Laying the foundation for long-term success

EPM

With the new academic year under way there are reasons to be cheerful and ride the momentum. But it’s also hard to write on education at the moment, without being at best anxious – we’re still dealing with the collateral damage of lockdown.

The landscape we’re facing
A paper by the Education Policy Institute has identified the increasing proportion of disadvantaged children in persistent poverty as a contributory cause of the lack of progress with narrowing the disadvantage gap.  

The gap in attainment between rich and poor pupils is at a 10-year high. Children from less wealthy backgrounds are now 18 months behind their better off classmates thanks to schools being closed in 2020. (Closing the Gap? Trends in Educational Attainment and Disadvantage)

Levelling up remains an unmet challenge, while the resources needed to do so (or even indeed to remain in equilibrium) are under huge pressure – not helped by an economic crisis and five changes of Secretary of state for Education in a year.

It’s worrying that Government departments have been told to prepare for cuts to enforce “fiscal discipline” and the Treasury has said there will be “an update on school budgets in due course”. Whichever sector of education you look at, there is little comfort in current headlines:

  • Exponential rises in resource and energy costs have far outstripped budget;
  • Unfunded pay offer risks school funding crisis;
  • School trips could be axed in bid to save staff;
  • School cannot afford textbooks after £100,000 energy rise;
  • A network of school leaders in Worcestershire has expressed "grave concerns" about an "immediate funding crisis" caused by staff pay rises.
     

Against this background there will be renewed pressure for Schools to join successful Trusts, both for self-preservation against the external pressures faced in the sector, but also to capitalise in the skills, expertise and resources which emerge from working together.

There’s a telling quote from the former Secretary of State (Kit Malthouse) in a recent article:
That means getting into those schools that are not performing, really intervening firmly and swiftly, turning them around, ... not being shy to amalgamate trusts, to expand the good ones, backing quality where we can, being honest with the sector about what is needed.”

Future predictions
There are obviously limits and constraints to growth – but there is a clear imperative for Trusts to take the initiative in determining their own direction of travel within this national policy.  

Ideally – in growing a Trust – one would see quantifiable benefits both for the individual Schools concerned and for the Trust as a whole.

Whichever route is chosen, a need to undertake thorough due diligence, navigate the legal complexities of growth, and manage relationships with the DfE and ESFA will draw upon a skill set which may already exist in larger, established, Trusts but cannot be taken for granted.

A company such as EPM which concentrates on professional and sector expertise can be an essential partner and guide at each stage in a Trust’s life. Providing external challenge and support for Trusts to ascertain their readiness to grow in capacity, compliance, and strong governance, as well as providing a clear evaluation of the scalability of the operation: their strengths and areas for improvement. Afterall, it requires careful planning across every area of operation to develop successfully and establish a well-informed strategy; one built upon experience, insights, and best practices, to minimise disruption and make the best use of available resources. Leveraging our experience of working with over 2,600 Trusts we support all types of growth journey – from the first steps through to successful conclusion – by helping Schools and Trusts in the sector to develop a deep understanding of what it takes to grow effectively, operate efficiently, and support performance improvement for pupils and staff alike.

Money and resources are in stewardship for our children who are best served if these stewarded resources are managed in an effective and efficient way: if we don’t get the money right (contracts, resources, purchasing), and the logistics (tight scheduling and efficient deployment of staff, accurate data to inform policy and management), it’s the children who suffer.

Get it right, and we’re laying the foundation for their long-term success.