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1. The trapeze artist and the safety net

Part 1 of CJK Associates Autumn 2022 blog series #schooltrustcentralservices

CJK Associates has just been working with CEO Tom Campbell and team at E-ACT and I was struck by a phrase of Tom’s: “Our approach needs to be that school leadership takes responsibility for local decisions, supported by strong shared services which provide a safety net and deliver efficiency and effectiveness.”

I realised 2 things. Firstly, this was a fascinating design framework for central services in a school group. Secondly, I am lucky to be in a role where I get to hear so much wisdom from school group leaders and headteachers, and I’d like to share some of it.

Now, back to the trapeze artist!

When people look at this picture of these daredevils suspended in time and space, they come up with words such as ‘bravery’, ‘passion’, ‘skill’, ‘fitness’, ‘creativity’, ‘artistry’. And a key word, ‘trust’. Clearly the figure on the left is about to place total trust in the one on the right!

But there’s an important additional perspective if we zoom out a little.

There’s scaffolding to provide the structure for the artists to operate.

There’s training, coaching, mentoring, and encouragement in plenty.

And crucially, there’s a safety net. In the last resort, they can’t be allowed to fall to the ground.

So, a key question facing those who want to bring together groups of schools with the aim of raising outcomes for all their students, as well as improving collective efficiency and efficacy is:

“How do you unlock individual passion and build trust, while providing the right scaffolding and safety net?”

Over the next few weeks, I will be releasing short articles on this topic covering:

· maturity models of school groups, and inflexion points during growth

· getting evidence about the ‘current state’

· designing the future of the school group.

I will reference material I use when I am teaching on TeachFirst’s NPQEL, and the Confederation of School Trusts MasterClass in central services, so if you want to go deeper, do enquire about enrolling on one of those.

This teaching material in turn originates from CJK Associates’ consultancy work which, in England, has included school groups with a huge range in size and approach, such as Greenwoood, E-ACT, Astrea, Woodard, Dartmoor, Summit, North Star, Arbib, Langley Park, Ormiston, David Ross, Reach2, United Learning, Solent and Spencer. With these groups, we’ve covered leadership, organisational design, system selection, key processes and governance. We’ve recently been designing a new School Trust from scratch for a group of schools that have decided to create a new one. If you’d like to know more about our work for school trusts, please message me.

Thanks for reading! And I hope to see you again next week when I will to talk about how to avoid falling down rabbit holes when designing central services in school groups.


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