What Lies Ahead?
As I begin my work as Chair of the Trustees, I must first express my thanks, and those of the whole Trust, to Paul Carvin who stood down as our Chair at the end of December. Paul has been a Trustee since 2012 and Chair of the Trust Board since January 2015 during which time his expertise, unflagging energy and drive, and his unfailing judgment have been fundamental in the development of our governance and our expansion from 3 to 8 schools. I have much to live up to following in Paul’s footsteps and so I am delighted that he will remain as a Trustee leading for the Board on our response to the Climate Emergency, and overseeing our work on SEND (Special Educational Needs & Disabilities). Thank you Paul: we owe you so much.
My own background in governance is with Abbeyfields and Newminster schools and subsequently as Chair of Governors at Abbeyfields. I joined the Trust Board in 2017, when Abbeyfields joined the Three Rivers Learning Trust. My own children attended Abbeyfields, Newminster and KEVI and I have shared in the development of our partnership of schools for many years as a parent and governor/trustee. I also serve as Chair of the Northumberland Schools Forum which advises the County Council on all aspects of the allocation of grants for running costs from national government for the operation of schools in England (the Dedicated Schools Grant).
I am looking forward to working with all our Trust staff, schools & other stakeholders in helping to shape our continuing development as a Learning Trust. I am firmly committed to the greater opportunities provided by the independence of Academies and Learning Trusts which enable us to act speedily and imaginatively to the many challenges that face our schools. I am in awe of the professionalism and dedication of our staff, especially as this has been tested during the last 2 years in dealing with all our many ongoing responsibilities against the unforeseen challenges of a pandemic.
“Reading the runes” and trying to project the challenges ahead it’s clear that the pressures added by the pandemic will continue for some time to come, so the Trust’s major task will always be to continue to support and promote our schools in their day-to-day operation. But The Board must also always be looking ahead strategically to secure our best possible future. Here we must anticipate a Schools White Paper from the newly appointed Secretary of State (SoS). Some indicators as to what that may contain have been voiced by Mr Zahawi who has commented on the importance of schools in the government’s agenda for “levelling up”; of an emphasis on SEND (although we seem no nearer to the publication of the much-trailed review of SEND) and “vulnerable children”; a “relentless focus on literacy and numeracy”; T levels and apprenticeship programmes; and much else. In particular, he has commented that “There is evidence that being part of a multi-academy trust makes a huge benefit and trusts….help underperforming schools to improve and provide the opportunities for teachers and leaders to enable them to focus on what…matters most…high-quality teaching and support for pupils’ outcomes effectively.”
The Board is very aware that MATs are seen by DfE as being most effective when they are a certain size, and that 3RLT are likely to be encouraged by the Regional Schools Commissioner to work towards enlargement. This is already our policy, and we will continue to pursue this actively.
There are many opportunities open to Academies and MATs that I don’t believe are so readily available to Maintained schools, and although we will always work in conjunction with our local authority I look forward to helping us grasp those opportunities for the benefit of our pupils, families and staff, and the greater ambition of education generally.