We were one of the first single academy converters, becoming part of a multi-academy trust with group of schools in Harlow that had become single standalone academies under the co-operative model. Two years later we were approached by two local primary schools, Potter Street and Purford Green – one of which had just gone into Special Measures and the other into Requires Improvement. The driving force for us has always been ‘We don’t want to run anybody else’s school.’ The answers to the issues and challenges in each school are generally within the school itself, if you know where to look.
It was important to us that the schools kept their governing bodies, headteachers and a sense of their own identity, rather than adopting a ‘franchise model’. Obviously, a trust board driven by the sponsor, in this case us, is ultimately in charge – but we’ve been consistently open and honest with each other and worked in partnership throughout. It’s about resource sharing, streamlining and making sure we’re spending money in the best possible way – we provide catering support for the primaries and negotiate on things like insurance and grounds maintenance for three schools rather than one. I’m part of the first generation of leaders to lead more than one school, and we’ve had to make it up as we go along, because there’s been no precedent. There’s a fine line you have to walk, between making sure the school’s as businesslike as possible without turning it into a business. However, the most significant gain that’s taken place has been the learning by my staff of what’s actually done in primary school. During the first year of our sponsorship I spent a day in one of the primaries and found that in Y5 and Y6 they were doing geography and learning about four- and six-figure grid references, which was great to see. The next day I observed a Y7 geography lesson at Passmores in which they were doing… four- and six-figure grid references. It was on our curriculum, but it turned out 95% of the class already knew it. As a secondary, we’ve learnt as much from them, if not more, as they have from us.
Primaries shouldn’t underestimate how much they have to offer MAT leaders. The early Multi-Academy Trusts model was very much based around primaries joining secondary leads, due to the latter’s capacity taking on that extra work. One big hurdle has been pensions and staff P&Cs, but I believe there are now many more primary schools which can assume that decision-making process and form MATs of their own. I’d love to see primaries approaching secondaries and asking them if they want to join their Multi-Academy Trust. I know there are some models of that around the country, but not enough. My advice for primaries would be to bite the bullet and take control. Ultimately, it’s not something that’s that difficult to do, and it doesn’t necessarily represent too big a change – it’s more about being clear as to your ethos, and working together with others and agreeing on things that will make your organisation more efficient and give you more money to put into teaching and learning. Don’t wait for academisation to happen to you – think about how you can do it yourself in the best interests of your community.
Vic Goddard is the principal of Passmores Academy in Harlow; for more information, visit passmoresacademy.com or follow @vicgoddard