from Latin collaborat- ‘worked with’, from the verb collaborare, from col- ‘together’ + laborare ‘to work’.
When I argued back in 2017 for our sixth form college to become an academy I was motivated by a career-long awareness that in education we are always stronger when we work together than when we stand alone.
The simplest way to explain this is to think about our different educational phases or key stages and what happens to pupils at the key transition points as they progress from one phase to another.
I am sure everyone remembers their first day at secondary school, or if not exactly that then the trepidation with which they prepared for that momentous day. Imagine an education system where for seven years you stay in one class room with one teacher for all or most of your subjects. Only to find at the grand old age of eleven that you are expected to find your way around a building to study ten or more different subjects with different pupils and teachers in each class. This is all part of growing up of course, building resilience and so forth. But we have known for a long time that such transitions are intrinsically stressful and, for an increasing number of pupils, can pause or halt progress.
So what has all this to do with deciding to become an academy rather than a sixth form college? A good question – the answer to which is the opportunity for and power of collaboration. As a sixth form college we must work with our secondary partners, otherwise we might have no students! But in a multi-academy trust we can establish a ‘family’ of schools all with common interests, a shared set of values and ethos, so that we can learn together about what works and what doesn’t for our pupils or students at every key stage and educational phase.
Three and a half years later we are a ‘family’ that encompasses not only every mainstream key stage but a much wider plethora of settings from 6 months old and throughout our lives. Our multi-academy trust includes an affiliation with a commercial day nursery – Guisborough Montessori Nursery – which operates on a whole-year extended hours basis from 6 months of age. We have a primary school – Errington – in East Cleveland and a secondary-age school for permanently excluded pupils – Bishopton Centre – in Billingham. Our two-site 16-19 academy – Prior Pursglove and Stockton Sixth Form College – supports 2,000 students to achieve and progress, mainly to Higher Education but also to Apprenticeships and employment.
However, that’s not all. We oversee the education in the community of up to 500 adults every year who want to gain additional qualifications in order to become work-ready. We operate three specialist enhanced mainstream bases across two local authority areas for pupils from KS1 to 4 who are temporarily unable to access mainstream education due to anxiety and phobias. We support pupils who need to be educated at home or in hospital due to their medical needs and we offer places to young people who are being educated at home to support them as they prepare for their KS4 assessments.
Our work is greatly varied – far more so than a typical multi-academy trust – and no one entity in our Trust is the same as another. But we see this as a strength, because we are all committed to the same goals but we face different challenges and we hugely benefit from the expertise of our partners. As our Trust grows I am witnessing a multiplier effect where, as the range and depth of our expertise grows, the associated benefits also exponentially increase.
Just this week I have been made aware of sixth form art students creating a mural in one of our anxious-phobic bases; health and social care sixth form students volunteering for placements in our Nursery and primary school; pupils from the PRU developing an outdoor learning space for the Nursery. No money changes hands – we help each other.
And our proposition is not just for ‘our’ schools – it’s for all settings who are receptive to our approach and want to work with us. This includes schools already in multi-academy trusts or local authority maintained or independent special schools. We utilise our expertise, for example, Level 6 Careers Guidance, providing expert advice to promote the highest aspirations in local secondary schools and also to generate interest in Y6 primary pupils to think about their future job roles. We are constantly on the look out to help others and find opportunities where we might be able to combine our expertise, support and learn from one another.
As an accredited Regional System Leader I believe my role is to use the expertise of our organisation to our mutual benefit and as our Trust grows I can see that opportunities for this will increase – it’s such an exciting proposition!