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Research suggests Midlands schools’ Covid-19 response was strengthened by Trust leadership

Wednesday, 28 April 2021

A new study into schools in the Midlands by the University of Nottingham, in partnership with the Confederation of School Trusts, has found their response to the pandemic was likely to have been enhanced by being members of a Trust.

Trust schools are government-funded schools that receive extra support from a charitable trust such as a local business, community group or educational charity. An individual school or a group of schools (such as schools that are in the same area, spread across the country or share a specialism) can choose to work with a trust.

Academics Professor Christopher Day and Dr Stanimira Taneva, explored the policies and policy-implementation strategies employed by the CEOs of 15 School Trusts for the period between March 2020 and March 2021 in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic, during which almost all students nationally experienced six major disruptions to the continuity of school-based learning.

They found that the collegiality of schools within Trusts was a key benefit during the coronavirus pandemic, with CEOs of Trusts reporting that they were able ease the burden on schools by centralising and redistributing tasks to allow schools to focus on teaching and welfare.

This was reflected by Ofsted in their Autumn visits to schools, who reported: “For the school leaders we spoke to, the support of their Trust was crucial. They told us about support with safeguarding, interpreting COVID-19 guidelines, developing remote learning and integrating this with the curriculum.”

The study found that Trust schools broadened traditional definitions of ‘disadvantaged’ students, recognising that there could be two groups of those that are deemed vulnerable children during the pandemic, for example, there are those who come from lower socio-economic backgrounds and there are those who could be disadvantaged by both parents working full time and so could be experiencing emotional neglect. The schools in the study worked successfully to reduce disengagement in these groups.

The researchers noted that Trust schools embraced and extended the use of digital technologies to aid home learning. The Trusts also had robust policies in place in areas such as HR, risk assessment and provision of PPE for schools to follow.

What is clear from our analyses so far is that ‘robustness,’ ‘rigour’, ‘responsiveness’, and ‘consistency’ have been achieved in individual academies; and that their effectiveness is likely to have been enhanced as a result of their Trust membership.
Professor Christopher Day, School of Education

Professor Day, who, with Dr. Stanimira Taneva, led the research, continued: “Their effectiveness has not been the result of the development and implementation of one or two policies, strategies, actions or sets of internal and external relationships. Rather, it is the result of the contextually sensitive combinations and accumulations of these over time that have created and sustained a strong sense of collective purpose, belonging, interconnectivity, inclusiveness and forward momentum.

"The evidence so far indicates that a key factor in the reported success of responses to the unprecedented challenges faced by individual academies and Trusts has been the quality of Trust leadership. The data in this research has shown that all have been values-driven, responsive rather than reactive, inclusive, agile, adaptive, resilient, deeply caring of the academic progress and welfare of all students and the wellbeing of staff, and always hopeful. We are looking forward now to extending our research with Trusts as they reconnect with their core educational purposes in less disruptive external environments.”

Leora Cruddas, chief executive of the Confederation of School Trusts, said: “This is a significant report. It corroborates findings by Ofsted in their Autumn visits to schools. The Ofsted research found that: “For the school leaders we spoke to, the support of their trust was crucial. They told us about support with safeguarding, interpreting COVID-19 guidelines, developing remote learning and integrating this with the curriculum.”

“The report delves deeper into the ways in which Trusts enacted policy, identifying twelve indicators of robustness and rigour. It demonstrates empirically that trusts are robust structures that have withstood the perturbations of the pandemic and will withstand future perturbations.

The global pandemic has made extraordinary demands on leaders. This research shows how civic leadership has been enacted through the pandemic and argues for the importance of connecting with others. As we begin to construct ways of leading in a post-pandemic world, we will need forms of leadership that enable schools to be ‘protective organisations’ that can mitigate the economic, social, health and educational impacts of Covid-19 on children and families.
Leora Cruddas, chief executive of the Confederation of School Trusts

Leora Cruddas added: "The story of the impact of Covid-19 on our children and young people has not yet been written. What we do next – the way we lead – is crucial to ensuring that we enact the sacred duty of holding trust with children."

The 15 CEOs represented one national Trust, 10 Trusts in the East Midlands, and four Trusts in the West Midlands region. Most Trusts were of a medium size (i.e. with between six and 14 schools), three were small (with up to five schools), and three were large (with over 15 schools).

Today’s report is part of larger scale, on-going research project on the policies and strategies that different School Trusts across the UK have been employing, since March 2020, to manage multiple disruptions to students’ academic learning as well as students’ and teachers’ health and wellbeing.

The report presents the findings from the first “pathfinder” stage of the University of Nottingham’s on-going research on system leadership in disruptive times. A more wide-ranging report of findings from further data collection from Trusts in other regions across the UK, will include developments following the return of all pupils to schools from March 2021 to September 2021, and will be available by October 2021.

Story credits

More information is available from Professor Christopher Day in the School of Education at the University of Nottingham at Christopher.Day@nottingham.ac.uk

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Notes to editors:

The University of Nottingham is a research-intensive university with a proud heritage, consistently ranked among the world's top 100. Studying at the University of Nottingham is a life-changing experience and we pride ourselves on unlocking the potential of our students. We have a pioneering spirit, expressed in the vision of our founder Sir Jesse Boot, which has seen us lead the way in establishing campuses in China and Malaysia - part of a globally connected network of education, research and industrial engagement. The University’s state-of-the-art facilities and inclusive and disability sport provision is reflected in its status as The Times and Sunday Times Good University Guide 2021 Sports University of the Year. We are ranked eighth for research power in the UK according to REF 2014. We have six beacons of research excellence helping to transform lives and change the world; we are also a major employer and industry partner - locally and globally. Alongside Nottingham Trent University, we lead the Universities for Nottingham initiative, a pioneering collaboration which brings together the combined strength and civic missions of Nottingham’s two world-class universities and is working with local communities and partners to aid recovery and renewal following the COVID-19 pandemic.

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