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Podcast | Season 1 | Episode 13: The Civic Role of School Trusts

In this week's episode Leora Cruddas (CEO, Confederation of School Trusts) presents CST's assessment on the status of academies within society and the civic role they must play. CST believes that, because of high accountability and efficiency, the academy model should be taken as an example for the whole schools system; but at the same time the narrative on academies portrayed by the media needs to be improved.

Civic Leadership – The Civic Role of School Trusts

  • Why schools and trusts need to be part of a community which is engaged, supportive and shares objectives
  • How larger trusts can use their capability and capacity to act with other civic partners, as large employers in an area
  • How smaller trusts can work with their local authority to advance education as a public good in their community
  • Exploring the new narrative around civic partnerships and civic leadership against the background of deep economic and social changes happening today

Leora Cruddas, CEO, Confederation of School Trusts

This session was recorded live on 13th November 2019 in the MAT Summit of the Schools & Academies Show at the NEC in Birmingham.

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Leora Cruddas

Okay, colleagues, I think we are going to make a start. So I've been asked to speak to you about school trusts, new civic structures. So this is one of three leadership narratives that CST is promoting and in a sense, this is a story in three in three parts with those three leadership narratives. So the first is how we talk about ourselves, what we do, why we do it, so that's around trust, leadership and school trusts. Secondly, how we look up and out and where with others to advance education for public good. So that's around leadership narrative around trust says new civic structures and civic leadership. And finally, how we need to act on rather than just in the system, which is about system building and system leadership. So this presentation normally takes me quite a lot longer than half an hour. So I'm going to, I'm going to speed through it for you. If you're in the audience, you probably know who we are national organisation, and sector body for Academy and Multi Academy Trust. So we're a year old, I set up CST around a year ago, and you might ask why I did this, frankly, because we are up against this. So this is that the slightly depressing part of it but but stick with me, and we'll get to the to the positive.

Leora Cruddas

So this is Melissa Benn, writing in The Guardian, I'm assured by her It's not her headline. She said English schools are broken. So she was talking about the fact that the academy system, academies and Multi Academy Trusts are breaking the English school system. This is Mary Bousted, also in The Guardian, "academies plan to turn schools into businesses". But this is a particularly toxic narrative, which is, which has taken hold the idea that we are somehow businesses that we are run for profit, and that we are run by private individuals. And there's an active Twitter issue around this at the moment. CST has just issued clarification on a number of these things. If you haven't seen it, I'd encourage you to look at our myth busting page on our website, which sets out very clearly that we are first and foremost education charities that runs schools to give children a better future. But the idea that that academies or our sector is the privatisation and corporatisation of education by the backdoor is a problem for us. This won't be new to you, "Academy Chief Executives earn fat cat salaries". There was another story of this ilk in The Times, The Sunday Times. And this Sunday, and I've just written to a letter to the editor of The Times, I'm making some corrections on this. So this, this ran in the BBC, and so I'm highlighting where these stories run for a reason. And so the idea that Academy Chief Executives in fact cut salaries is in fact a nonsense. And so 96% of trusts pay no one in their trust more than £150,000. That's a big number. If you put that in relation to the school teachers paying conditions document, which is the regulatory document that sets teacher and teacher pay in the maintain sector, a Headteacher of a single school, will get a large school in London can earn up to £148,500. So it doesn't make sense that we should say if you're responsible for a group of schools, you can't earn more than your highest paid Headteacher that is a nonsense we need a different, a different conversation about pay. This is a particularly disappointing one, "academies care more about money than pupils". This ran in The Observer last year. And it was based unfortunately under a report from the Institute of Education, and you will have seen the panorama programs, I guess, very difficult to watch indefensible practice. The problem with both programs is that they they did a quite a good piece of investigative journalism into one school in one trust, the Whitehaven School in the Bright Tribe Trust and then they said, this is how the entire sector behave. The entire sector puts profit before pupils. That is nonsense. Obviously, we can't make a profit. Likewise with a Silver Birch Trust, which is the second panorama program, where there was endemic cheating across the small trust of a very small group of primary schools in one locality, they said, this is how all academy trusts behave, we all cheat. So they called it the academy school scandal. Because, of course, issues around maladministration in the stats doesn't happen in the maintain sector. Right? We know that's not what we that we know that's not true.

Leora Cruddas

So the reason I'm highlighting and pulling these stories out for you is that this is not the anti academies alliance. This is not any particular union position. This is the great British institutions that your parents and your teachers will read, and will listen to and will believe are speaking the truth. This is The Guardian, The Observer, the Institute of Education, and the BBC. These are people these are great British institutions we trust to tell the truth, and yet they're not telling the truth about the work that we do. So CST is set up to stand up for trust to advocate for you, but I can stand up in national platforms as much as I like and defend what you're doing. And as long as I'm on the backfoot, as long as I'm defending, that is a difficult position for me to occupy. So CST is worked with a small group of members to bring to you a new narrative. And it's a narrative which asks you to abandon the word MAT. MAT is a horrible word doesn't mean anything to parents, and if it does, parents associated with panorama, so not a helpful word. Academy is not even a helpful word outside of England. Nobody knows what that means inside of England. Most people don't know what that means. So let's reintroduce the word school. Everybody knows what a school is. Let's say we are school trusts. So this is our new narrative. We our school trusts, education charities that run schools to give children a better future. And they are very, very good reasons why you would set up an organisation like a Multi Academy Trust whose sole purpose it is to run an improve schools. So I was previously the Director of Education in two London local authorities. You'll know this anyway. But I can tell you, local authorities have many, many, many more functions than running and improving schools. That's just not what they're good at. It really isn't. So why would we find it difficult to deal with the concept that it is a good thing to set up specialist organisations that have the specialist expertise to run and improve schools to transform the education and therefore the lives of children, young people in this country. Interestingly, trusts as charities have a single legal purpose. Mostly, church trusts are a bit different, is a single legal purpose a single charitable object, which is at the heart of the articles of association and typically are stopped at this point. Say to colleagues in the audience, what is it? And up until very recently, nobody knew. And and that worries me to some extent, because it is also, I think, our moral imperative, it is to advance education for public benefit. So why is that not on all of our websites? That is what we do. We are education charities that run schools to advance education for public benefits.

Leora Cruddas

So, I would and this is somewhat controversial, I would actually suggest that should my school become an academy is entirely the wrong question. I'm not sure I can answer that question. I'm not sure I care. Frankly. the right question, how can my school best collaborate with others in a strong and resilient structure to ensure that each child is a powerful learner, and that adults have opportunities to learn and develop as teachers and leaders? The answer to that question, I think is perfectly obvious. Do you notice it does not mention the word academy or academisation, this is just we need to get on the front foot, we need to be telling a different story about the work that we are redoing those of you who are in the session before, but have heard me say we need to reclaim the importance of trust. I worry colleagues that for the first time in state education in England, we are at risk of losing public confidence in the state education system, because of the stories that have been told about our sector. So we do this is quite urgent and it's quite important. We do need to do something differently. We need to rebuild public trust and public confidence in the work that we are doing. So we need to reclaim trust is relational principle and reclaim trust. The previous session is at the heart of the employer, employee contract. We need to reclaim trust as a core value because we are after all social creatures and we we are pre-determined actually to trust each other. So every adult in our organisation needs to see it as their core purpose to build trust consciously and deliberately in all of their behaviors. Trust is competence. Unless the the public believes that we are competent to lead and govern, they will not trust us. And they've been one too many stories in the national media that suggests that we are not competent to lead and govern, it's unfair. And we shouldn't all be tarnished with the same brush. But it is nevertheless a reality. And we can complain about the reality or we can do something about it and start telling a different story. And finally, trust is the promise. So this is CST's value statement. There is no trust more sacred than the one the world holds with children. So my invitation to you if you work with a trust or if you govern a trust, if you're a trustee, go to your trust website, and see if you can answer these questions. What do you believe? What is your trust believe? What do you stand for? or What do you care about? And what do you promise? There's lots of stuff and trust websites in there about what the governance structures what the strategy is. But I'm not sure I can always see answers to these questions. And I think these are much more powerful questions to be talking about the why of our leadership of trusts. So that is the first narrative that's about what we do why we do it, trust leadership and stopping talking about MATs and start talking about school trusts.

Leora Cruddas

So we're going to move into the second narrative now, which is the title of this presentation, which is trusts as new civic structures. To disrupt the idea that school trusts are somehow the commodification, the privatisation of education. We do have to go back to the narrative of charities, but then we have to go further, we have to say that we are new civic structures. And that is trust leaders, either executive leaders or governance leaders, we, we are also civic leaders. And we need to behave as civic leaders and engage with others and civic leaders. So you may know of the work that Lord Kerslake lead in relation to universities, the Civic University Commission, we challenge universities to understand their civic role beyond the education of students in their institutions, and to look at how, as big employers in an area, they also contribute to wider social good. So my invitation to you is to think about your trust in this way to think about your trust as a civic trust and your leadership as civic leadership. This gives us a different way of talking to local government. So some of us will work in contexts where, where the local authority is, shall we say bit hostile to us, and we can bemoan that, and we can wait for the local authority to change it is unlikely they will. So we need to change. We need to exercise civic leadership, and to start talking to the local authority about the importance of the work that we're doing in education in relation to achieving wider social outcomes for the locality. Local authorities also care about this. We all care about the education of children. And this gives us a language within which we can speak to local government.

Leora Cruddas

I think trusts are anchored in their in their localities. And I think it helps us to talk about ourselves as anchor institutions. So again, coming to a set of questions, we have the first set of questions about what you care about, what do you believe? What do you promise? And how are you constructing a civic narrative for your trust? So these are questions you can take to your Trust Board. What will you do to work with other civic actors to advance education as a public good in your locality or in your localities. How does your trust mission, reflect your commitment to civic leadership and to your understanding of yourself as civic leaders? If you have a growth plan for your trust, how does it reflect your commitment to advance public benefits of your current locality, or perhaps the locality that you're you're moving into, so start deliberately defining a civic narrative for your trust.

Leora Cruddas

So the third part of this presentation is around system building and system leadership. So I was Les's excellent presentation this morning when he said the National College got the definition of system leadership wrong. I think they did too. But for slightly different reasons that Les say's, by the way, Les, I completely agree with you. That part of system leadership is killing us building good systems, good consistent systems across your trust, but I'm going to talk about system building and system leadership in a slightly different way. So I don't think system leadership is leading beyond the gates of your own school. I think that's not necessarily a good definition of system leadership. I think system leadership is about understanding that you can act on the system, not just in the system. So we don't have to just sit back and accept the policies of the next administration and mature profession would go to the next administration with our policy, so that we don't get into the culture of simply railing against the government of the day, no matter what color that government is. Being patient Ipsos Mori tells us from having polling data that goes years back, that that, unfortunately, is typically how we behave, doesn't matter what the administration is. We wait for them to announce their policies and then pretty much we shouted them. I would suggest to you that shouting the government is not a particularly mature place for a profession to be. So we need a different relationship with government. One where we have a mature and adult conversation where we are taking our policies, as well as listening to the next Secretary of State's democratic rights to also talk about her or his policies.

Leora Cruddas

And so with that in mind, CST is published our white paper, white paper is in brackets because of course, in reality, only a government can publish a white paper. But I've stolen that word deliberately. And so to create the sense that actually, we can make policy to so with our members, we have crafted a set of policies, a fairly wide ranging set of policies, some of which are quite controversial. So the main concept in our white paper, which does describe the future shape of the education system, is that we should complete the reform journey that all schools should now be in a strong and sustainable organisation. Right now the legal vehicle for that is the Multi Academy Trust, but it's just the legal vehicle. So frankly, this is not and I do want to be clear about this, this is not a return to Nicky Morgan's 2016 white paper for two reasons, because she proposed compulsory Academisation. And I don't like compulsion in any form. I don't think it's helpful to the education system. And as I've said to you, I don't think academiesation in itself is the panacea. In fact, I think it's an unhelpful, unhelpful term. It is the power of the group that we need to celebrate. And that is what the evidence is beginning to show that there is power in a group of schools because we can do things together that are much harder to do if we are in standalone, standalone schools. And so just in case that you think I'm I'm sort of driving a particular administration's agenda here, the white paper is informed by the thinking of Michael Fullan, who I'm sure that many of you will know and love. So Michael Fullan talked about the wrong drivers, the wrong drivers being inconsistency, compulsion, accountability technology, and he talked about the right drivers. So Fullens first driver, his first right driver is called focusing direction or what he calls systemness. Right now, in England, we have a divided school system. It is expensive, it is inefficient and it is difficult to understand. So we need to integrate Fullens terms what the system is doing now and colleagues in England right now, the system is building groups of schools. So as the education Select Committee, said little known fact, in a report on academies and free schools, primary heads told us whilst becoming an academy had improved their practice and this school. This was primarily because of the advantages generated by The collaborative framework of a trust, the collaborative framework of a trust, the trust structure enables deep and purposeful collaboration. And this is the language that we that we should be using. So our white paper talks about a whole lot of other things as well. And so it doesn't just talk about structures. And I am not with those people who have started to coalesce again, in the national landscape that say, all we need to not talk about structures because structures aren't important. Structures are fundamentally important. They fundamentally important because children learn and structures and teachers teaching structures. So we do need to pay attention to structures, we do need to pay attention to the structures that work. So again, this is not about compulsory academisation. This is about the evidence of the power of the group of schools working together in deep and purposeful collaboration. So this is a question that Kevan Collins, who's the outgoing Chief Executive of the EEF posted me on a panel, which took me aback somewhat. And he said to me, oh, you sure Leora that in England, we are the best system getting better. And then he answered the question and said, I can tell you we're not. So I think he's right. I think that's an excellent question. So my challenge to you today is how can we be the best system of getting better? And will you help me do that help me define how we become the best system of getting better through the way that we act deliberately and consciously on the system, not just in the system. Thank you very much. I think we do actually have time for questions.

Audience Member 1

Hello, yes. I'm just interested. Some of the conversations we've had Leora over the last 18 months have been around the just what feels to have been a almost a missing information campaign particularly aimed at academies and Multi Academy Trusts. Do you have any views about where the motivation for that came from? Did that come from a particular group or?

Leora Cruddas

So Rob, I think we haven't helped ourselves here if I'm honest. And and I wonder if successive administrations have helped us. So successive ministers have talked about trusts as businesses, and they have had a relentless focus on finances, finances, not in the sense of good fiscal management, which is what you must do as a as a public servant. So I think, I'm not sure I'd like to point a finger at a particular group. I just think that we haven't necessarily helped ourselves and I don't think we've got on the front foot quickly enough here to correct the view that that we are somehow businesses and that we are somehow that we can make a profit. So a few months ago, I had a Twitter exchange with a fairly senior person in the Labour, Shadow Cabinets, who put out a tweet deriving members of Multi Academy Trust for taking profit from from state education. So I corrected her Twitter, and, you know, she argued with me, certainly. So this is not, I'm not I'm not presenting an ideological position. I'm stating, in fact, you know, we really need to understand the fact which is why CST put out our myth busting documents, but it worries me that we've got, you know, at least one, one of our two main political parties who erroneously believe that school trusts are the privatisation and the commodification of education, and why have we not grasp this sooner? Why have you not done something about this to correct this view sooner? So I think this these stories have grown up around us. And over pretty much a 10 year period. And and now we do really need to get on the front foot. Would you agree with that?

Audience Member 1

Yeah, I'm just glad that you're here in our corner now. Because for the last 10 years, you know, with no Education Trust now and outgoings before, it's been a lonely place at times.

Leora Cruddas

Yeah. It has been lonely. I think it has been lonely. And you know,

Audience Member 1

There are there are very, very small numbers of quite appalling behaviors that are publicly espoused as though that to the academy sector for you. There's another example. But of course, I don't see the I don't see the accounts of my local primary school because they don't have to publish them and they don't have an external audit every year.

Leora Cruddas

So that's a really important point that you that you make. And I'll just say a little bit more about that actually, because I think that this has driven given some issues, so I'm having been a director of an education authoriy in London, with some shame actually. I can tell you that when I asked for an investigation into one of my maintained schools, that report never saw the light of day, I wasn't required to publish it anywhere. And I didn't publish it anyway. Compare that to the academy sector. When the ESFA investigates any of your trusts, they publish the report, and they publish them all in the same place. So what does that look like? It looks like the problem is all in our sector. And there's no problem at all in the maintained sector. So that is not true. And it's not fair. And as you and I were talking earlier, we are the most accountable type of school structure in England but probably in the world. I don't know of another education system, where the accounting officers directly accountable to Parliament. So the duty to publish accounts, the duty to, to show salaries, all of that, rightly makes us completely transparent and completely publicly accountable. But because only one half of the system has those rules, there's very high threshold of transparency and accountability. It looks like the problem is all over here. Difficult argument to make, because you don't want to point fingers at the maintained sector either. But it would be good if the same thresholds of transparency and accountability applied across the school system.

Leora Cruddas

Any other Any other questions? I think we've got time for. Yeah a question here. Oh, unless he's got a question.

Audience Member 2

Thank you very much. I just support Rob when you said that, you know, we really appreciate you holding the fort and building the fort. And spreading out really are critical what you do the question I asked when we talk about systems There is a, the system can only work if one component part is not grinding against another one that they are, how are we going to ensure that the wider system or which school trusts apart, doesn't work in conflict? And I'm including this is, local authority schools, independent schools, etc.

Leora Cruddas

Thank you I mean, I think that's a really important question. And I hope the second narrative on civic leadership begins to answer that we have got to stop seeing ourselves in competition with others or pointing fingers at others. So I think as I said in in the talk, in as much as I know how difficult it is to work in a local context where the local authority is hostile, it is our duty to engage in a conversation with local government, or with any of the player local players who are hostile to us. We will only change this narrative if we can understand that is actually a civic duty, it is not even a it's not not even a choice. We do have to build together, all of us all of the actors in the system, we do have to build deliberately and consciously public confidence in the state education system. We had one more question here. And then that's probably that will then we're probably out of time.

Audience Member 3

Hello. I'm just wondering with with the well publicised glitches that we've seen, whether there is an aspect of this, which as the momentum and the imperative towards trusts has grown various reasons, that actually relates to the availability of suitable trustees and directors and the issues around training and developing trustees and directors for what's what's actually quite a different role from that of governance of a single school.

Leora Cruddas

Oh, wow. You're a person after to my own heart. Okay. So I'll say something That's a little bit controversial. And a bit more recent, what you've just said, I think the proposition of governing a local authority maintained school is fundamentally different from the proposition of governing a trust. And I think we have harmed ourselves and the DfE has harmed us by pretending that that's not true. So, it you know, it, you have duties under company law, your duties are to charity law, you are the employer, the buck stops with you the accountability rests with you. And you know, trustees need to understand how that role is is different and and how their legal duties are different. So I'm pleased to say that CST is one of five national providers. That's under license to the DfE runs the governance leadership program. We are the only one of those five to say that we don't think that you can run the same program for local authority governors, as you can for trustees. So our program is geared entirely towards trustees, but there is still so much work that we need to do and I see my colleague Emma sitting over there and she would kill me if I don't say this. And I think we also need to identify that the role of the governance professional is absolutely crucial to securing better governance in our system. And I've said to Lord Agnew, the single intervention the state can now make to strengthen trust governance is to recruit and train and qualify and pay well, governance professionals as we would company secretaries in you know, large FTSE 100 companies. Does that help?

Audience Member 3

Yes, thank you.

Leora Cruddas

Thank you so much for your time and attention. And you've been a lovely audience and it's a pleasure to talk to you.


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