There are over 1,000 academy trusts in England that manage at least 2 schools in their trust. Trusts support local schools to improve existing strengths to maintain high educational standards across a community. Anna Crawte is the School Improvement Director for Heart Academies Trust and works closely with the leadership teams at all of the schools in the trust to ensure the best outcomes for students. Part of ensuring the best outcome for children in the trust is helping support staff development and collaboration across the schools in the trust to establish unity between the schools.

Heart Academies Trust

Heart Academies Trust is a Multi-Academy Trust (MAT) located in Bedford and currently comprises of three primary schools and one secondary school.

Working as a School Improvement Director for a Multi-Academy Trust is a real privilege, I can work alongside colleagues from a range of schools and phases and our improvement work can reach so many more children than in one setting alone. Every MAT has its own approach to school improvement and educational expectations.

Our philosophy focuses on the individual communities that each of our schools serves. We want our Headteachers to have the autonomy to lead their schools in a way that fits the needs of the pupils in their care. For this reason, examples such as a set curriculum across all schools, would not be appropriate.

On the other side, we want our schools to feel part of our MAT and that everyone, regardless of role, plays a vital part in the success of all our pupils, not just the pupils at the school they are based at. We also want the MAT to make each school stronger than if they were stand-alone schools.  Importantly, we did not want to brand our schools inside and out with MAT logos to remind staff and children alike that they were part of our organisation. We wanted the principles that underpin our Trust to be lived and breathed at every level; without undermining each school’s individual vision and values. This would create an aligned autonomy for all our schools.

Starting the Journey

Following a period of time when our Trust lacked trust from our schools, the priority three years ago was to re-establish this trust. We had to find ways to establish buy-in from staff. It was key to create an environment in which staff felt their voice was not only valued but also listened to so that we could earn this trust. The first step towards this was a staff forum to provide an opportunity for opinions to be discussed. The next step was to plan a series of initiatives that would create a shared focus for the Trust. Small steps were vital in bringing staff together under the shared focus that they could see the value of and this would increase their confidence that working together makes each school stronger.

Our first primary wide initiative was the mental health for children programme that gave children and adults alike a shared language to communicate about their mental health. We may not have the same branding in every classroom, but we now had these visuals and vocabulary that are common across all primary schools. This became an example of the aligned autonomy that we strived to create.

Incorporating All Schools

With only one secondary school in our MAT; it was important that secondary-based staff also felt the value and sense of belonging. For this reason, we created subject networks for curriculum planning, development and resourcing. This was created during the covid pandemic and we utilised the Microsoft teams network to allow sharing of information and resources. Staff could draw on good practice across all four schools as well as improve knowledge and understanding of the next or previous phase of learning. This has a positive impact on teaching and learning as our curriculum sat on a vertical continuum instead of being halted at the end of key stages.

Establishing Authentic Trust-wide Collaboration

October 2022 saw the Trust-wide training day take place. Prior to the pandemic, we had held one full training day, but the pandemic prevented the annual occurrence. Once we were able to bring the 350 staff from all areas of the Trust together we could discuss and gather feedback on our updated leadership principles. These principles are:

  1. Ethical leadership – leadership that is directed by respect for ethical beliefs and values and for the dignity and rights of others.   
  2. Inclusion – fostering a feeling of belonging, inclusion is the key to unlocking the potential of our children, staff and communities.    
  3. Equity – impartiality, fairness and justice for all people. Taking account of systemic inequalities to ensure everyone in our community has access to the same opportunities and outcomes.

Staff were able to reflect on how these principles can be woven into their roles every day. This was not just for pupil facing roles; but, within every department at the MAT. The feedback was overwhelmingly positive. Staff expressed how important it was to adopt the principles proactively and have contributed to the actions required to embed them across all schools and the central team. From feedback, the central team are also able to address any barriers that would prevent these principles from being fully embedded across our organisation. Again, this formed our aligned autonomy. For example, there may be a different staffing structure in each school; however, the principles of ethical leadership, inclusion and equity were integral in the decision-making to create that structure.

This would not have been possible without the prior work on bringing staff together with previous initiatives in which colleagues saw and experienced success.

What are the Next Steps?

Looking forward, our next shared focus needs to pull all staff from every area together. Previously, we have taken smaller steps and now our MAT principles will form a wider collaboration as the foundations upon which we make every decision. We want these principles to be what makes each school a Trust school, not the physical branding features. Going forward, we will continue with a shared focus on an annual basis to allow staff to work collaboratively and allow staff the opportunity to draw on expertise from all areas. All staff gave feedback saying that they would value even more opportunities to work together across the MAT.  For this reason, Climate and Sustainability is the area of focus. It will be possible to incorporate this into education and operations so it will bring the staff body together under this shared focus and vision.

I was once asked, how do you know this school is a HEART Academies Trust? It is far too easy to look for what you can see to define the answer. I now know, it isn’t about what you can see, but what brings staff together to believe that the MAT strengthens their school. It may take small initiatives and steps to start, but by doing it this way, it will be more successful and staff will have positive experiences to draw on. This ensures true trust-wide collaboration which is effective and can make a difference for the communities in which our schools serve.

How useful was this article?

Please click on a star to rate it

Heart Academies Trust is a Multi-Academy Trust in Bedford. Anna Crawte, School Improvement Director shares the importance of creating a shared focus between schools in the trust to encourage staff collaboration.

Register FREE to access 2 more articles

We hope you’ve enjoyed your first article on GE Insights. To access 2 more articles for free, register now to join the Government Events community.

What you'll receive:
2 FREE articles/videos on GE Insights
Discounts to GE conferences and GovPD training courses
Latest events and training course updates
Fortnightly newsletters
Personalised homepage to save you time
Need unrestricted access to GE Insights Now?