What becomes quite clear once a multi-academy trust has been formed is the benefit that a more centralised approach can bring to all the business processes necessary to run an organisation.
A business needs to be strong, to have specialists throughout, each doing their own thing and doing it well, and Nene Education Trust has always had a clear understanding of how it wants to approach its ‘business model’.
The successful education of children is paramount and drives all of our decisions across our organisation. Headteachers, as the educational experts, need to lead their school and teachers need to teach. Under local authority funding the headteacher would have responsibility for all aspects of the school – funding, insurance, premises, IT, recruitment, for example – on top of everything they needed and wanted to time to do to make their school the best it could be. Clearly, the benefits of having a team of experts behind them to look after the likes of buildings, finance, marketing and HR means they have more time to spend doing what they do well and deliver the outcomes their pupils absolutely deserve.
Where it began
I started my working life as a bank clerk in a high street branch, got a financial diploma, moved into customer service, then into manufacturing with a multi-national business. Over the years I’ve worked in finance, marketing, operations and customer services, and by the time I took on my current role I felt I had gained enough experience in many roles to prepare me for its wide remit. I was appointed during the first lockdown, in May 2020, as Chief Operating Officer for the trust, leading a team that focuses on non-educational functions in the trust including HR, finance, IT and premises.
Nene Education Trust comprises eight schools across East Northamptonshire and Wellingborough, one secondary and seven primaries, as well as the 5 Wells Development Centre in Wellingborough. But it’s so much more than that, with a stated aim to do all it can to develop and support the local community, as well as contributing to the wider education agenda.
When, in 2018, Chris Hill took over as CEO, he knew that the trust required organisational restructuring. I was brought in to create a central team. We understood there was going to be an initial cost, and agreed to take that hit, because the goal was always to have a structure up and running that would eventually represent a much-improved service across all our family of schools and also bringing a cost saving overall. We needed to show both impacts.
Disrupted slightly by the pandemic, and starting in earnest in 2021, we introduced various new platforms that ran alongside creating a new team. A less ambitious trust may have taken a lot longer to get to this point, but that is not the Nene Education Trust approach.
We brought the HR platform in house from third party. That was a significant risk, but now we’re in a position where it’s working better for us than when it was outsourced.
We updated IT systems for logging attendance and attainment. Again, something of a risk but it means we have a far more up-to-date cloud-based system for education data, recording of progress and recording important detail about pupils with specific challenges.
We have a team of experts that manages the budget and implements it. We have a team of experts that concentrates on estates, the buildings and facilities and ensures they are fit for purpose and compliant, we have an HR team that ensures a stringent recruitment process and that all staff have the support they need.
Our business-like approach, in line with the shared principles and values that we all buy into across the organisation, demands that such matters can be embedded in our structure. These are things that should simply just be there, in the background, so that if any issue arises, it can be solved quickly and efficiently.
And one thing that is quite clear is that this organisation has grown stronger through a centralisation of non-teaching and learning processes and strategic development. Teaching and learning can carry on without the rest of the workload. Headteachers have input, of course, about any decisions that are being made, but other than that, they can leave the processes and implementation to the central team.
Passing on that experience
Nene Education Trust has well-established ties with the business community – we believe in the saying ‘business needs education and education needs business’ and that is why we have taken a business-like approach in the non-education areas.
We are ambitious and want to continue to grow our trust. What we are also keen to do is make everything we have done and everything we have learned, available to support other schools and educational organisations – this is our offer as an organisation running for
Because we’ve put a really strong offering together, we are now in a position to help others create a similar model – in short, there’s a market for our services. Certainly, in Northamptonshire and adjoining counties we will be able to provide a complete service to any school that is facing similar changes, but we see opportunities further afield, to any school anywhere that could benefit from our experience and expertise.
By offering those service to other schools, it will not only provide a cost-effective way they can improve, but will also allow us to further improve the services we provide to our own schools. That’s where the business understanding that was in place from the outset will drive the development of Nene Education Trust, producing an income that can be released into other areas.
It was the professional, caring and ambitious environment that attracted me to Nene Education Trust, the understanding of how to make things work well, not just for ourselves but for the benefit of others and to drive growth. This way, we create opportunities to help, support and grow, while at the same time ensuring our own trust delivers the high educational outcomes our pupils deserve.
Nene Education Trust is a multi-academy trust comprising Newton Road School in Rushden, Windmill Primary in Raunds, Stanwick Primary, Raunds Park Infants, St. Peter’s CE Junior, Woodford CE Primary, Redwell Primary in Wellingborough and Manor School in Raunds.
For further information visit neneeducationtrust.org.uk