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MAT DEVELOPMENT: Vision and purpose into practice

 Vision and purpose into practice – enriching the lives of children at REAch2 Academy Trust

One of the key opportunities that multi-academy trusts have is to shape a clear and compelling vision for improving and enriching the lives of children and young people. REAch2 Academy Trust is one such trust that is using its freedom, capacity and scale to ensure that its children can experience a happy and enriching experience of primary education. Michael Pain spoke to some of the REAch2 team members.

In a context where children’s life satisfaction and mental and physical health is declining, we are often seeing our education system struggle to respond adequately enough with a vision or plan for how it can enrich children’s lives. However, some in the system have recognised this fundamental and growing challenge and are placing a strong and deliberate emphasis on securing the foundations of learning – a happy and enriching childhood.

For REAch2, the vision is very much about ‘the whole child’ and a determination to place the importance of childhood firmly alongside the quest for high academic outcomes and high quality learning in all schools. Indeed, the two are very much seen as interchangeable. REAch2’s CEO, Sir Steve Lancashire, and Deputy CEO, Cathie Paine, are very conscious of the need to open children’s heart and minds to the possibilities of the world around them, to develop their confidence, and to awaken an enthusiasm for life and for learning that translates into the classroom. This vision has manifested itself in some very interesting and creative ways.

“the vision is very much about ‘the whole child’ and a determination to place the importance of childhood firmly alongside the quest for high academic outcomes.”

“We know that many of the children across our schools do not have access to some of those fundamental experiences that can help to develop the necessary confidence or sense of connectedness to the world” says Cathie. “Learning is only exciting and powerful if it can be put into context and for many of our children – particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds – the realities of their lives mean they are unable or not ready to access some of those opportunities that will really inspire them and remain with them forever. These are – in some cases – experiences that should be at the very heart of a happy and healthy childhood. That’s something we wanted to change from the beginning – we wanted to level the playing field for all our children.”

 

What followed was a plan – not too dissimilar from the National Trust’s ‘things to do before you’re eleven’ campaign – to ensure that every child within a REAch2 school accessed a range of memorable experiences before they leave at age 11. 11B411 makes a pledge to every child that they will be able to engage in eleven activities from the following pool of opportunities:

– Doing ten good deed in ten days
– Making or breaking a record
– Flash Mob (public performances involving dance, music and drama)
– Growing and cooking your own food
– Creating your own sculpture
– Recording a song in a recording studio
– Messing around in water!
– Speaking in public
– Sleeping under the stars
– Attending a play by Shakespeare
– Climbing the summit of a mountain
– Riding a large animal
– Visiting a foreign country
– Taking part in the REAch2 Olympics

The person tasked with making this a reality for every child is Margaret Clarke, Head of Training and Development at REAch2. It’s her job to work with the programme’s Regional Advocates and each school’s Adventure Ambassadors to make sure everyone is onboard and engaged. “We are a large trust” says Margaret, “so it is really important that we have people leading this in our schools and working together across our schools to make sure it has a really positive influence on children’s day to day lives. It’s up to them to make sure that the pledges are embedded within the curriculum and the planning of each school so that 11B411 isn’t simply a ‘bolt-on’ or something we do at the end of term, but is very much part of children’s learning and every day experience of a REAch2 school.”

“It’s up to the staff in our schools to make sure….. that 11B411 isn’t simply a ‘bolt-on’ or something we do at the end of term.”

There are already some inspiring examples of 11B411 in action. At Racemeadow Primary Academy, the opportunity to ‘sleep under the stars’ was embedded within year 5’s space project. It involved mapping out the constellations and then looking for planets and stars in the night sky, supported by storytelling. The school invited astronaut Michael Foale CBE to talk to the children about his life and adventures. “It was amazing” says Lesley Fraser, class teacher at Racemeadow and 11B411 Regional Advocate, “the children’s eyes lit up as they heard those stories that were literally out of this world. The impact that hearing from Michael and actually being out there under the night sky had on their writing was incredible. They were so enthused.” As part of the project the children also learnt how to speak basic Russian and to use telescopes.

Other examples included a school or trust-wide ‘Olympic games’ being integrated into learning around the ancient Greeks; visits to France to practice language skills and experience another culture; sailing, kayaking and white-water rafting; and horse-riding. The scheme is providing opportunities which so many children in these communities would otherwise never able or in a place to access.

Whilst some aspects of the scheme are relatively easy to deliver, others take time and co-ordination. The trust has so far been able to provide schools with a modest amount of funding (£3000) to deliver the scheme. “Experiences such as setting a record or doing good deeds can be relatively inexpensive and easy to organise” says Margaret, “So, for example, at Heath Hayes our children and staff set a record as the largest group of people dressed as daffodils to raise money for Marie-Curie. Growing food and camping and sleeping under the stars is also relatively easy to do.

However, there is some expense and a lot of effort in transporting children from all our schools to a stadium for the REAch2 Olympics or travelling to France. We do have to work creatively – and as a group of schools we are looking at how we can work together on bid writing and funding applications where possible – but it’s an investment of time and resource that we feel is absolutely worth it. We also know that we have the backing of the senior leadership to do this work.”

“We also know that we have the backing of the senior leadership to do this work.”

What is also helpful is the ability of the trust’s schools to work together in shaping the experiences and in sharing the relevant resources. “We come together as Regional Advocates to share our ideas, what had worked and what hasn’t, and to discuss how we can share expensive resources such as telescopes! There’s also an opportunity to bid for funding as a collective of schools, which can make for very powerful cases because our scale means we can reach more children and make sure the money or resource has a wider impact.

That investment of time and resource is seen by all of those involved to be making a difference. “It is about creating memorable experiences and those experiences do motivate our children to learn and to enjoy their experience of school. They are enthusing learning today and I hope they will create long lasting memories that will change the outlook of individuals and their families for the better” says Margaret. Lesley Fraser describes a child who had been suffering from serious challenges at home and, as a result, had very low levels of confidence and engagement in learning. Through involvement in the ‘flash mob’, the school has recognised his limitless enthusiasm for dancing and performing in public and has been able to build his self-esteem and motivation both for school and learning on the back of this. It’s also enabled him to ‘get through’ a very challenging time. “That child could easily have become disengaged and demotivated” says Lesley “but 11B411 provided the opportunity to recognise the child and what we could do for him to make sure he was happy and ready to learn.”

For staff also, the vision for and implementation of 11B411 has been a source of inspiration and motivation. It has provided a very clear view of the purpose of the trust – including the value it attaches to enriching childhood experiences and the forging of a life long love of learning. “It completely connects people to why they are in this job – enriching the lives of children” says Margaret. “To see children so enthused and the difference it is making to their confidence and motivation is hugely motivating. It also gives teachers and leaders across the trust the opportunity to be creative and innovative in how they create these enriching experiences and to learn from one another in doing so – that’s very rewarding too.”

“It also gives teachers and leaders across the trust the opportunity to be creative and innovative in how they create these enriching experiences and to learn from one another in doing so.”

Margaret is clear that in an education system so focused on quantifiable targets and routine accountability – important as they can be – that we do not lose sight of the foundation of all learning and the healthy and happy development of children. “Because something isn’t measured or quantifiable does not mean it doesn’t have enormous value. Some of the things our children need from us cannot be readily measured. Experiences and opportunities that open their minds their hearts to the possibilities of the world. We need to provide our children with an education that allows them to experience the richness of childhood and prepares then ‘in the round’ for their lives ahead. That takes confidence and courage. It also – as we’ve seen so often already – provides a strong and sound basis for academic success.”

Key learning points:

– Senior leaders must prioritise vision-based projects and ensure colleagues feel confident to give it the time, energy and resource it deserves;
– Provide support and encouragement to leaders and teachers to deliver the project, but also allow them the freedom and flexibility to deliver in a way that responds to their context;
– Ensure that opportunities/forums are provided for colleagues to share learning and ideas across schools – this can lead to sharing of best practice, resources and better delivery at scale (which can also allow for efficiencies to be made and ensures affordability);
– Capture impact where possible. Remember that just because something cannot be measured, does not mean that it does not add cultural or social value to a trust’s work;
– Ensure that the project is aligned with and supports other aspects of the trust’s and its schools’ work – including delivery of the national curriculum and raising standards. However, be wary of letting the quest for standards and targets reduce the time and focus given to projects that enrich learning and childhood.