A CEO's perspective why we decided to become a multi-academy trust

31 January 2018

West Lakes Academy was formed from the merger of two failing local secondary schools in 2008. In 2009 27 per cent of students gained the benchmark of five or more GCSEs graded A* to C including English and mathematics. In 2017, 72 per cent of students gained the same benchmark. In February 2017 we were judged 'Outstanding' in every category. This was followed by two further awards of Teaching School status and National Support School status. This is an ideal point, reflecting on that journey, to consider what comes next?

Our academy is, at the time of writing, the only sponsored Single Academy Trust (SAT) in West Cumbria, sponsored by the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority, Sellafield Ltd. and the University of Central Lancashire. The nature of the sponsorship is human-resource driven. The academy is funded in exactly the same way as other academies but what sets us apart is the richly diverse range of highly skilled employees we can draw on from those organisations. They stand outside the academy but are intimately concerned with it and with the benefit of some detachment, are influential in helping the academy maintain consistent high-level performance and purposeful progress towards fulfilling its vision. They constantly evaluate the net effect of governor influence and whether it enriches, is neutral, or subtracts. They challenge, support, identify and overcome barriers. They view that the barriers are in fuzzy thinking on the part of good, intelligent, vital people, their failure to lead, and to constructively challenge through a respectful uncertainty surrounding anything they are presented. They will receive anything, presume nothing and test everything. They do not support mediocrity but rather supply the standard of quality and determination so the academy can be exceptional. They never cease to demand distinction and have it demonstrated through world-class outcomes.

The sponsors have already proven their commitment and success in creating the fully inclusive, aspirational, high achieving West Lakes Academy, firmly rooted in the local community. We have successfully united the communities of two failing schools; learning from the experience of that strategy to understand what is required because we would like, if we are asked for help, to replicate the same social and educational transformational change elsewhere. Our vision is predicated on our evident retention of the proximity to transformational practice to accelerate the improvement process more widely. Our vision is to succeed in ‘Changing Lives through Learning’ by ‘Providing such educational experience for each child that will give them a preparation for life that is excelled by no other institution in the land.’ This will be our distinction.

Our next focus is to support other schools to be outstanding places of education where expectations are that students will develop into citizens who actively contribute towards the building of cohesive and peaceful communities and are able to represent themselves confidently in all aspects of public life. Our involvement in other schools (serving deprived areas) by replicating the improvements seen at WLA, will bring transformational change in those catchments; students will develop the capacity to contribute to building a strong and vibrant community. Ofsted reported that ‘The senior team is outward facing and committed to supporting improvements in schools in other parts of the region March 2017.’ Becoming a Multi-Academy Trust (MAT) is therefore a natural extension to the work we already do rather than a business efficiency imperative.

The development of our MAT will be based on a continuing recognition that student outcomes are the primary measure of success. Improvement of individual school performance will be founded on the well-established and consistent operational disciplines to drive performance. The success of the MAT will require continuous improvement in Leadership, Teaching and Learning capability in each school, drawing on its Teaching School and National Support School status. Improving educational outcomes in West Cumbria is part of the sponsors’ business objectives; to create a vibrant economic environment which underpins their support for the development of the MAT, having a clear and effective school and performance improvement programme focussed on educational standards and student outcomes.

Succession planning is of increasing importance; working together, we will leverage our excellent leaders and develop our future leaders. The sponsors will source additional governors to ensure that the enlarged organisation has the right mix of skills in the areas of educational improvement. These are intended to complement governors from existing schools to ensure retention of community links. Having access to this rich pool of support and talent is important to the Trust and helpful in ensuring a good skills mix on our Board.

When considering joining a MAT the due diligence process is crucial. In fact, it’s hard to express just how pivotal it is. From both sides of the process, either taking on a school or joining, ensure you never neglect any factor that might have informational value. Serious issues arise over incomplete due diligence. Also, if the academy or MAT refuses to provide any information you have requested, consider that a bad sign and potentially a deal breaker.

Download the full report for our key considerations.

Jonathan Johnson
Principal, West Lakes Academy