bargain by taking our system costs out of individual schools’ funding – and more often than not, by not taking enough, because we don’t want to. In doing so, we have tacitly accepted that our schools were over-funded. So, next time you sign your VfM declaration, you can point out that you have achieved VfM, even if you have only maintained standards (because you are doing so for much less than we used to get paid!).

The real pinch is that we cannot opt out of the law of the land (although that doesn’t stop the ESFA and the National College trying). Indeed, academy legislation is the first time in UK legal history that a government has used primary legislation to alter the terms of contract. By prioritising children we have simply put ourselves in the firing line. Asbestos compliance trumps school improvement. The Equalities Act is more important than SATs. GDPR (so help me) will be more important than SEND.

We all know that this is not true or fair. And this is the gorilla that we cannot see.

Moral purpose is the gorilla that killed Kids Company. And we will be victims of our vocation if we do not get a little more open and honest about how difficult this is.

The only way we can afford to have a moral purpose is to get a whole lot better at creating something from nothing. Fortunately, that’s what Primary schools are really good at.

Click here to read part two of Hugh’s presentation.