Clive Lees explains how The Spring Partnership Trust became an award-winning governing board

We were delighted to win NGA’s 2017 Outstanding Governance in a Multi Academy Trust award. I detailed our path from a single maintained school to a MAT of six schools (GM Mar 2017 p14) and continue the story here.

Courage and vision

The board of directors and our CEO have had a very clear vision – to take what we do well and apply it to schools that are struggling – essentially as a moral commitment to the wider education system and the disadvantaged children in it. Our ethos is to take on struggling schools and not just ‘partner-up’ with successful ones, while being very focused on challenging all forms of disadvantage and inequality, and working with the wider school community to inspire and support families.

It has taken some courage to take on responsibility for the improvement of schools where others have failed, although we have been helped in this as some of the schools that joined us recently had the skills and resources to make a difference. But even joining with ‘good’ schools has taken courage to engage with the task of learning to work collaboratively, efficiently and effectively as a larger unified whole.

This process has been facilitated by everyone, particularly the CEO and and senior leaders in our constituent schools, and a core of longstanding and dedicated directors, all of whom have been prepared to take a risk and do something different.

In addition, we have professionalised our governance, including:

developing pro-forma agendas for all our meetings so no issue that we must consider is overlooked

reading all official guidance to ensure best and correct practice

taking heed of NGA publications, eg The Chair's Handbook

We now have a detailed understanding of how to run our trust in accordance with the law/regulations while supporting and challenging the senior leaders. We have made every effort to ensure this knowledge is embedded in our procedures so it cannot be forgotten.

Significant improvement

The result is that all our schools have improved signifi cantly. In the autumn term we had three inspections, the outcomes being an ‘outstanding’, a nearly ‘outstanding’ (the school was ‘outstanding’ in two of fi ve categories) and a very good ‘good’. We have been very clear with schools joining us that there is one leader (the CEO), which is essential for taking diffi cult and/or big decisions. We learned this from being in an umbrella trust where the leadership was shared – it was difficult to get anything effective to happen.

We want our schools to retain their individual character. Local governing bodies have considerable responsibility and schools are supported to evolve according to local need. We encourage headteachers to lead on their specialisms, which supports their CPD and the dissemination of best practice while promoting efficiencies.

At the centre, we take on those responsibilities that are hard or inefficient for schools to do on their own. We have centralised HR and fi nance, which is producing considerable efficiencies and enabling us to develop in house expertise. We are coordinating and developing large projects across the trust, eg ensuring that all schools have ‘fit for purpose’ IT systems that are fully integrated with each other, to maximise data security at a lower cost than individual schools could manage alone.

"Our ethos is to take on struggling schools"

We also facilitate collaboration among our headteachers in order to share good practice and develop our school
improvement model.

We are now looking to further expand our trust, either locally or by opening a geographical hub, particularly if the latter comprises schools in challenging circumstances. We are looking forward to the future.

Clive Lees is chair of the board of directors, The Spring Partnership Trust,

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