OWN Trust First Trustees Meeting of the 2023 - 2024 Academic Year
By Mary Foreman, Chair of Trustees, OWN Trust
On Tuesday 19th September, Trustees, the CEO, Stuart Mansell, and the Governance & Compliance Manager, Jan Neish met for the first Trustees meeting of the 2023 - 2024 academic year.
A New Academic Year
Just as pupils returned to school full of freshness and enthusiasm at the start of September, so did OWN’s trustees to the first board meeting of the academic year. At the start of the year, there are annual ‘housekeeping’ types of jobs to fulfill, such as electing a new vice chair as well as declaring any interests, and completing the annual register of interests. After a careful and well-thought-out debate, Sally Williams was nominated and appointed to succeed David Perkins as vice-chair. I am delighted to work closely with Sally as she has an extensive and very impressive experience of working in schools.
The first Trustee meeting must cover administrative tasks such as considering terms of reference, committee memberships, accepting management accounts, and considering safeguarding – in this case making sure everyone had read Keeping Children Safe in Education and what changes have been in place since last year – these were all given due coverage and questions were posed by trustees and answered by the CEO.
However, the bulk of the meeting considered the report from the CEO and although data from last year’s pupils’ performance was shared and discussed, this is still provisional, and national data has not been made available in many areas. Although we are not allowed to use the word ‘Covid’ when discussing pupil performance anymore (or so it seems…) those of us who know schools and children well, are very much aware that just as ‘long-Covid’ still affects a percentage of the population, the impact of disrupted learning in school as well as pre-school experiences, still lingers on.
Generally, OWN Trust will be roughly in line with expected standards across the curriculum and in combined subjects at Key Stage 2. There is room for debate about pupil performance in reception, phonics and at the end of Key Stage 1 – but the national data will not be published until later this term. These children are likely to be our greatest area for concern where COVID-19 is concerned and I for one, look forward to the publication of credible research into the impact this disease has had on the development of children’s minds since their birth and early years. I know from previous research published by the Educational Endowment Foundation, that the poorest children in all schools have had the most adverse impact on their educational attainment and mental health.
There was also a robust discussion on the Trust budget with uncertainty still facing schools about how fully the government is funding the teacher pay awards and what the implications are for increases in support staff pay. As ever, the cost of our utilities will remain a concern.
A further discussion of high interest was that of school rolls – numbers of pupils in schools across Peterborough are in decline post-Brexit. Pupil numbers in reception at Nene Valley remain strong and will do so in the coming years, but for Orton Wistow and Woodston, there are concerns. Wistow is full in reception this year, but the low intake last year will affect budgets in forthcoming years – and the forecast for the next few years also shows a drop in numbers. Meanwhile, for Woodston, there is a much lower intake of pupils this year, although pupil numbers are predicted to be higher going forward. School budgets depend on the number of pupils attending and if our reception class numbers are low, this has a significant impact on budgets in years to come. The western edge of the city of Peterborough still shows growth and this should help sustain pupil numbers at Orton Wistow, but the opportunities to increase the housing stock in the Woodston and Nene Valley areas are very limited (once the British Sugar site has been fully developed). Having said this, many children come from out of catchment to attend Woodston because of its excellent reputation.
Trustees remain very concerned about the number of children entering our schools with very complex needs that mainstream schools would not have admitted previously because special school places were available with all the facilities and resources available to make sure they could meet the needs of such children who deserve the right provision.
A rather large elephant in the room of any Trustee meeting is Ofsted! As a trust, we enjoyed three visits from our respected friends from Ofsted in a little over two weeks at the end of the summer term. At our meeting, we were able to celebrate the success of these visits and the publication of the reports for each school and the Trustees were delighted to share the ‘Rag-Rating’ for each school from the CEO as Green in all areas. The Ofsted reports are all now in the public domain and each school has many strengths that are celebrated. I was very fortunate to be able to attend each inspection and take part in the process for each school. I can confirm how challenging and rigorous they were, but how well they reflect where each school is. It was lovely to be able to celebrate the many years of committed service that Jacki Mitchell did for Woodston in her final year of being the headteacher there with a great report. As Trustees, we wanted to be able to celebrate with the staff of each school before the Ofsted reports become a memory, so plans are afoot for a Trust celebration of all our schools to say a very big thank you to everyone.
Although we are a small Trust, we still work very closely with other schools within the city. We always look outwards to see how we can link with partners outside Peterborough, and we are also seeking closer ties working with other small trusts. OWN Trust consists of 100% Good schools – as assessed by Ofsted in 2023. There are very few trusts with such an excellent reputation. I am looking forward to the rest of this academic year – getting into each of our schools every half-term to meet with staff and children and making sure OWN Trust remains the very best it can be. In the next few days, I will be visiting each school and very much look forward to meeting with Becky Ford, Woodston’s new headteacher.
To end this report, I include a quote from Orton Wistow’s Ofsted report from July 2023:
‘The multi-academy trust (MAT) supports school leaders and has a sensitive, ‘hands-on’ approach. MAT leaders know the school’s strengths and areas for development well and provide both support and challenge.’
This is an excellent summary of the way OWN Trust, our Trustees, and Governors work: sensitive as well as being able to provide support and challenge.