How academy trusts give schools a more influential voice

Clare Flintoff head shot with green backfdrop

Clare Flintoff, CEO of Asset Education. - Credit: Sarah Lucy Brown

“There is no trust more sacred than the one the world holds with children” - the words of Kofi Annan that underpin the vision statement of the Confederation of School Trusts (CST), writes Clare Flintoff.

The organisation, which represents around half of the academy trusts in England, held its first virtual annual conference last week.  

With the vision to create ‘a system that holds trust on behalf of children’, CST gives its members, who in total are responsible for more than two million children and young people across the country, a growing and influential voice.   

With the theme, ‘a bridge to the future’ the conference was used as a platform by the Secretary of State for Education, Gavin Williamson, to announce the government’s intention for all schools to be part of a family of schools run by a strong trust.  

He talked about the benefits of sharing staff and curriculum expertise, effective teaching practices and collaboration that delivers the best outcomes for pupils.  

He said that the benefits of being in an academy trust had been even more apparent over the last 12 months and that we needed strong institutions and the right infrastructure in place to deliver the recovery reforms announcing a ‘try before you buy’ option for local authority maintained schools to help them make the decision about which trust to join.   

Kate Green, OBE, Shadow Secretary of State talked about schools being ‘one of the only public services that will touch all of our lives; they are one of the most powerful means we have to shape the life chances of every child and the life of every community’.  

She talked about the importance of schools, and trusts, being anchored in their communities with local accountability.  It is CST’s belief that school trusts (like universities and NHS trusts) are anchor institutions that should offer not just educational value in a locality, but wider social value as well.  

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Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Schools, Amanda Spielman talked about the wider leadership role that trusts had taken over the pandemic in supporting their communities and the resilience against failure that a collaborative framework can provide when it is able to step up and be quick to react.   

Dame Rachel de Souza, Children’s Commissioner for England, talked about her commitment to girls’ education, particularly girls and women in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) subjects.  She has just launched ‘The Big Ask’ - the largest ever survey of children and young people in England.   

The organisation that I lead, ASSET Education, belongs to CST because it provides us with a collective voice to government and to the regulators which it is important for us to have - representing the children and communities that we serve in Suffolk.

But most importantly, we belong because we align with the values that CST promotes and their commitment to the promotion and advancement of equity and social justice.  When we establish an academy trust and bring schools together to work as one, we are effectively making a promise to hold trust with, and on behalf of children.  The reason for our being is them and they are at the centre of what we do and why we do it.   

The highlight of the conference for me was the closing keynote speech by Ziauddin Yousafzai, father of the youngest ever Nobel Peace Prize laureate Malala Yousafzai, and himself an educator and leader.

He spoke of a world where every girl can choose her future, and a quality education being a powerful equaliser.  He talked about a curriculum that imparts the values of love, respect, compassion and empathy and the change to your ‘inner being’ when you are educated.

He says we should listen to our youth and the values that unite us as we bridge to the future.

He finished with words from the Lebanese-born writer and poet  Kahil Gibran, an apposite and beautiful reminder of the trust that we hold, for…. “Your children are not your children. They are the sons and daughters of life’s longing for itself.  They come through you but not from you. And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.  

"You may give them your love but not your thoughts.  You may house their bodies but not their souls, For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.“