2018 Retrospective - A Year in the Life of the Trust
Inspiring learners end of year blog post
As we come to the end of our first calendar year of being a trust, I thought it would be a nice idea to write a bit of a month-by-month retrospective, as much for our benefit as for anyone else’s. Here goes..!
Having signed the paperwork to form Inspiring Learners MAT in December 2017, January was a bit of a month of waiting. We decided to fill this with a big group session for Governors, Trustees-in-waiting, and the senior leadership team at Tyntesfield. This session was designed to help us make sure we all had a shared vision for the Trust.
Led by Kerry, one of our trustees, we had a brilliant evening looking at values, and vision, and straplines, and mission statements. Everybody joined in, and while some of the proposed logos left a lot to be desired (especially mine!), the ideas and energy in the room gave me further confidence that we’d done the right thing.
The outcome of this session is that we’ve been able to describe the trust, and the way we want to work, in five values: Passion, Ambition, Collaboration, Innovation and Integrity. In some organisations, this sort of thing can often be seen as just being wallpaper. For us, these values cut through everything we do, from recruitment, to appraisals, to developing teaching and learning, and I cannot stress how worthwhile this exercise was.
February was when Inspiring Learners MAT officially came into being, and Tyntesfield became an academy. This was the culmination of a lot of work for us, and while it marked a significant point in the history of the trust, we had always maintained to parents that they would see very little difference when Tyntesfield became an academy, and true to that, there was minimal change from an operational point of view.
In March, we started to put in place a few things that we’d need to help us operate as a trust. We met with our accountants, and set out our expectations for our relationship with them, in terms of our obligations.
We also started to think about branding for the trust - logo, style guides, colours, etc. This was a really interesting exercise for us, as we have been very clear all along that we are not the sort of trust who thinks of itself as a business, or a corporate education provider. I think that our values articulate that, and I think that the way that we’ve operated has shown that to be the case. As such, we were clear that we wanted our branding to reflect that, and I really think it does. The colours, the splash of paint, and the holding hands are a fabulous visual representation of what we’re all about.
April was another huge month for the trust. Since March 2017 Tyntesfield had been supporting Bollin, following a sudden loss of leadership and subsequent Ofsted Inspection. The outcome of this inspection meant that Bollin would have to become an academy, and find a sponsor trust. Having worked with the school for 13 months, we knew that it would be an amazing opportunity for Bollin, and for Tyntesfield, if they were to join our trust. We’d been preparing for this, just in case, and in April we decided, as a Board, that we would start the process of sponsoring Bollin in their academisation, with the aim of them joining Inspiring Learners.
This was a massive decision for us, and we were all so excited after we voted for it. Through April, we had a series of discussions with the Regional Schools Commissioner and the Local Authority to try and negotiate the financial arrangements. Because of our unique situation, we needed to ensure we weren’t jeopardising the future of the trust, and while it was difficult at times, I’m really proud of what we did, and feel like we’ve got the most positive outcome for everyone involved..!
In May we had one of the highlights of my year. We held a meeting for parents at Bollin, where they could come along and hear from trustees, and ask any questions. Whilst I’d been to Bollin a few times, this was the first chance I’d had to talk to parents, and it was amazing. We talked about the trust, trustees, and our journey to that point. Parents were engaged, and we had some fantastic questions and discussion about our motives, direction and plans for the future.
As a board we felt that this was an incredibly positive meeting. It was something that I personally had been really quite nervous about, but I came away with such a warm feeling from everyone who attended. Thanks to you all.
We wrote up the questions and answers from this session, and sent them out to all parents, for those that couldn’t make it.
In June, we officially welcomed Bollin to Inspiring Learners MAT. A momentous occasion for us, and while there had been close working between Bollin and Tyntesfield up to this point, this now marked the point at which this relationship was cemented.
We also held a session with staff at Tyntesfield. As a board, we are keen to be open and approachable, and it’s really important to us that we take the time to speak to everyone who’s part of the trust, and give them the opportunity to ask questions, and hear from us directly.
June was also the month of Tyntesfield’s 50th Anniversary Ball, which was an absolutely fantastic night. Held at the Cinnamon Rooms in Bowdon, the venue, the food, the entertainment were all amazing (apart from a dodgy auctioneer). This, along with Christmas fairs, Halloween parties, summer fairs, and all the other events that PTAs put on at both schools, play a hugely important role in bringing the school community together (as well as raising funds for the schools!). Thanks to everyone involved for their hard work!
July was hot. We had a recruitment drive - there were a couple of key positions in the trust that we really needed to fill - Head of School at Bollin, and a Finance Director for the trust, and I am so pleased with how this has worked out.
For the Finance Director role, we appointed Jill Usher, and she started with us in September 2018. Academy Trust finances are very different from school finances, so getting someone in with a strong finance background was paramount. Jill has been brilliant, but more of that later.
For the Head of School at Bollin, we appointed Natanya O’Hara. Although Natanya doesn’t officially start until January, she has been spending time in school, getting to know the staff, children and parents. It’s fantastic that she’s been able to do this, as it means from January, we’ll be able to hit the ground running. From January, Kylie will have a little bit more room to start to get into the role of Executive Headteacher for the Trust - providing hands on support for Mrs O’Hara, while also supporting Mrs Manion at Tyntesfield, and growing the trust (not necessarily in terms of new schools - more the way we all work together).
The summer holidays were a good chance for us to get some admin stuff done. We worked on the trust website, and we also had new signs made for Bollin. When a school converts to an academy in the way that Bollin has done, there’s a special grant given to the school to improve the school environment. Bollin’s buildings and grounds are exceptional, so freshening up the identity of the school seemed to be a good way to do that. We’re really pleased with how it all looks, and the way it reinforces the school’s values at every turn.
In September we had a couple of training sessions for our Joint Local Governing Body (JLGB). When Bollin joined the trust, there was no governing body in place, so we knew that we’d need to get something sorted for the new academic year. We decided that the best approach would be to turn Tyntesfield’s local governing body into a joint local governing body, recruit some governors from the Bollin community, and have this body operate across both schools.
Adding two parents and a member of staff from Bollin has augmented the already-strong governing body, and the sessions in September were extremely positive, where everyone had the chance to understand what good governance is about, and set out the way the JLGB would work, in terms of committees and individual roles.
October marked the first official meeting of the new joint local governing body. Autumn meetings are always long, but with two schools to cover, this was longer than most, and I’m really grateful to the governors for giving up their time for it. I’m sure that over time, these meetings will get slicker, and I know that governors are excited to meet the staff in the two schools who are their links for their named governor roles. The new additions to the governing body have really added strength, especially in finance and education areas.
We also had the first of two open days at Bollin - a chance for prospective parents to come and see the school, meet some of the teachers (and the chickens!), and get a feel for what we’re about. It’s important that we have trustee’s at these sessions, so that parents have a chance to talk to us about the vision for the trust, if they want to. The sessions were fantastic, and feedback from parents has been really positive.
In November, I managed to get down to Tyntesfield for the Remembrance Day ceremony. All children and staff from the school gathered on the school field around a poppy display that the children had made. They were incredibly well-behaved, as some children read from a poem, and Rev Rich from the Avenue spoke about conflict. It was a privilege to be able to take part in it.
November was also the 12 month anniversary of Tyntesfield winning the Rolls Royce Science Prize. One of the conditions of the award was that we go to this year’s awards ceremony to give a short talk about what winning the prize has meant to us, and this is probably worth a blog post in its own right. The award was won off the back of the work by a lot of people, led by Mrs Yates. As Mrs Yates is currently on maternity leave, Mrs Spark went to the ceremony, and talked about the work we’ve done to help roll Investigation Stations out to other schools through Trafford Teaching Schools Alliance. It’s fair to say that the talk went down extremely well, and I think we can be tremendously proud of what we’ve achieved so far, and the impact that it’s having on children across Trafford.
We’ve finished the year off on a real high. A couple of really important things happened in December, and I’m extremely pleased with how they went.
The first was the Executive Headteacher’s appraisal. This is something the trust will do every year, and is an opportunity for us to reflect on the year’s activity. Very often, because of the sheer amount of stuff that needs doing, reflection can be overlooked, so making space to do that is vital. This was a hugely positive meeting - we talked about everything that we’ve achieved over the year under Mrs Spark’s leadership, focussing on the stuff that we’re proud of, and acknowledging the challenges. While it’s ostensibly the Exec Head’s appraisal, it also enabled me to reflect on the trust’s achievements, of which I’m really proud.
Our final meeting of the year was an audit meeting with our external auditors. While state schools are audited every few years, Academy Trusts are audited every year, and this is quite an intensive process (especially for the office staff!). As I mentioned earlier - we recruited Jill Usher as Director of Finance for the trust in the summer, and this turned out to be an inspired appointment. Jill has worked closely with the office managers at both schools, culminating in a fantastic audit report, with very few points to address. The auditors mentioned that they’d never seen so few audit points on a new trust’s report, and this is something that I’m extremely pleased with.
This ends the retrospective. Hopefully it’s been interesting to read - if nothing else, it’s been a useful exercise to write it! I’d like to take the opportunity to thank everyone that’s been involved in this, in any capacity, over the last year. A lot of people have played a part, well over a thousand, including the children at both schools, so this is something we can all be proud of.