The Motivating Power of Sharing within the Elliot Foundation Academy Trust

Highlees Primary School in Peterborough joined TEF as a sponsored academy in September 2014 with an Ofsted judgement of requiring Special Measures. An easy assumption to make, and many do, is that a school or academy with this judgement has nothing to offer and much to do. The latter is very true, however, this statement is applicable to all education organisations. Although senior leaders believed our school and staff had much to share, our voices, knowledge and experience fell on deaf ears. This had potential to demoralise our team and instil a sense of defeat but school leaders remained resolute to the school vision. Once we were able to see beyond the label the incredible happened; we were able to say honestly who we are and had a glimpse of who we can be.

Traditional models of ‘School to School’ support, partner Good and Outstanding schools with vulnerable schools. The Elliot Foundation realise the potential power of ‘School to School’ support for all their academies, however, acknowledge every organisation, regardless of label, have something to share. The robust process of Baseline ascertains what each of their academies has to share and their capacity to do so. The focus of Baseline is very clear; it identifies what works well and what can be developed and improved. This process occurs in partnership with every academy within the Elliot Foundation Academy Trust enabling the central formation of a collective pool of strengths that can be shared across the organisation. This collective offer, enables Senior Leaders to strategically form short term, beneficial partnerships that fit with individual improvement agendas.

There has been immediate impact. For Highlees, this acknowledgement of our strengths formed a positive foundation on which the school’s improvement plans are built; along with improved motivation and a community wide, renewed belief our vision is achievable. This was forgotten territory for our school and our staff. Fuelled by this, staff started to become self-reflective and are keen to further develop their practise, in order to raise standards and improve outcomes for our children. Visits to schools and Academies within the Elliot Foundation Academy trust has facilitated incidental learning opportunities and enabled colleagues to ‘pirate ideas’ as well as share knowledge and expertise. Colleagues return to school sharing what other schools do well and we consider ‘how could we do this at Highlees?’ One page policies, EYFS writing strategies, Effective Learning Mentors and a visual staff termly operation plan have all become part of the day to day practice at Highlees through cooperation between schools. We have been awed by the generosity and openness in all the Academies we have visited who have willingly shared knowledge and experiences. There is communal co-operation and a sense that success for one Academy is a success for all within TEF and worthy of acknowledgement and celebration.

In addition, we are seeing a positive impact on colleagues involved in delivering and leading the sessions for other academies including increased confidence, greater levels of initiative, a raised profile and in some cases colleagues are demonstrating leadership behaviours.

As relationships mature, trust becomes established and genuine partnerships evolve to form supportive networks. Colleagues embrace the core values of The Elliot Foundation. This shared core purpose along with ambition to improve outcomes for all children within the collective, encourages schools to be realistically creative and find practical approaches to achieve this. Also, there is recognition of the contribution existing local partnerships can bring to The Elliot Foundation Academy Trust as they further enhance networks. Networks strengthen an academy and a collective’s capacity to sustain improvement. This self-supporting network is most effective when it has the ability to be reactive and respond to the needs each individual. This is facilitated through the smaller clusters. Purposeful partnership working between these organisations will be more frequent, spontaneous, sustainable and interdependent, leading to greater cohesion and accountability between the collective. Together we are stronger and this is when significant things can happen.

Emma Ward – Principal Highlees Primary School

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