Year One: First Steps Towards Outstanding
A message from Andrew Whitaker - Executive Principal
The first steps taken on any journey are often the most important. The initial strides over new ground establish the pace, attitude and direction in which we move forward to reach our destination, collectively, as a whole-Trust community.
Following the end of an ambitious and dynamic year, I wish to reflect on The White Rose Academies Trust’s exceptional journey; a new beginning which has offered challenge, necessitated change and demonstrated rapid progress. Year One is a waypoint which truly marks our first steps towards our ultimate goal of outstanding.
Having arrived as Executive Principal of The White Rose Academies Trust in September 2016, I discovered three vibrant Academies with their own unique strengths, lively personalities and boundless potential. I also uncovered historic deficiencies within the fabric of these institutions; critical weaknesses which were seriously curbing the progress which the schools should have been making.
Initial findings revealed that all three Academies were at risk of being placed into Special Measures. This necessitated rapid action to deliver clarity, direction and enthusiasm in the high standard of education we expect to provide for young people. Our first response as a Trust included the appointment of strong and experienced senior leaders for each of our three schools, including a new principal for both Leeds West Academy and Leeds East Academy. We also deployed a nationwide recruitment strategy to secure outstanding teachers, leaders and subject specialists, coupled with support staff who are proven experts in their fields. In short, we have ensured that the Trust now offers the finest, most experienced staffing body since its inception.
Following three OFSTED inspections across LWA, LCA and LEA in short succession, we received judgments of Requires Improvement for all three schools. Having initially made clear to the Board of Directors the very real possibility that all three academies could be placed into Special Measures in September 2016, these judgements demonstrate the new Senior Leadership Teams’ positive impact in improving the schools at a rapid pace.
A critical turning point in our journey has been achieved following the deployment of bold programmes for school improvement, in addition to forming new partnerships with outstanding Multi-Academy Trusts. We are fortunate to be sponsored by The Leeds City College Group, who provide expertise, international networks and highly desirable employability prospects within education and beyond. Senior Leaders from across the Trust have been inducted into the Leeds City College Leadership Development Programme, delivered by Gatenby Sanderson, ensuring our team are fully equipped with the enhanced skills to lead with vision and exceptional resourcefulness. We also continue to welcome the constructive and assistive relationship with the Regional Schools Commissioner’s team and representatives from the Department for Education.
Our School Improvement Partnership with The GORSE Academies Trust also provides further expert advice, support and training to leaders and teachers across all subject areas. We are presently working very closely with all schools within this outstanding Trust, offering our staff excellent subject specific advice, as well as providing all of our employees an incredible range of CPD opportunities.
Young people are central to everything we do as a Trust. We raise expectations and reward success, whilst also placing our students at the heart of our decision-making through Student Council. As such, we have forged new relationships with local and national awarding bodies to recognise students’ talents and achievements within the community. This year, one student was awarded the prestigious Rotary Great Britain and Ireland National Young Citizen Award and several other students have also received the Rotary Leeds and the National Diana Award, as featured in the 2017 Roll of Honours list.
Our open and honest relationship with the local media has also provided an upturn in our academies being recognised for their triumphs across Leeds. Scores of news stories have appeared in print this year, coupled with a thriving online community via social media, with over 5,000 regular followers learning about our schools on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. The truly inspiring story of our First Aid team saving the life of a student was read by over 20,000 persons on Facebook alone. Total re-designs of our websites are also near completion, providing easier access to information and offering new opportunities for language accessibility and media-rich engagement online. The new Leeds City Academy website will be the first to launch, followed swiftly by Leeds East Academy and Leeds West Academy.
The Trust remains committed to the wider community and the people of Leeds. A major development which is of great pride is the launch of our START Community Hub at Leeds City Academy, which has the long-term goal of providing independence and stability for families through life-long learning. To do this, we provide essential services such as life training, clinics and networking events to ensure that people can sustain themselves with confidence whilst inspiring others to do the same. The Hub has been formed in partnership with the Leeds City College Group, local universities and charities to provide our new-to-English families access to courses in English, Mathematics and ICT. Families can also access professional advice on a range of issues, including employment, benefits, housing and healthcare. Currently, sixteen families who are new to the country have benefited from this exceptional provision.
The very fabric of our schools has also been redeveloped, by securing new investments for repairs and technical expansion. Many of these developments have been spearheaded by our Student Councils, which include new student WC facilities at LCA and the creation of nurture provisions at both LEA and LWA, with a key focus on providing high quality support to our most vulnerable students. Our vision for growth in these areas is ambitious and inclusive of our wider communities, ensuring the people of Leeds benefit from every development we drive forward across our facilities. Our schools very much belong to the communities which they serve.
I have only touched on some of the huge leaps we’ve made this year, many of which will be revealed further in this review. The road we’ve travelled so far has presented its obstacles, but we’ve overcome them as a family of professional innovators and problem solvers, all driven to securing a shared goal of excellence.
Year Two now presents the challenge of building on our new foundations of solid leadership, ensuring the young people in our care exceed beyond their targets whilst our staff lead fulfilled careers. Year Two also promises to deliver even more exciting opportunities: From September 2017, we will become a member of the Leeds Teaching School Alliance, which will give our Trust access to the finest trainee teachers in the region, with access to a range of outstanding all-staff development programmes. We will also be securing high-quality alternative provision places at the Stephen Longfellow Academy and Leeds City College. These provisions will enable our most vulnerable young people to access a more appropriate curriculum with high-quality emotional, social and well-being support. Our Trust-based Student Leadership programme will also be in full flow, allowing our students to collaborate across Leeds and develop our vision for outstanding.
As we prepare for the rigours and challenge of our journey into Year Two, I would like to thank you for your support as we continue to go the distance to secure an exceptional future for the next generation.
The non-stop journey continues…
The White Rose Academies Trust