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Reflecting on Five Years of OWN Trust

By Stuart Mansell, CEO, OWN Trust

‘OWN Trust is five years of age’ – that is something I find very difficult to comprehend, and not just because of the effect COVID has had on all our memories and timelines.

It was way back in 2017 that initial conversations were taking place about forming OWN Trust. Behind the scenes, it took many months to develop a vision, common values, and common practices such as finance and assessment systems, and bring everything together to present to the East of England Advisory Board in May 2018. Once approved, we then had a long process of due diligence (risk assessing the conversion for any pitfalls and surveying stakeholders) before finally converting in March 2019.

Just one year later, we all went into lockdown as a result of COVID. It was at that point that all the headteachers and senior leaders found being in a trust hugely beneficial. There were many conference calls (it was pretty much pre-Zoom and TEAMS), sometimes several each day, seeking advice and support from each other and how best to manage an almost intolerable situation.

That aside, OWN Trust has moved very quickly to establish a range of systems and expectations that support its schools in ways that our current Local Authorities find difficult, if not impossible.

Looking at our operations first (finance, HR, estates, IT, marketing, governance, etc.) it is clear that working as a trust has enabled these to be far more effective. Our current finances are very secure when many schools are facing deficit budgets and OWN has even been asked to support Local Authority schools with their financial management. OWN now provides IT support and estates management to other schools in the Local Authority, outside the Trust, which helps generate additional income to spend on the children in our schools – hence the positive budget balance. We have now moved into IT provision with the same ends of internal good practice and external support (at a charge to other schools).

Governance at all three schools and the Central Board of Trustees was recognised as a real strength following an audit from the Education and Skills Funding Agency, and this has been mirrored in all external and internal audits that OWN Trust is required to undertake.

The impact on provision for children at all of our schools has been enhanced by the extra income that has been generated. Phonics provision has improved greatly by having all three schools working closely together under the guidance of our Trust Phonics Champion, Jill Ironside. A similar impact has been felt by the coming together of our Mathematics Leads (guided by the Trust Maths Champion, Elizabeth Hobday) and now our science provision too, under the guidance of Claire Bentley.

All three schools worked extremely well together during the hectic two weeks of Ofsted last summer, with statements of recognition from inspectors saying: ‘The Multi-Academy Trust supports school leaders and has a sensitive ‘hands-on’ approach. MAT leaders know the school’s strengths and areas for development and provide both support and challenge.’

In addition, the Special Educational Needs, Early Years, and Safeguarding Teams all work effectively together to ensure children are safe and well provided. This has been achieved in a way that would be far more difficult when faced with the ever-stretched resources of many other individual schools. The Trust’s Inclusion practice and especially its provision for children with special educational needs is viewed very positively by the Regional Director following mentions in all three Ofsted reports.

There are fundamental, strategic developments that are now securely in place to help the schools make the best possible provision for the children, but also many one-off instances that demonstrate a really strong sense of community between the three schools. Some examples are:

  • Cross Trust sports tournaments (admittedly delayed during COVID) such as football and multi-skills and coordinated P.E. provision;
  • A joint ‘Trust in Residence’ project to work with Nene Park Trust and establish access to the Nene Nursery;
  • Involvement in cross Trust art projects, including work at the Peterborough Celebrates Festival, ‘Fields of Colour’, and our upcoming ‘Through the Door’ project to create artwork based on the school grounds;
  • Joint charity fundraising days for Cavernoma Alliance, Macmillan Cancer Support, and UNICEF;
  • Joint staff training sessions for teaching and support staff;
  • Joint safeguarding and Special Educational Needs training;
  • Simultaneous work for more cost-effective grounds development (Orton Wistow and Woodston Golden Mile projects);

During the five years of OWN Trust’s existence, there have been some changes that were not originally planned. The appointment of three new headteachers was the most prominent. However, the strong values and vision of the OWN Trust community as a whole have ensured that not only were the previous Headteachers recognised and celebrated for all their hard work in ensuring the success of the individual schools and the transition to OWN Trust, but also that the new Headteachers have been able to establish themselves so quickly and feel that sense of ‘belonging’.

Given that COVID slowed everything down by at least a year, these are not bad achievements for an infant of just five years!