Our new narrative for the academy trust sector is all about the importance of academy trusts being at the heart of their communities (Read the narrative here:https://www.forumstrategy.org/a-new-narrative-for-a-new-decade/ ). Even before COVID19, our #TrustLeaders members and others were deepening their commitment to trusts as community organisations, and there have been numerous case studies on how this is developing nationwide: https://www.forumstrategy.org/trustleaders-magazine-spring-2020/

The COVID19 situation has only confirmed this commitment, yet it has been hugely inspiring to see the innovative and creative ways in which trust leaders and their teams have responded. Here we will be sharing a collection of case studies and reflections from CEOs across the regions, mindful that these are just a few of many many examples of community-focused leadership nationwide.

Chiltern Academy Trust – Adrian Rogers, CEO

“The challenges presented by the Coronavirus have highlighted more than ever before how important working together as a community is, and the sense of community across Chiltern Learning Trust, and in our local communities, has been stronger than ever during this time.”

Making visors for NHS workers

There has been a desperate need in the local area for PPE provision for our key workers. Across Chiltern Learning Trust we have been making hundreds of protective visors per day for Luton and Dunstable NHS workers using our Design & Technology equipment. Design and Technology is a specialism across our Trust, and it is fantastic that we have been able to use our expertise and our equipment to support keyworkers during this time. This initiative has been led by Daniel Pallett who is a D & T teacher, and also leads the D & T departments across the Trust.

We have been able to make and donate thousands of visors to front line key workers as a result of the generosity of our Trust volunteers, and of local groups who have donated money to help us to purchase the plastic needed. For example, Discover Islam, who gave us £1000, and our local Council for Mosques who also gave us £1000 to put towards materials. One of our local mosque groups has also been bringing in free food for staff making the visors. So far, we have made over 7500 protective visors for key workers.

Daniel Pallett has also been helping other schools to make these visors by sending them specifications and ‘how to’ instructions. Most secondary schools already have the necessary equipment, and the visors themselves can be made using basic D & T skills.

Online Learning

Setting up online learning provision has been a huge task and a steep learning curve for Trusts and Schools across the country. At Chiltern Learning Trust we have used this challenge as an opportunity to create an online hub of resources which staff from all of our schools can access. This has saved time and reduced the workload for everybody, and has meant that we have been able to avoid duplicating efforts.

Some of our schools are more confident than others with online learning, so through the hub we have been able to share expertise across the Trust, and support those schools and teachers who are less confident in this area. The shared hub contains resources, guidance and training for our staff on home-learning. It also has a teaching and learning section which contains a bank of resources and useful links for each curriculum subject. Every single teacher from across Chiltern Learning Trust can access and use these resources, and this has made life so much easier for everyone. Being part of a Trust has made a huge difference to all of our staff at this time, as everyone has been able to share the load and support one another.”

Infinity Academies Trust – Gavin Booth, CEO

“In these challenging times it has been of paramount importance to us at Infinity Academy Trust to ensure that we are not adding to the extra pressures that everyone (pupils, parents and staff alike) are facing. First and foremost, our focus has been to do whatever we can to make sure that everyone in our Trust community feels as safe, connected and supported as possible.

We understand that for parents, suddenly having children at home full-time is a huge adjustment, even before we consider the additional burden of feeling that they have to provide a full-time education for their children too. We have been very clear in our message to parents that it is not their job to be teachers during this time. Parents need to be parents first, and concentrate on that relationship.

First and foremost, our focus has been to do whatever we can to make sure that everyone in our Trust community feels as safe, connected and supported as possible.

With this is mind, instead of setting pupils tasks such as worksheets to be completed, we have instead suggested more ‘hands-on’ learning activities on our schools’ websites, which are designed to be both fun and relevant. These include activities such as; using maths and measuring skills to make a recipe; combining literacy and PE knowledge to create a set of instructions for an exercise programme; reading a book and then writing a book review; creating artwork; undertaking a ‘nature scavenger hunt’; and many more. What we do not want is parents and children labouring over these activities for hours, but instead completely them in short bursts, so that the approach is sustainable, and children’s interest can be maintained in the weeks ahead.

We are absolutely determined that our children and families will look back on this challenging time and feel they have been supported and encouraged by our schools and our Trust.

Our advice to parents has been to break up the day into sections, and to make sure that the time spent doing these kinds of activities is interspersed with ‘play times’ for children and a break for the adults, as well as time for fun family activities like outdoor games, a walk or just some downtime with the TV. The aim of this advice has been to support our parents and children in achieving a balanced approach to home-learning, so that parents can access structured learning tasks for their children, without the added pressure of ‘completing’ a set amount of work which has to be sent into school. We are absolutely determined that our children and families will look back on this challenging time and feel they have been supported and encouraged by our schools and our Trust.

We do not want to put extra pressure on our staff through unnecessary checks and balances, or unrealistic expectations that they will suddenly have the time to complete lots of extra CPD.

Infinity Academies Trust has also been conscious of not adding to the pressures which our staff are facing during this time too, and staff wellbeing has also been at the top of our agenda. As with the parents and children, we have also been careful not to bombard our staff with a list of tasks which they should be doing. This is a difficult time in many ways, and everyone is still getting used to online learning, so we do not want to put extra pressure on our staff through unnecessary checks and balances, or unrealistic expectations that they will suddenly have the time to complete lots of extra CPD.

As a Trust we have been able to have a co-ordinated Covid-19 response, and all guidance, and our communications with parents, have been completed at a Trust-wide level. Our schools have also shared their resources for home-learning with one another, and this has taken a lot of pressure off individual teachers, headteachers, and school leadership teams. I think everyone has really appreciated the support and reassurance which has come from being part of a wider Trust family during this time.”

Astrea Academy Trust – Benedick Ashmore-Short, Interim CEO

Benedick Ashmore-Short

We have 27 schools across our Trust (17 primary, 8 secondary, one all-through school and one special school), many of which serve communities with high levels of deprivation, and vulnerable children and families.

Since the announcement that schools would be closing for all but the children of key workers and our most vulnerable pupils, safeguarding has been our main priority. We quickly set about making a  clear list of all our most vulnerable pupils, and we encouraged parents to continue to send these children to school, as we believe that is the best and safest place for them to be. We recognise that for many of our pupils, school is not just a place where education happens, but also where important social work happens too.

For our vulnerable pupils who are not currently attending school, we have ensured regular contact in other ways. Our safeguarding teams at each school have been knocking on doors and checking in on families and pupils (with appropriate social distancing measures implemented). We have also made sure that we make regular telephone calls to their homes. We have continued to provide free school meals to all eligible pupils over the Easter holidays (using our own voucher system for those children not in school) and these can be used in a variety of supermarkets.

“We have ensured that we are not putting any of our suppliers out of work, or furloughing anybody.”

It has also been extremely important to us that we look after all of our staff, and our suppliers. We have ensured that we are not putting any of our suppliers out of work, or furloughing anybody. It has been our priority to keep the Astrea community together as one, continuing to work together, and facing this challenging time as a team.

The wellbeing and mental health of our staff has been at the forefront of our approach, and despite keeping 22 of our 27 schools open over the Easter break, we have ensured through our rota system that all staff will still receive the two week break they are entitled to (even though it has had to be in an untraditional manner for some!) Supporting staff with the new challenge of working from home has also been vital, and HR have shared lots of advice to help staff to do this, and also to support them in looking after their mental health and their wellbeing during this time.

Aurora Academies Trust – Tim McCarthy, CEO

Tim McCarthy

“In the 48 hours after the announcement that schools were closing, our staff pulled out all the stops. They ensured that every single pupil had a pack of hard resources to go home with on the Friday, so that they were prepared to learn from home.

One of the staff from The Gatwick School, Aurora’s all-through school for pupils aged 4 – 16, has a lot of experience in online education. That member of staff quickly put together a training programme for all of our teachers who teach year 10 lessons. It was of paramount importance to us to ensure that year 10 had all the provision that they needed from the off, so that we could keep teaching the content that they need so that they will not be behind with their GCSE courses in year 11. These teachers were then able to deliver online lessons for our year 10 pupils from the first Monday morning after schools closed. Year 10 had their normal timetable, with a 98% attendance rate. The following week we expanded this provision to year 9, and we hope to continue to roll this out to other year groups, including primary.

Our online teaching is innovative. We use a safe platform where students log into a ‘virtual classroom’ in which they can only interact with the teacher and type answers; the platform we have opted for is ‘E-Lecta’. Before our schools closed we went through each potential platform option and weighed up the pros and cons of each, and it was decided that E-Lecta best met all our criteria, not least that it is very secure from a safeguarding perspective.

“We knew we could not afford to wait on the government’s national voucher system to provide resources to buy food for these children, and instead decided that we would have to provide food for our most vulnerable pupils, as soon as our schools closed.”

Aurora caters for a very high number of pupils who are eligible for pupil premium and free school meals, and some of our schools are located in areas of the highest deprivation in the country. We knew we could not afford to wait on the government’s national voucher system to provide resources to buy food for these children, and instead decided that we would have to provide food for our most vulnerable pupils, as soon as our schools closed. In response to this challenge, we provided each pupil on free school meals with a food pack. Creating these food packs was a huge team effort. Our Trust caterers, Harrison’s, who work across our schools arranged for food to be delivered through their wholesale contacts, we managed to persuade Asda to donate £500 worth of food, and also for Morrisons and Lidl to donate bags for life to pack the food into.

The whole team ensured that each food pack contained healthy and sufficient food for our pupils. Every child that normally receives FSM was provided with two bags of food; a ‘hard bag’ which contained items such as tins of tomatoes, a 3kg tin of beans, pasta, and cartons of fruit juice and UHT milk, and a ‘soft bag’ which was filled with items such as bread, cheese, potatoes, apples, and an assortment of fresh vegetables. We put together nearly 1,500 bags of food in that first week, and each ‘food pack’ had food to make the equivalent of 10 meals for each child; one meal for each of the 10 days until the Easter break.

Any parents who could collect these food packs, did so. For those parents who could not collect, there were lots of volunteers to deliver, from the school staff/governing body to members of the public, including a local taxi driver. The whole community at each Aurora school came together to make this work.

“I have been encouraging Headteachers across the Trust to make sure that they take a break and for all senior leaders to help ‘spread the load’.”

Things are beginning to fall into place as we find our feet at this time, temporarily creating our ‘new normal’ across Aurora Academies Trust, and things are running as smoothly as we could expect. We have created rotas so that everyone can take time off for the Easter break, whilst still ensuring that there is provision available for those pupils who need it. Operations manuals have been put together for each school so that there is always someone there running things, but that it is not always the Headteacher. I have been encouraging Headteachers across the Trust to make sure that they take a break and for all senior leaders to help ‘spread the load’. Over a four week period, each (healthy) member of staff will only be expected to work one week in school and one on call, including over the Easter break, but we are sending staff home when we do not need them, and we have not had to bring in anyone ‘on call’ so far. I must pay tribute to every single member of the Aurora team, both for their professionalism and willingness to contribute.

We have made the decision not to create hubs, as around 15 children on average are attending each of our schools, and I feel that is more than enough pupils in one location, when taking into account the social distancing measures which need to be put into place to limit the spread of the virus.

There is no doubt that the first week in response to school closures was all about crisis management. However, from now on it’s about proactively planning for the future: exploring what we can do sustainably; helping the national effort; being effective in the provision of home learning and; supporting every individual and family in our Trust communities during the next few weeks and months. We are also planning for the eventual return to school for all pupils, whenever that may be.”

The Embark Federation  – Matthew Crawford CEO

Matthew Crawford

‘The Embark Federation has always prided itself on developing a culture where everyone looks out for one another; pupils, staff, and the wider community alike. During the past few weeks, our Trust community has really come into its own in living out our values of family, integrity, teamwork and success, and these values have truly been displayed in action. There have been all sorts of really positive things happening across our Trust in response to the current situation caused by the Coronavirus, and the subsequent school closures which have had to take place.

We have kept all of our schools open for the children of key workers, because keeping nine schools open for around 60 children altogether has made social distancing much easier to manage. The most children we have had in one school at one time is around 25.

Pupils across our schools (particularly our younger pupils) have been writing letters and have created artwork which they have sent to elderly people in care homes and across the local area to reach out to them and help to boost morale during this difficult time. Children of key workers who have still been attending our schools have also created incredible artwork and displays outside our school buildings and gates, based on the symbol of the rainbow to inspire hope, to keep the local community smiling, and also to thank the NHS. Nurses, doctors, and members of the local community alike have commented on these displays, and have told us that seeing these displays of hope and support has meant a lot to them.

“Several of our schools have also continued to act as food banks to support vulnerable local people and families”

Across the Trust our caterers have been preparing hampers of food full of essential items such as bread and tins for our free school meal pupils, and school leaders have been delivering these to families who cannot collect them. This has also doubled up as an opportunity to check in on vulnerable families to make sure that they are doing ok and have what they need. Several of our schools have also continued to act as food banks to support vulnerable local people and families, and people can drop in to collect food, or food can be delivered to those who need it.

Our class teachers have also been checking in with pupils through Class Dojo messages and phone calls, to make sure that they are doing well and staying safe. Records have been kept to document contact with vulnerable families to ensure that they are being asked whether they need any support or help each week.

“the individual schools have also been amazing at sharing documents and policies with one another and supporting each other through this time.”

As a Trust we have been updating our schools every day, and the individual schools have also been amazing at sharing documents and policies with one another and supporting each other through this time. Being part of a Trust which operates as a team and as a family has been incredibly helpful in dealing with the current situation, and the mutual support that has been offered between schools has been fantastic. Some schools which are not in our Trust have also requested to receive our updates, and we have, of course, shared them. This is very much an unprecedented situation which we are all facing together, and it is a time to help one another wherever we can. Those schools have told us how much they have valued that extra support, and we are really glad that we have been able to help them during this time.

Our staff team have received some lovely messages of thanks from both members of the community that we have been able to support, and from the key workers whose children we have cared for. We have also had lots of our families keeping in touch with us through social media, sending in examples of home schooling, such as videos and pictures of work, which has been great to see.

What has really struck me about our Trust during this time has been the incredible response of our staff, and their unfailing positivity in the face of this unexpected challenge. I have not heard one person complain; they have got stuck in, retained a sense of humour, and have been 100% committed to doing their bit, putting their own safety aside to support our children and our families. Although this is a difficult time, every member of the Embark Federation has been proud to be able to play their part and do whatever they can to help, and we will continue to do so in the weeks and months ahead.