We will have a strategic approach to school improvement and, therefore, we must be educationally effective in the short term, but have a clear framework and processes to translate core moral purpose and vision into excellent educational provision that is challenging and sustainable in the medium to long term.
“It is one of life’s great ironies: schools are in the business of teaching and learning, yet they are terrible at learning from each other. If they ever discover how to do this their future is assured”
(Michael Fullan, 2001)
Staffordshire University Academies Trust is committed to achieving a level of excellence, which ensures the success of every pupil. Ensuring the success of every pupil requires pupils who are responsive to learning, staff who are committed to the success of all pupils and all parents and carers to be supportive of the educational process.
It is our intention to enable pupils to achieve their full potential and become equipped to lead a successful adult life
Is to achieve better outcomes for the young people in our academies, in Staffordshire by:
- raising standards of achievement by focussing on the core business of learning and teaching
- delivering a skills based curriculum in all tiers that is tailored to individual learning needs
- promoting the spiritual, moral, social, emotional and cultural development of every learner
- working together to maximise the power of mutual collaboration and support, harnessing the considerable resources of Staffordshire University to our mutual benefit
- sharing resources, staff, areas of expertise and facilities to achieve economies of scale across all of the SUAT Academies and with Staffordshire University
- developing highly effective leadership at all levels and seeking to pool strategic capacity, both across our academies and with the university
- ensure that our academies are non-selective and operate a truly comprehensive admissions system
- build our partnership on mutual respect and trust by encouraging a climate of openness and honesty
- seek to engage effectively and inclusively with our local communities
- welcome and support innovation
- have high expectations of all young people and one another
- recognise that effective partnership working is the responsibility of all to sustain and nurture and is not reliant upon individuals
- seek to recognise the distinctive ethos and celebrate the traditions of all of the academies in the Trust
Key features of effective academies
How do we translate our core purpose and our vision into action by deploying a strategic approach that enables us to translate core values into tangible outcomes?
How do we build processes that enable staff to engage in strategic discussions to build capacity, to move ahead from a short-term target-setting culture to enable longer-term sustainable development to take place?
How do we go about planning for strategic development – what strategic approaches can be used to plan for the future?
What are the components of strategic leadership that can be developed within the SUAT Academies and across the Trust?
What characteristics are we seeking to develop if we are to be a successful, strategically-focused MAT? Can these be identified and articulated?
How do we maximise the benefits associated with the link with Staffordshire University and its Education Department?
What is quite clear is that our planning will not affect practice unless stakeholders in the Trust are engaged and involved in the strategic process. It is not surprising that our staff with busy teaching and administrative commitments focus on the day-to-day reality as do Trustees and members of the Local Academy Councils attending meetings in the evening.
Our task is to consider how we can enable all stakeholders to focus on the medium- to longer-term developments in the Trust? We should seek to engage stakeholders and the sponsor in order to improve their ability and motivation to contribute to the building of strategic capability. As part of our strategic planning we should seek to hold strategic conversations, both formal and informal. The process of sharing ideas about the medium- to longer-term and envisioning that future, by its very nature, draws stakeholders into participating in discussion and ideas. This then has the potential to increase the motivation of people as they are involved in Whole-Trust development where their contribution is valued; you cannot have a learning organisation without shared vision. Maslow noted that high performing teams have a shared vision and purpose. The process of engaging and involving our staff, and indeed all of our stakeholders, will be significant in improving the quality, capability and commitment of the people associated with our academies.
Strategic conversations must involve the leadership teams in the academies, the extended SLTs in the Trust and in the academies, and the staff and governors of the university, engaging the wider staff groups in discussions about the core issues driving the academies / Trust and how these will develop in the future. This creates a culture in which our staff are able to set aside the day-to-day management issues and discuss ideas and developments that may change the nature of teaching and learning and the context in which the academies / Trust operates. These conversations should be facilitated by structural arrangements such as having separate meetings for business items and developmental strategic items. They can also take place in a number of informal discussions that occur during the working week where leaders make opportunities to engage in strategic conversations.
The aim of the strategic conversations must be to engage a larger number of people in discussions about the longer-term future of the Trust. This will necessarily include the university as the sponsor. The idea is that, by greater participation, the Trust will benefit from more and better quality discussions and information. Participation supports the move within the academies from having middle managers in posts of responsibility to having within those staff a broader view and responsibility through developing the wider leadership dimensions of the role.
One of the main reasons for using strategic conversations to further enhance the level of participation is to develop the relationship with the sponsor beyond just the School of Education so that they feel more part of the Trust and its future and are committed to it.
Bringing together the strategic conversations, the increased participation and the enhanced motivation will contribute to building increased strategic capability in the Trust and its academies. This, in turn, will aid succession planning. Strategic capability can be seen as a core competency of the Trust. Given that the most important resources of the Trust are the staff who work within it and the link with the sponsor, then developing these key resources will build strategic capability to meet future challenges.
Leadership is about creating a culture within SUAT where everyone is contributing to its development.
Development planning for academy improvement
Strategic planning is a traditional approach used by many organisations. In our context we need to plan for where we want to go over the next three to five-year period (i.e. the medium-term). As part of the strategic planning process we need to define outcomes and be capable of measuring them. The individual Academies’ development plans will continue to be detailed plans, in a one- to three-year framework, in which attempts are made to be precise about what is to be done and the outcomes to be achieved. Problems may arise, however, when the detail of the academies’ development plans is extended over a fourth and fifth year. Criticisms of trying to extend the time frame of the SDP centre on the fact that it is not possible to be accurate about detailed outcomes, the further you move into the future, hence the value of strategic planning. This is particularly true in the current national and local educational context.
We can develop the Trust’s strategic planning by separating it from the shorter-term planning in the form of traditional Academy Development Plans and have a separate strategic plan for the Trust. The Trust’s Strategic Plan needs to be much more broadly based than the Academy Development Plans. It will only deal with a limited number of key developments that are critical for the success and development of the Trust. SUAT’s Strategic Plan will be used to clarify strategic activities that related to the major themes of the Trust’s development over a five-year period.
By establishing SUAT’s strategic plan as a framework for the future, and by focussing on a limited number of key issues, that affect the major thrusts of the individual academy’s development plans, our strategic planning is likely to be more useful than a continuation of the detailed Academy Development Plans.
The aim of our strategic development planning for improvement is to take the SUAT Academies forward so that the vision and reality are aligned and the gap between our own academies and high performing schools is minimised. Therefore, the key features of SUAT’s Strategic Plan must be that it is proactive in that it sets out to shape the future and it is also aggregated plans in that it deals with core developments and not every development.
It is important, as we develop the Trust, for our academies to reach an agreed understanding of what is meant by strategy, in order to facilitate discussion and debate about the strategic direction and development of the federation.
In order to do this we need to remember that:
A. Strategy is about direction setting.
B. Strategy is about the medium to longer term.
C. Strategy is about whole Trust’s broader trends or actions.
D. Strategy is about strategic thinking and taking a strategic perspective.
E. Strategy acts as a template for current actions.
F. Strategy is about providing for the long-term sustainability of the MAT.
SUAT has adopted a three year planning cycle and this is linked to our performance improvement cycles and departmental action planning through our Quality Assurance systems.
Our strategic intents will set the direction for the Trust. They will provide a coherent way of translating the core moral purpose of the Trust and its values into action, influenced by a futures perspective and vision. It is vital that the Trust establishes the strategic context through a clear articulation of its core moral purposes and values as strategy is a delivery vehicle that can effectively translate those values; in itself strategy only takes on the values of the context within which it is operating. The core purpose and values are precursors to establishing the futures perspective and vision for the academies in the Trust. Poor strategies often emerge because of lack of clarification of core purpose, values and vision. Leaders, at all levels, should ensure that sufficient emphasis is placed on this critical first stage. Thus, our strategic planning provides the medium-term, broad directional view of the Trust, which leads to effective operational activities.
Issues and challenges
Our goal should be to ensure that every young person achieves his or her full potential upon leaving the academies in the Trust.
In order to achieve this goal our planning for improvement should address the challenges that face the academies as they seek to address those issues that we need to improve upon over the next few years; as a rough guide it is useful to think of short-term action planning as a one- to two-year process with strategy as a five-year view and futures thinking as moving beyond that.
In practice we need to move towards the personalisation of learning and teaching. A good school has effective learning at its core, tailored to the needs of individual pupils with progress being regularly assessed. We should seek also to reinforce the learning that we promote beyond the formal day or week by expanding our wide choice of options and experiences beyond the classroom.
The basis of our planning therefore, should seek to ensure that we offer:
- A SMOOTH TRANSITION BETWEEN PHASES by ensuring effective data transfer and increasing collaboration between schools.
- EXCELLENT LEARNING BASED ON REAL KNOWLEDGE OF INDIVIDUAL PUPILS so that all of our pupils will achieve their potential. We need to give increased attention to individual pupils learning needs, set challenging targets for them linked to high-quality assessment of learning and offer assistance to teaching staff to enable lessons to be appropriately paced, challenging and enjoyable.
- HIGH QUALITY ICT FACILITIES SUPPORTING PERSONALISED LEARNING because we all recognise that ICT is a powerful tool for learning.
- EFFECTIVE SUBJECT TEACHING by supporting our teaching staff with high quality training, facilities and resources and seeking to develop the role of Leadership at all levels.
- FURTHER DEVELOP OUR INTERESTING, BROAD AND RICH CURRICULUM. We also need to continue to increase the choices available to both those at risk of disengagement, and for more able pupils who need to be stretched. We should aim to widen further opportunities beyond the classroom in order to build motivation and engagement as well as supporting health and fitness.
- CONSTANTLY IMPROVING BEHAVIOUR AND ATTENDANCE as good behaviour is obviously essential for good learning and citizenship. We will tackle any low level disruption and seek to improve attendance further and strengthen the role of staff involved in pupil welfare work. Central to this offer, will be the development of a more effective pupil voice within the academies in SUAT.
- STRENGTHENED COLLABORATION with other local providers, parents and the wider community. We will seek to engage parents more effectively, develop a SUAT website linked to the academy websites and develop genuine collaboration with other providers at all Key Stages throughout Staffordshire.
- FURTHER IMPROVEMENTS IN TEACHING THROUGH INVESTING IN ALL THE WORKFORCE. Central to improvements in learning and teaching is excellent professional development for all of our staff. We must place increased emphasis on classroom observation, practice, training, coaching and mentoring. Our performance management systems should become learning and teaching reviews which enable the academies to plan for high quality training events, to promote staff own-learning. This will help staff to focus on effective classroom practice, use assessment and behaviour for learning effectively and further develop a range of teaching styles and strategies in order to promote personalised learning.
- STRENGTHENED LINKS WITH ALL OF THE FACULTIES WITHIN STAFFORDSHIRE UNIVERSITY INCLUDING THE EDUCATION DEPARTMENT. We need to capitalise on the resources and expertise available to our academies; this is a major selling point as we seek to expand the Trust.