New University of Nottingham Report shows Trusts are ‘robust structures’

28th April 2021

A new report published jointly today by The Confederation of School Trusts (CST) and the University of Nottingham shows how School Trusts managed disruptions and discontinuities in the global pandemic between March 2020 and March 2021.

The report presents twelve key outcomes as indicators of robust and rigorous, values-led, principled leadership and management strategies designed to stimulate, build and sustain the motivation, commitment, engagement, capabilities and capacities of key stakeholders in system-wide robust and rigorous responses to the unprecedented challenges of the time.

These include curriculum, delivery of teaching, students’ welfare, wellbeing and academic progress, staff development and wellbeing, re-distribution of responsibilities, building Trust-wide collegiality, optimising engagement with students, families, stakeholders, and wider communities.

The report highlights how over the twelve-month period of unanticipated disruptions and discontinuities, the Trusts in the research had gone beyond ‘coping’ or merely ‘surviving’. Their CEOs, regardless of the size and geographical distribution of their schools, had demonstrated a strong sense of efficacy, agency and robust resilience, a profound sense of care, and agile, adaptive, values-led leadership which had permeated their schools, minimising disengagement of most of their pupils from learning, connecting closely with their parental communities and external agencies.

Commenting on the report, Leora Cruddas,chief executive of CST said:

"This is a significant report. It corroborates findings by Ofsted in their Autumn visits to schools. The Ofsted research found that: "For the school leaders we spoke to, the support of their trust was crucial. They told us about support with safeguarding, interpreting COVID-19 guidelines, developing remote learning and integrating this with the curriculum.”

"The report delves deeper into the ways in which Trusts enacted policy, identifying twelve indicators of robustness and rigour. It demonstrates empirically that trusts are robust structures that have withstood the perturbations of the pandemic and will withstand future perturbations.

"The global pandemic has made extraordinary demands on leaders. This research shows how civic leadership has been enacted through the pandemic and argues for the importance of connecting with others. As we begin to construct ways of leading in a post-pandemic world, we will need forms of leadership that enable schools to be ‘protective organisations’ that can mitigate the economic, social, health and educational impacts of Covid-19 on children and families. The story of the impact of Covid-19 on our children and young people has not yet been written. What we do next – the way we lead – is crucial to ensuring that we enact the sacred duty of holding trust with children.”

Professor Christopher Day from the University of Nottingham’s School of Education, who led the research team, said:

"It has been a privilege to play a part in this ‘pathways’ research which has revealed, for the first time, the complexities of School Trust leaders’ individual and collective responses to the unique challenges to students’ academic progress and welfare and the wellbeing of staff presented by the Covid-19 pandemic.

What is clear from our analyses so far is that ‘robustness,’ ‘rigour’, ‘responsiveness’, and ‘consistency’ have been achieved in individual academies; and that their effectiveness is likely to have been enhanced as a result of their trust membership.

Their effectiveness has not been the result of the development and implementation of one or two policies, strategies, actions or sets of internal and external relationships. Rather, it is the result of the contextually sensitive combinations and accumulations of these over time that have created and sustained a strong sense of collective purpose, belonging, interconnectivity, inclusiveness and forward momentum.

The evidence so far indicates that a key factor in the reported success of responses to the unprecedented challenges faced by individual academies and trusts has been the quality of trust leadership. The data in this research has shown that all have been values-driven, responsive rather than reactive, inclusive, agile, adaptive, resilient, deeply caring of the academic progress and welfare of all students and the wellbeing of staff, and always hopeful. We are looking forward now to extending our research with trusts as they reconnect with their core educational purposes in less disruptive external environments.”

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