I was appointed to my second headship of a special school in Cheshire in 2009, with a strong board of governors and very experienced, committed staff. The school moved to ‘good with outstanding features’ in 2011 and to ‘outstanding’ in 2014. It was clear that the educational landscape was changing for all schools with the introduction of academy status.
We were now at a stage where we could seriously start looking at our next move in driving the school forward. As a special school for severe learning diffi culties (SLD) and complex needs, what would be the best direction for the pupils and how would we contribute to this new era?
My new chair of governors was very supportive and our half-termly meetings were honest, open and transparent, discussing key issues that affected pupils and staff. I started to research possibilities, attending conferences, talking to academies, multi academy trusts (MATs) and CEOs to gather all the information I needed to present to the board of governors. Our governing board has always been secure in its strategic responsibilities to lead on the vision, ethos and strategic direction of the school. The information I presented prompted long discussion, and fundamental to any change was that it had to be in the best interests of pupils.
Excellent legal support is vital
Finally, after approval from the regional schools commissioner, we became a MAT on 1 September 2015. In March 2016 we became a sponsor and ready to grow. My own role was changing. The governors had supported me and strongly believed that if this was going to work, I needed additional training. I applied for the CEO development programme and joined the Institute of Directors.
Converting from a headteacher to a CEO is very exciting and quite different. The education and outcomes of the pupils is central to all we do, but now I was working with a trust board and fully responsible for the business side of things. As the accounting offi cer, I was responsible for the accounts and fi nancial statement as well as health and safety.
I began to realise the potential threat arising from litigation, along with the responsibility for pensions, risk management and ensuring compliance of the policies and procedures across the organisation. Excellent legal support is vital to ensure the trust is not put at risk.
Never underestimate the amount of work involved in building a successful special MAT. Finding skilful trustees and governors for the local governing committee is a challenge.
It is a business but we cannot forget that the core business is education. This requires an ethos of working in partnership and collaboration for the best outcomes for all children and young people in the trust. It has been an incredible learning curve, but the journey has been worth it, both to secure the school’s destiny and to develop and provide outstanding education and care for children and young people with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND).
The national educational landscape has moved away from the headteacher maintaining the status quo. The trustees along with the headteacher need to embrace changes to ensure quality and a sustainable provision for the pupils in the future against reduced budgets and fi nancial constraints.
Remember, the decision sits with the governing board and while, of course, it will take account of the headteacher’s view, it is about what is best for the pupils now and in the future.
I believe that when our original governing board and I have moved on, we will be able to look back and know that we did our best to make the right decision for pupils and their community so that our legacy will live on.