Matt O'Brien joined the Trust in the summer of 2020, below he provides you with a flavour of what it means to be a Headteacher with the Trust
Working at the Grand Union Partnership as a headteacher has been a pleasure from the moment that I joined. I have been able to take advantage of many of the benefits of being part of the Trust while embarking upon my headship at Jubilee Wood and, supported by these, have been able to achieve far more in my first year with the school than I would have been able to in a stand-alone setting.
The spirit of cooperation across the schools in the Trust is something myself and my team greatly appreciate. Cross-trust collaborative working enables us all to share ideas and take forward initiatives so that we benefit from each other’s successes. At a senior level, the headteachers, and very experienced CEO and Head of Development at the Trust work closely together to provide clear strategic direction as well as to share ideas on more operational matters. At middle leaders’ level, a programme of leadership support has been devised across the Trust facilitating the development of the next set of leaders that may at some stage move into senior positions across the organisation. This opportunity for middle leaders to work with staff from different schools in different contexts has given them much food for thought and encouraged them to try new initiatives within their areas of responsibility having seen them successfully in action elsewhere. Staff are increasingly aware of the promotion opportunities that present themselves at the Trust and this is further aiding levels of staff retention.
One of the many attractive characteristics of the Trust is the way in which each school is able to continue to develop its own identity. This is a key difference from some trusts where there is a more uniform approach to most aspects of school life, from the content of the curriculum to the timings of the school day. The Trust has a very clear philosophical framework that schools operate, with a clear set of outcome expectations, but there is room for schools to be creative in how they go about delivering the centrally agreed principles and targets. The diversity of the schools in the Trust, in terms of the range of sizes and social contexts the schools have, is a significant strength broadening the range of experience of the staff working within it.
The Central Trust team are well placed to monitor provision and standards across the Trust and do so in a very supportive manner using a variety of cross-school visits and forums. The sharing of information that arises from this activity enables the Trust to prioritise development and, sometimes, support in terms of capital programmes. For example, the Jubilee Wood outdoor area in the EYFS was identified as needing some rejuvenation following a cross-trust visit, and subsequently, the Trust was able to allocate very significant funding to the complete redevelopment of the whole area, creating a fantastic legacy for EYFS children at Jubilee Wood for years to come. Similarly, an agreed set of principles for performance management, assessment and monitoring at the GUP allows there to be a common language used by senior staff when identifying areas for school and trust-wide development.
The advantages of economies of scale are evident at the GUP and will be ever more so as the Trust continues to grow. Some responsibilities, like the maintenance of statutory policies or the recruitment of new staff, are often undertaken centrally, and this further assists senior leaders in managing workload and in sharing excellent practice across the trust.
I have hugely enjoyed my first year with the Grand Union Partnership and am delighted to be working with so many talented colleagues, with whom I confidently expect to share many future successes in the years to come.
Karen Sarbutts, Headteacher at Old Stratford, joined Old Stratford Primary School in 2017, prior to the school joining the Trust, her comments below outline the positive impact that the Trust has been able to deliver for her and Old Stratford
When I first joined Old Stratford it was my first headship and joined as a Head of School with Phil Webster as the Executive Headteacher.
The school had been through a turbulent time with changes in leadership resulting in a ‘Requires Improvement’ grading from Ofsted. Phil had been managing the school for over a year previous to my appointment and an Ofsted visit was imminent.
The governors had been exploring the prospect of joining an academy trust and after much deliberation, a decision was made to join the Grand Union Partnership. This decision was based on a number of advantages we could see as stakeholders which have proved to be very beneficial.
- Geographically, the Grand Union Partnership is local to Old Stratford with schools within it being within 15 miles of each other.
- It is a Primary focused trust
- As a new headteacher, having access to a finance expert operating across the Trust was very attractive.
- As the Grand Union Partnership Trust was in the early stages of its own journey, it gave opportunities for members of Old Stratford’s Governing Body to represent Old Stratford at Trust Board level.
- Governors, staff and parents across the school community had a good understanding of Phil’s approach, trusted him and so felt secure in the decision to join the Grand Union Partnership.
- Governors reviewed other Trusts and what they offered but this only reinforced the decision that The Grand Union Partnership was the best option for us as a school.
Once the decision was made to convert to the Academy Trust, the transition was relatively painless. Given Phil’s previous involvement with the school, there was no cultural change as shared values were already established and the administrative elements, such as the TUPE process, proved to be straightforward.
Since joining the Grand Union Partnership, Old Stratford has benefited greatly from being a part of the Trust.
Our Early Years provision was an initial concern of mine and needed to be prioritised as a matter of urgency when I first joined the school. The Trust played a key role in revising the provision by mentoring a member of my team new to the EYFS role. This support involved coaching, guidance and demonstrations of lessons. Teachers worked across the Trust to guide my new EYFS lead to develop a holistic planning that would support the development of our youngest children. Ofsted endorsed the effectiveness of this support when they judged the Early Years provision as ‘Good’ with some elements of outstanding practice.
Another early initiative that I wanted to deliver, after joining Old Stratford Primary School, was the introduction of a mastery approach to the Maths curriculum. This involved a significant overhaul of our current scheme of work, which with the help from the Trust accelerated implementation so that positive impacts were experienced by children and staff. The Trust invested in the introduction of the new maths scheme, in terms of funding resources, training and staff from New Bradwell working alongside staff from Old Stratford to share expertise. The way in which the support was delivered gave the project significant momentum.
As a one-form entry school, it is difficult sometimes to cover specialisms, whether they relate to the curriculum or a particular aspect of support and to provide staff members career opportunities. Being part of the Grand Union Partnership has alleviated some of these difficulties. For example, Old Stratford was in need of a Sports Coach to lead our PE curriculum and was able to provide a career progression opportunity for a member of staff from one of the other Trust schools. Another example of career development for staff was the employment and training of an admin staff apprentice who was then able to progress to a lead receptionist role in another Trust school. In terms of support from the Trust, an experienced SENCO in one of the Trust schools, provided a newly qualified SENCO at Old Stratford, mentoring and advice as they completed their SENCO training and lead the school in this area.
On a personal note, I myself have benefited significantly from being part of the MAT. Being new to the headship role, it was important to me to find a school where I had support. Old Stratford Primary provided this by having an experienced Executive Headteacher in place who was able to guide me through the early stages of Headship. Support was offered as and when I needed it. Initially I was supported by the Executive Head weekly. This was a crucial time for me and one that helped me transition from an Assistant Head role into a headteacher because we all know there is no official Headship Handbook for you to follow!
It was not long after I started that we received the Ofsted call. Again, the support from the Trust was there. I did not need to go through the process alone as the Executive Headteacher was on site throughout the inspection giving me the support and guidance needed to secure a successful outcome.
Although I have more experience now, the Trust continues to play a supportive role through regular headteacher meetings, shared monitoring schedules, shared training opportunities and shared resources whether it be staff, expertise or physical resources.